In the mystical time of long ago … before the SNES was even a twinkle in Nintendo’s eye, the NES held sway over all. And though I loved the phenomenons of Mario, Zelda, and Mega Man as much as any other player at the time, I think that the one that had the most profound effect on me was a title known as Gun. Smoke. It taught me the value of going beyond the hits and phenomenons of the time. No one else I knew had ever heard of Gun Smoke, and I doubt many have played it, yet it remains one of my favorites. Sunset Riders is like that. As a matter of fact I consider it to be a spiritual successor with a bit of Contra thrown in for good measure. So let’s giddy up and see what awaits us down the trail!
Sunset Riders offers a basic bounty hunter plot and then sends you on your way. You play as four amigos who earn a living hunting down scumbags and cashing in on them. As you begin your adventure, you’re just taking jobs as they come your way, but after the fourth bounty you are put on the trail of Sir Richard Rose, the West’s most notorious outlaw.
In order to do this you are given your choice of four cowboys. Billy and Steve are armed with pistols, and Cormano and Bob use what I assume are sawed-off shotguns. This character choice bears more importance than you think, and should be based around your strengths. If you have trouble hitting things, go with the shotguns since it helps with your accuracy. On the other hand if you’re having trouble getting hit constantly, the pistol offers you the best chance of killing enemies before they fire a shot off. That is because the pistol rounds move faster than the shotgun shells. Power-up badges you pick up also change the gun-play up, with one badge that gives you automatic fire, and another that gives you duel-wielding ability.
As for the gameplay itself, think of Sunset Riders as a sort of wild west Contra. You can fire in any direction, jump, duck, or slide, and just like those balls-difficult Contra games, one hit from enemy fire kills you.
Yee-Haw! Whats not to love?
What really propels this game and keeps you coming back for more is the setting. Sunset Riders takes place in the Old West, a criminally under utilized backdrop in video games even to this day, and it uses this to its maximum. Levels are filled with Old West staples. You’ll fight on the back of a horse and on top of a train. You will have shootouts in saloons and fight your way through a ranch (and run on the backs of cattle!). Each level feels like it is right out of your favorite western movies.
Enemies are a diverse bunch and you have a wide variety of hooligans trying to fill you full of multicolored lead. There are riflemen, dynamite chuckers, pistol-packers, knife bandits, and other undesirables to contend with, as well as citizens to rescue. And that is to say nothing of the bosses themselves, all of which are colorful characters that offer a new twist on the gun play. Whether you’re trying to get around El Greco’s shield, or having a duel to the death with Hawkeye Hatfield, these boss battles are a joy to behold. My personal favorite has to be Chief Wigwam and his knives! Try that one on hard and tell me how you fare!
Like any good bounty hunter, your goal is to collect money which you acquire by killing bad guys and saving citizens. There is also a bonus round at different intervals that operates like a shooting gallery and integrates into the main game very well, especially if you have a second player. When playing with a friend, it’s a lot of fun to see who can hit the most bad guys or score the most damage on a boss, and the game gives you a breakdown after each level. It is important to know that this blood money also buys extra lives at set intervals. So take out as many of these gringos as you can!
Like any good western, the only problem is that it’s over far too soon. The levels themselves are some of the shortest action the SNES offers, with more than half being over in a matter of a few minutes. Not to say that this is a problem since it makes for a quick gaming session before work or school, yet I cannot help but wish that there were a few more bounties to cash in on …
The overall presentation is also less than impressive, with only a few songs, colors that are way too bright, and spoken dialogue that is absolutely painful to listen to. Nintendo was also heavy-handed in the censorship. I have always wondered how level six might have been different if we had fought the original Native American enemies as opposed to the cowboy thugs from every other level.
Despite all of this, Sunset Riders is a must play two-player experience. The simple fun that comes from teaming with a friend or foe in joyful cooperation or intense competition cannot be understated. It’s not Contra, but it’s damn close; say 70 percent. And 70 percent of Contra is still better than ALMOST ANYTHING else out there! If you can find a copy, draw your pistol, put your boots on, and get ready for a helluva good time.
4 out of 5 stars.