Genre: Run-‘N-Gun Developer: Konami Publisher: Konami Players: 1-2 Released: 1992
There are a bunch of shooters for the Genesis. There are horizontal shmups like Thunder Force III and IV, Sagaia, Eliminate Down, and BioHazard Battle. There are vertical shmups like M.U.S.H.A, Herzog Zwei, Vapor Trail, and Raiden Trad. There are run-‘n-gun style games like Gunstar Heroes, Adventures of Batman and Robin, Midnight Resistance, and Contra: Hard Corps. But what has to be one of the most original (at least in concept) of the shooters is Sunset Riders. Unlike most other games in the genre, you aren’t fighting an alien invasion or battling a supernatural force. You aren’t defending a planet from a ghastly evil or trying to take down a biomechanical monster. You’re… well… you’re killing Indians and bandits.
That’s right, we’ve got a wild west shooter on our hands here.
Sunset Riders is the port of a 1991 Konami arcade game of the same name. It sports two different cowboys to choose from, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, eight levels of frantic gunning, and three levels of difficulty. Sounds pretty good, eh? And it is… mostly.
As you could probably expect there isn’t a whole lot of plot here. From what I can tell the premise is this: you’re trying to kill a bandit boss. Pretty original… not. And, of course, to do that you have to blast through hundreds of lesser minions and three of his henchmen. Shooters aren’t really there for story, though, so I don’t have a big problem with this aspect of the game.
As I said earlier you can control two gunslingers (out of the original four from the arcade game): Cormano and Billy. The primary difference is their weapons: Billy totes double pistols while Cormano prefers double shotguns. I say double, but you start the game out with just one. You can pick up two upgrades to your weapons: rapid fire and double shot. Both last until you die.
Now, about dying. Unlike most other run-‘n-guns, all it takes is one hit to die. That’s right, get a bullet in your toes and down you go. Luckily you can have 3-5 lives per continue. (Depending on how many you set at the options screen.) And there are other ways to die, too. You can get shot by arrows, burn to death, crushed by various big things, gored by rampaging cattle, knifed by crazy bandidos, vaporized by dynamite, splattered on the floor of a canyon if you fall, devoured by dogs, and even smashed by low crossbeams. Now that sounds like a bunch of violence, but there is no blood or gore in Sunset Riders, unlike some other game we know (can you say Doom Troopers?).
The levels are nicely varied. You start out in your typical gold mining town, then you get to blast it up on a train, next comes Indian territory, and last is a Spanish villa in the middle of a forest. Most of it is just plain blasting and destroying, but every once in a while you get something more interesting to do, like jump on the backs of cattle, hop around on rope lifts, and shoot down cement walls. The enemies you encounter come in three types: bandidos, bandits, and Indians. There are some deviations from that, but the majority of cannon fodder you’ll come across fits into one of those categories.
Then there are bosses. I don’t know, but for some reason the bosses seem somewhat boring. The first one is your standard blast-away-the-minions-then-shoot-the-weakling-boss, and the second an inane jump-over-the-gunfire-while shooting-wildly. The third and fourth bosses are tough and a bit more interesting, though.
“Graphics.” Some of you have probably been scanning the review for that word, so here’s the lowdown: they’re okay. But only okay. There aren’t any special effects to speak of except for a decent explosion or two. Most of the levels are just foreground, background, and sprites with a bit of parallax thrown in. They do the job, though. The animations, however, are rather disappointing. The jumping and sliding animations consist of only one or two frames, and all of the rest of the animations are just as spartan. Too bad, really, considering how nice the arcade version was.
The sound is decent. You and your opponents groan when shot, the cattle rumble when they run, there’s a grainy whoosh for waterfalls, etc… And of course there’s the constant bark of guns. There has been better sound on the Genesis, folks. The other side of the audio coin, music, is much better. I really like the music on Sunset Riders! (I’ve even been caught humming it). The tracks really capture that Mexican/wild west sound.
I have one final note here: the bosses all spout some lame one liner before the boss battle and as they die… The very first time I played Sunset Riders, the second boss said something before the battle. He hasn’t said it ever again since that day. Same thing when I loaned this game to a friend: he said it once then never said it again. Pretty odd, eh?
All in all I think Sunset Riders is a decent game. My main gripes are the lack of weapons (I would have loved to tote the machine gun that the second boss carries!) and how short it is. It’s pretty easy to beat the game in a half hour or so, especially with the infinite continue cheat. As far as difficulty goes, I’d say medium. It’s pretty easy on the lowest setting, but just try cranking it up to hard! The graphics are decent, the sound is decent, the controls are very responsive, and the gameplay is better than average. It even has a player versus mode in addition to one player and two player mode!
Sunset Riders seems to fall into the category that so many Genesis games do: if you can find it cheap, buy it. Chances are it will keep you happy for a while.
SCORE: 7 out of 10