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Sunset Riders (SNES)

Once upon a time the arcade played host to a large variety of games.  From shooters to platform games, you could find them in the arcade, and with the superior technology of the arcade machines you were also treated to a visual and aural spectacle.  But as the age of the fighting game began, games like this became more and more rare. Which is a shame as games like Sunset Riders were always a treat to pop a quarter in.

Sunset Riders was released in 1991 in the arcade and for home consoles in 1993.  This was a highly anticipated port for me; like most I never had enough quarters to finish it in the arcade.  A side scrolling action game set in the old west, the setting immediately endeared me to the game as even today the setting is not too common.  You have a choice of 4 characters, 2 who use pistols for quicker shots and 2 who use shotguns for a wider spread.

Billy and Steve use pistols, Bob & Cormano use shotguns.  The choice is yours.  Gotta go with the shotguns man, its like the western version of the Spread Gun.

You’re job is to reach the end of each level, beat the boss and collect the bounty that you are shown at the beginning of every stage.  I wonder why the Wild West setting isn’t used in games more often: here the game absolutely drips it from head to toe and I love it.  With the success of Red Dead Redemption maybe we’ll see a revival?

The game consists of 8 levels that culminate in a boss fight with 2 bonus stages sandwiched in between.  All of the Wild West clichés are here: Bandits with the stereotypical face mask make up the primary enemies you face, saloons for you to drink in, etc.  You are introduced to the boss of every level at the start with their wanted poster and I love that they all say Wanted Dead or Alive as if that is even an option.

Dead or Alive my ass.  We know how this story is going to end.

In multiplayer whoever does the most damage to the boss receives the bounty.  A number of the levels see you navigating around various hazards such as burning hay, stampeding buffalo, and even foreground objects.  Levels 2 and 7 are on horseback as you dodge fire from bandits on a train and incoming stagecoaches.  The bonus levels are a first person shooting gallery that will award you extra points and are a nice change of pace.  I liken this game to a Wild West version of the Turtles arcade games which is a compliment as those games were fantastic.

Your only power-ups come in the form of a silver badge that gives you a second gun that allows you to fire in 2 directions and a gold badge that gives you rapid fire.  Both can be combined to make you a walking death machine.  You find these by entering random buildings that dot the backgrounds.  You also find chicken or gold that gives you points.  Random bandits will throw dynamite and if you’re quick enough you can throw it back at them.  There is no life bar so one hit and you’re dead and any power-ups you’ve collected are also gone.  It’s funny that in most games you look forward to fully powering up your character so you can march through the levels like a horseman of the apocalypse but most times it has the opposite effect: you’re so terrified of dying you become an overpowered sissy.  To offset your cowboy is agile as hell.  You have a slide that can avoid most enemy bullets, and can jump between higher levels platforms which will sometimes make bullets pass through you.

The SNES version of Sunset Riders is amazingly faithful to the arcade.  All of the levels are intact along with all 4 characters.  The game is limited to 2-players simultaneously unlike the 4-player arcade cab.  Almost all of the voice samples are in the game and the graphics are surprisingly close.  There is some censorship: the dancers in the saloon in stage 4 have been toned down, all of the enemies in stage 6 have been changed into standard bandits rather than the Indians they originally were, and that stage’s boss had his named to Chief Wigwam instead of Scalpem.

Sunset Riders remains a fun romp that still presents some challenge to get through and is just as fun to play now as it was almost 20 years ago.  The levels are the perfect size and the bosses are never cheap although their patterns will test your reflexes.  Definitely worth the nostalgia trip.

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