Gunhed's style is similar to other Compile games such as Zanac and Aleste. The player can pick up four main weapons and four sub-weapons and power them up by either collecting more of that weapon type or picking up purple orbs dropped by enemies. The weapons can be powered up a certain number of times, getting more powerful with each one to a level of six. If the player gets hit with a level greater than three, the ship survives but the weapon is downgraded.
The player is also equipped with bombs that can block bullets and cause damage to anything in the blast radius, max number is 15. As the player's score increases, more bombs are added. Also, as score increases, the player will gain extra lives and eventually the ability to negate "restart points", indicated by a gold colored icon for lives. This means that upon death, instead of starting at a respawn point in the stage, the player will start at the point of death.
I - This is the standard vulcan 5-way shot prominent in the Soldier games. Fully powered up, it shoots directly ahead and in an X pattern allowing the player to hit targets in many directions.
II - This shoots a wave that can bend sharply in the direction the player is moving. This is similar to the number Rapid Fire weapon in Zanac. Fully powered up shoots 3 streams of waves directly ahead and 45 degrees left and right.
III - This weapon shoots a lightning laser that drastically increases in field size as it's powered up. Speed of fire is the slowest of the weapons, but it is very powerful. At full power, the laser covers 1/3 of the field per shot.
IV - This weapon shoots a rotating sphere that can block shots. This is similar to the Rotation weapon from Zanac. At full power, there are 4 spheres in a horizontal oval arc around the ship.