Life in the Old West was tough even in the 16-bit era. Sure, Cowboys (and Girls) knew the dangers of outlaws, wildlife, and Indian attacks. But what to do about the occasional robot and android attacks? Welcome to the world of Natsume’s Wild Guns, a wild west action shooter that stands the test of time as one of the system’s greatest gameplay triumphs.
The plot to the game is as throwaway as you can get. Our heroine, Annie, has discovered her family has been kidnapped by outlaws. So it is up to her and Clint, a bounty-hunter she has hired, to get them back by obliterating everything in eyesight. Honestly, all we are looking for here is an excuse, and this fits the bill well. What really matters here is the gameplay concept and that is where the the game shines like it’s high noon. You can even deputize a friend to play alongside you!
Think of the game as a light-gun shooter but instead of the perspective being in first-person, your characters are standing in the foreground of the screen with their backs to you. This concept has some great strengths over a typical light gun game due to the player finally having some control over the characters actions aside from shooting. You’ll need it as enemies begin to appear in the background and proceed to pour lead and lasers on the game’s heroes.
But have no fear, as you have an assortment of options at your disposal to stay alive! The most important defensive maneuver is the roll, which makes your chosen hero temporarily invincible. Think of it as the “Dodge” button. The next thing to familiarize yourself with is your ability to jump, which is useful for avoiding a spread of bullets that a roll may not have cleared. Of course if the last two options seem a bit yellow to you, there is always the option of just going all Rambo and shooting the enemies bullets and missiles down before they kill you.
Still, the game’s not all about playing defense, and this is where the player’s arsenal comes into play. You start with a basic gun and the ability to do a melee attack for enemies that enjoy getting in your face, but Wild Guns also enjoys throwing you the occasional special weapon to wreak havoc with. These can include machine guns, grenade launchers, and even a Vulcan Cannon if you’re skilled at filling up your attack meter by shooting down enemy bullets. And bombs … I am convinced that no rail-like shooter is complete without the ubiquitous screen-clearing, ass kicking, giving you some much needed space uber-attack! And that’s pretty much how the game goes: Each encounter becomes a fast-paced dance of death where hesitation gets you killed and chance taking is rewarded with superior weaponry and feelings of immense badassitude.
Make no mistake, this is a game that embraces its arcade roots by sneering at you and daring you to finish it. The pacing is insane. There is always something happening onscreen and the game is always moving things along via a ticking timer on the bottom of the screen. Levels are divided into three parts, and during the first two segments, a timer will count down to zero, signaling a mini-boss before whisking you to the next segment. The final part is always timer free and features the level’s boss fight. This allows the action to keep moving and is a welcome feature.
The bosses are as impressive as you would expect of a 16-bit action game, ranging from a monstrous mechanized crab that uses its massive claws to attack, to a giant robot with some serious firepower. They are not alone, either! Each stage has a wide variety of enemies and mini-bosses, most of which are exclusive to the level in which you are fighting them. This large pool of rogues means that you are always on your toes, and just because you master one level does not mean you have conquered them all!
Presentation is stellar. Wild Guns has one of the most inspired art directions of the era. Imagine the Old West with an infusion of Steampunk and Sci-Fi. The saloons have neon signage, the trains and tanks hover, and all the enemies are of the cyborg/android variety. It’s just top-notch design. Couple this with superior animation (even the character portraits are animated!) and special effects that utilize the SNES hardware in creative ways (Heat Distortion), and you have a graphical tour de force made all the more impressive due to the fact that the environments are all FULLY DESTRUCTIBLE. It is always interesting to just sit back and survey the devastation after a frantic shootout! And I want the game’s soundtrack to get the fan-band treatment! Its got a great rock-meets-western thing going on that really fits with the game. There is not a dud in the bunch!
A final word before I ride off into the sunset. This game is BEGGING for some love …. Come to think of it, that pretty much sums this whole effort up. Few have heard of or played Wild Guns even to this day. A shame as this is without a doubt the BEST action game on the system. Contra, Super Turrican 2, I DON”T CARE!! This is the pinnacle of the genre on SNES! The only thing that stops a full recommendation from me is the fact that if you want to play it on the SNES console, it will cost you upwards of 100 dollars CART ONLY!! But if you can find it for a reasonable price in the wild, do not hesitate!
At this point there are very few hidden treasures left for us in the SNES vast library. This obscure little gem is one of the last of its kind. Let’s strive to change that! Let’s give this shootout spectacular its moment in the sun.
Five out of Five Stars
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