Sunset Riders (SNES) review
"SR humors us, and tells us lies. In chronological order, the first lie is that in the Old West, there were cowboys named Bob. I know one thing: Bob is not a cowboy. Bobs are office productivity consultants. Bobs aren’t gun-wielding lawmen."
Sunset Riders gets away with something that it shouldn’t: it fuses bits and pieces from other games past to form its own over-the-top highlight reel. Instead of coming off as a mindless clone, however, it blankets the action in a magnificent Wild West theme, which, thanks to the utilization of spectacular visual and auditory imagery, remains powerful, authentic, and consistent throughout. The elements underneath come together to form a hilarious duck-and-dodge adventure, with both extremely breezy and painfully tough stretches. Although it’s stereotypical to the point of cheesiness, the result a game with a sort of beaming charm. Cliché speeches and quick-draw shootouts set the tone for an enjoyable, atmospheric adventure, rivaled only by the titles that it acts as a hybrid of.
Portions of Rolling Thunder, Contra (created by Konami, who is responsible for this as well), and Metal Slug -- which was to come later on, and may have studied under SR -- can all be found in Sunset Riders if you look hard enough. All three were bullet-dodging run-and-gunners that required reflexes and quick thinking before anything else. The humor and gritty realism of MS are immediately evident, as cartoonish characters and mass-slaughtering both make appearances. Finally, the enemies, who duck into the cover of buildings and shadowy spots to avoid fire (as can your character at certain points), are reminiscent of RT’s. The result is a high-powered adventure where avoiding slow-moving neon colored shells is first priority, and responding with devastating authority is the second.
SR humors us, and tells us lies. In chronological order, the first lie is that in the Old West, there were cowboys named Bob. I know one thing: Bob is not a cowboy. Bobs are office productivity consultants. Bobs aren’t gun-wielding lawmen. Then again, the other selectable characters, Steve and Billy, don’t have truly fitting names, either, but Bob? Your fourth choice is the friendly Mexican, Cormano, ready to undertake the tasks at hand, outfitted in his oversized sombrero. Other than cosmetic differences, the only mechanical difference is that two of these characters use fast-shooting pistols, and the other two use unbelievably powerful shotguns.
And that’s the second lie -- that shotguns are deadly accurate because of their ‘spread’ firing ability (bam, Contra!), which sends purple plasma pellets peppering across the screen. Selecting a character exercising one of these long-barreled powerhouses will improve your odds of success significantly, since upon powering-up the weapon once or twice with the star badge icons sparingly ‘hidden’ through every level, you can fire it in any general direction and massacre any outlaws that happen to populate that portion of the on-screen landscape. Ordinarily, shooting at diagonal angles may have been a bit tricky with a control pad, but with this frightening firearm, you’re less likely to miss than hit.
So, clearly, there are some exaggerations here. Cowboys named Bob and all-annihilating shotguns. It’s all in good fun, though, so don’t ask questions.
Wanted: Dead or Alive notices, with depictions of highly sought-after criminals and huge reward amounts, are the lead-ins for each stage, and represent the ‘boss’ confrontation awaiting you at the end. In between is a short, satisfying journey that sees your hero crossing lush, brightly colored landscapes, set to the tune of adventuresome music tracks. These aren’t just action-packed, fast-moving symphonic themes -- they have an unexplainable, daring, rope-and-ride quality that makes them completely appropriate for the situations.
For an ideal example of SR’s convincing ambiance, witness the second stage’s sweeping mountain ranges and fast-paced gunning. It starts with one of those tempting posters -- Hawkeye Hank Hatfield to be brought to justice, dead or alive, with a twenty thousand dollar reward for his captors. It won’t be so easy stumbling upon him, however. The expedition begins on speeding horseback across arid desert flatlands, shooting crooks out of the back of Conestoga wagons as they drop logs out, trying to trip your pony. More bandits will pull up along side you on their own steeds, taking shots at you. You’ll fire back, knocking them off balance, sending them tumbling across the ground. Eventually, a train will begin overtaking you, more fools ‘sniping’ at you from each and every car. As long as you manage to stay alive, you’ll eventually come to your target, who jumps around, ducking behind boxes and barrels, while his henchmen fire from all angles. It’s an energizing trip from beginning to end.
While the journey though each stage requires that you remain clear-headed so that you don’t get picked off, the boss encounters can be especially difficult. Each of the main villains you’re after take what feels like an endless number of shots before they finally collapse, and the whole ordeal becomes that much more demanding when you take into consideration that they’re either always moving, or begin each shootout behind some protective obstacle that you have to destroy before you can even begin to do damage. Each one is also in possession of an unlimited supply of weaker comrades, so that you’re dodging five oncoming bullets instead of one. There’s certainly nothing wrong with challenge, but the final confrontation is absolutely ridiculous, as the enemy sits behind a near-indestructible statue while four men are shooting at you from each corner of the screen as you scramble to weaken his defense. SR simply doesn’t draw the line like it should, overcompensating for it’s somewhat easy levels. Even the two-player cooperative mode, which allows a pair of cowboys to simultaneously undertake each challenge, isn’t enough to counter some of the title’s truly harsh portions.
The positives far outweigh the problems, however, and the price is still well worth it to experience a unique, western-themed shooter. The hilariously choppy English of the enemy Chief Wigwam alone is reason enough to indulge in this! The first boss, a robber in possession a pile of gold, is an excellent introduction to what you’re in store for. After you’ve gunned him down and he sinks to the ground, dying, he last gurgles out, “Bury me with my…money.” Every one of the bosses offers up a comically cliché line or two of speech that make the whole thing as authentic-feeling as it could ever be.
Sunset Riders is the ultimate item of cowboy glamorization, where the good guys ride across barren deserts and explore small towns, blowing away hundreds of bandits popping out of saloons and runaway trains with explosive weaponry. A perfect atmosphere is the big selling point, covering the Old West theme with exciting music, vibrant scenery, and cornball silliness.
This is the only way to rule the west.
Staff review by K T (April 30, 2005)
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