Armored Hunter Gunhound EX from developer Dracue Software is a 2D run and gun shooter in which you play a female mech pilot tasked with achieving a string of military objectives. It has gorgeous, detailed pixel art that supports all the gunfire and explosions that occur, the music and sound design are thrilling, and the voice overs are good quality. Almost everything about the game screams quality, and to top it off the game is set up in a way that provides challenge for skilled players but won't leave unskilled players in the dirt.

The basic gameplay is typical genre fare. You start at the left side of a level and travel towards the right, shooting or punching every mech, plane, mine, and turret you encounter and avoiding their attempts to destroy you. You can't keep up an endless string of bullets, but you can get pretty close. You can use thrusters to jump into the air temporarily or crouch down to glide forward at higher speed. One neat thing Gunhound EX has is that you can purge your armor, dropping it off of your main unit to restore yourself to full health and gaining added maneuverability at the cost of being more fragile. There are other details that add nice bits of realism and strategy, too, such as dropping to the ground too hard putting strain on your mech which can be mitigated by a last-minute jump thruster blast before touch down.

To reach the end of a stage without dying takes skill. With bullets flying everywhere and limited health, not everyone will make it. Upon dying, you see a screen asking if you want to continue. If you take the game up on that, your score is reset to zero and you respawn at the most recent checkpoint you reached. The only way to get a high score is to make it all the way through the level, but people like myself who die a lot can still move forward at a reasonable pace.

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One thing that got me the first time I tried to play Gunhound EX was the training scenarios outside of the main campaign. I initially assumed they were tutorials, but although they do teach you about what your mech can do, they aren't necessarily easy. The first one is simple enough, covering basic movement, but the second training level is about dodging things midair and almost put me off of the game with its difficulty. Inability to finish that training level made me decide to just start the campaign and I'm really glad I did because I found the main game very enjoyable. The training levels seem to be designed more to give you a chance to refine and hone your skills and to educate you about fine details about the game system than to lead you gently into playing the game. That's not a bad thing, but it is something to keep in mind. I do recommend trying all of the training levels even if you can't beat them, since there's good information to be had in there.

The other thing that gave me trouble when I first started the game was the keyboard controls, which aren't bad but didn't meet my expectations and led to me accidentally quitting the game a few times before I got the hang of them. The enter key doesn't select anything. It's a pause button, usable at any time during gameplay, and it brings up an overlay which links to the game's manual and an online strategy guide as well as a reset option that takes you out to the game's main menu. Hitting escape from this pause screen when in windowed mode quits the game without confirmation (and using escape at any time in fullscreen mode breaks to windowed mode). It's been a while since I played a game using Z for select and X for cancel, and it didn't occur to me to try it at first. Once I got my controller set up, I didn't have any more problems, but it was an akward introduction.

Although I had some issues getting started with Armored Hunter Gunhound EX, it was totally worth the trouble. (And hopefully if you've read this far, you won't have the same problems I did.) If you like shooting things and dodging bullets in 2D, you should consider grabbing it. It's available for Windows via Steam and Playism for $14.99.