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Gun.Smoke (NES) artwork

Gun.Smoke (NES) review


"Against the blistering heat of a sun that refuses to set he stands, a gunslinger so intent on his life's purpose that he does not have time for such dalliances as a mistress or a name. The desert winds have carried this weary wanderer and his noble steed to a dry gulch called Hicksville, where the citizens fear for their safety and scurry to their houses at the very mention of the Wingates, a gang of ne'er-do-wells who think nothing of violence and get their jollies off of harassing the defensel..."



Against the blistering heat of a sun that refuses to set he stands, a gunslinger so intent on his life's purpose that he does not have time for such dalliances as a mistress or a name. The desert winds have carried this weary wanderer and his noble steed to a dry gulch called Hicksville, where the citizens fear for their safety and scurry to their houses at the very mention of the Wingates, a gang of ne'er-do-wells who think nothing of violence and get their jollies off of harassing the defenseless townsfolk. Seeking to right the wrongs of frontier society, the lone gunman calls upon his two best friends flanking him at each hip to put down the threat posed by the evil street gang.

Throw Galaga and a Spaghetti Western into a melting pot and when the steam subsides and the product is allowed to simmer, what you'll have is Gun.Smoke, one of the most original ideas to ever come out of the NES. As such, it provides a gaming experience that isn't worth soon forgetting. Fitting into the boots of a man with no name (not the Man With No Name, as it were), vast stretches of arid, infertile earth await you, as well as endless hordes of enemies waiting to both rush at you head-on and ambush you from saloon windows and open tepees. Those innocents who are brave enough to stand in the open offer your traveled protagonist a variety of weapons and helpful tools. With the proper funding, the cowboy hero can upgrade to shotguns and machine guns with greater bullet spread or all-powerful smart bombs. Other kind strangers offer defensive items or things that are necessary for you to move on. The horse is a welcome boon that keeps the fragile good guy from going down in a single hit, and the WANTED poster is a must-have in each level - after all, it gets the main boss to come out of hiding and confront you man-to-man.

Gun.Smoke's villains possess all kinds of ways of mowing you down and giving you a decadent prairie funeral. Don't yawn at the first level's boss and his dependency on a good old rifle, though. Things quickly heat up when subsequent villains choose to accost you through more unconventional means such as twin boomerangs, fireballs, darts, and a gun that can fire bombs. In addition, there is the usual ceaseless brigade of lesser minions shooting bullets that couldn't make a ripple in a thimble of water. To dispatch of these foes, G.S implements an ingenious system that allows you to fire to the right with the A button, left with B, and straight forward with both at once. Awareness of your surroundings and the glut of crazy vaqueros in your face are a must, and mastery of the system is simple. There's no way to shoot behind yourself - and believe me, they don't just come onscreen looking you in the eyes - but despite this minor setback, you soon lose yourself in the role of the unintimidated loner, gunning down all manner of rogue cowboys, Native Americans, and ninjas. (In the 1840's American West? You better believe it, pardner.)

Moving with the slow but still unstoppable flow of the screen enhances the immediacy of the mission at hand. Whether walking past a general store where a sniper waits in the shadows past the window or head-on into an Indian settlement where they've learned the art of trade enough to know the value of dynamite with regards to the fate of your character, there just seems to be a huge feeling of grandeur surrounding the whole thing. Regardless of whether or not he has an obligation to Hicksville that sends him on this thankless sojourn, your lone gunman is an unbendable steel beam supporting the shaky moral foundation of Hicksville. It's just so much fun being inside the mind of a man with infinite ammunition and an if-you're-not-for-me-you're-against-me mentality. Strap on your holster, grab your six-shooters, and prepare to feel the burn of bullets grazing your cheek.

Add to this sublime wasteland the ingeniously designed landscapes that stretch past an orange horizon that never quite comes within your reach, and what you have is nothing short of the greatest Western epic to grace the NES. You'll travel on rough soil out of which whole forests can inconceivably take root, and your slow sauntering through the fearful town of Hicksville recreates the best duels of the days of cowboy yore, made more heart-pounding by the flood of thugs ready to come and fill your ten-gallon hat full of lead. Trusty horses and high-powered ammunition come and go, but the stalwart ranger remains a constant in those uneasy times of manifest destiny and bandwagon robbers skipping from town to town. Blowing bullet holes through a parade of stealthy ninjas is the kind of thing we get a kick out of, but it's a way of life for the nameless frontier wanderer. One cannot help but marvel at such cold resolve.

In my quest to reclaim my lost childhood, I've found few Nintendo games I enjoy as much as Gun.Smoke. Do games set in 1840's rural America get any better? I submit that they do not. Rarely are combinations of ideas on different ends of the drawing board spectrum as successful as this. Something about defending the honor of an apparently sheriff-less town speaks to this reviewer, beckons me from whatever I'm doing to turn on the NES and have a go at the nefarious schemers who rain their exotic weapons on the innocent like a dyssentery epidemic. Beautifully made and showing an adamant refusal to let up on the action, Gun.Smoke captures the spirit of the best 50's television Westerns and the epic feel of the best Sergio Leone film. You've got a hero who sticks to his guns - literally - and rides into a predicament he must solve because he has involved himself by planting a single boot on the sandy roads of Hicksville. When you're riding through the desert on a horse with no name, what else is there to do, really? Well, yes, you could name the horse, but that's a discussion for another time.

Rating: 9/10

snowdragon's avatar
Community review by snowdragon (January 14, 2004)

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