The Old West. Never has a period of American history been more romanticized and overdone - except maybe the Vietnam War. They’re still making Rambo movies, dammit! Considering the period only lasted from 1840 to 1890, it’s hard to believe that so many stories could be woven from so little thread. But thankfully, there were and still are some great ones… and in the early 90’s, I got to play one of them.
The Sunset Riders was released in 1991 by Konami back when they were more Jedi Order and less First Order (ed - Haha!). It was a time when games milked us of our money, we couldn't take the games home and there was no way to play but pay. Now you know where some companies got that business model from.
The game had a simple premise: you’re a bounty hunter. Keep running and gunning to the right till all the bad guys are bullet-soaked, you’re rich and you ride off into the sunset. Simple. But what execution!
What’s not to like about a game that gives you concise life advice like:
“Run To Avoid Getting Killed” and Blowing Up Soon”?
The Sunset Riders was an arcade game that boasted more than just running and gunning. For instance, sometimes you walked as one of four handsome heroes. And the colours… Long before the term Metrosexual was vomited into the social consciousness, Steve the Bounty Hunter wore bright yellow trousers, a cream shirt, pink neckerchief and a red stetson! Where would you even get one of those? And who would’ve had the bravery to wear one in the uber racist old West? Steve, that’s who! And then there was the super cool Billy, who wore the all-denim, tassle-trimmed jump suit that said, “I’m cool because I’m blue.” Then Bob, a simply named bounty hunter who carried a rifle, wore no hat and had the best long blond hair in the West.
In a time when conditioner wasn’t a thing, you needed to be able to snipe the gogoba berries out a Robin’s mouth at 200 yards or face some sad split ends. And then there was Cormano… sweet, brave, purple-everything-wearing Mexican Cormano. A Mexican in the old west, with three white guys for friends. I still wonder if he hung out with them for safety from racial hatred or if they hung out with him for plains cred (not street cred, for there were few streets in them thar days). Whatever the reason, Cormano spoke softly and could dual-wield shotguns. ‘Nuff said.
Then there were the villains. It helps when people’s names let you know that they’re evil. There was no gray area, even with Steve’s bright trousers. The first bounty you hunt - see what I did there? - is Simon Greedwell. I mean Greedwell… has there ever been a better name for a land swindler, used wagon salesman or President? I think not. With catchphrases like:
“It’s time to pay” and “Bury me with my money”, you can’t say you didn’t know he was a slimy varmint.
Then there’s Hawkeye Hank Hatfield. It’s never clarified if he has any relation to the legendary feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys and when I was in my early teens I didn’t care. Stage Two is where you first get to ride a horse: a beautiful, bulletproof white steed that I named Fred. Because Fred doesn’t care - not about gunfire, exploding wagons or the fact that he can basically run as fast as the train you’ll bulletstorm a few moments into the stage.
A word on gunfire… the henchmen in this game should complain severely to their union for being given their crappy guns. They can only shoot one little pew-pew pellet that all but crawls through a firefight while Steve, Billy, Bob and Cormano produce a literal rain of bullet death upon any idjit (ed - Plus points for a Supernatural reference) that roams too close to the business ends of their firearms.
I get that the characters are heroes but seriously, where the hell are they hiding the reloads? No ones prairie prison wallet is that big. Meanwhile, back at the gun fight, I realised why Hawkeye became the boss of this district. He’s the only guy in the area that has the good sense to duck and dodge. And clearly he doesn’t feel pain either because only after sustaining 50+ hits does he collapse to the ground and with his dying wheeze observe, “Hnnn, ya got me.” Really? That your body was leaking more than a bowl of bloody pasta through a colander wasn’t your first clue? They were real men in them thar days!
Stage Three sees you take on Dark Horse… because he has a dark horse. Whaaat? They’re cowboys, not poets. Any play through of a Hank Williams tune can tell you that. Now, while shooting up a western frontier town, you’ll get to visit various bars, where Steve will happily take a “kiss” from the local bar tarts, drink a whole bottle of rot-gut whiskey (it rots your guts) and eat some turkey on the run. And the bar tarts GIVE you cash… That must’ve been some “kiss”.
All the while, a small Mexican man in a sombrero and blanket (I’m guessing it hides the air conditioner) strums lazily on his guitar. Proof that if you supply the soundtrack to a gun fight, you won’t get shot.
Some of the businesses names in this town need a makeover though. Who buys grain from the “Rustler.Thief”? Ah, the Engrish is strong in this one. I’m guessing only thieves remain in this one dark horse town. And lo, I hear the approach of galloping hooves… And why does the horse have armour plates on it? Is the horse the bad guy? No, the game has just given me another helpful hint as “Shoot The Rider” appears above him. He looks upon me from atop yon massive steed and utters, “You in deep, big trouble.” Oh my… He’s special needs. The armour on the horse is because he can’t ride right… Shame. Several bullets later and Captain Numpty says “Me in deep, big trouble” as his horse gallops off into the distance, with him still on his back, neighing “Freedom!”
This concludes part one of my NostalgiaView of The Sunset Riders. Join me next week as we learn the fate of our gunslinging, colourful heroes.
Heeyaaaw! *sounds of galloping hooves*
Comedian, Writer, Actor, Voice-artist. Host of the Urbane Myths podcast, Co-host of GeekXP's 'Release The Geek'. Opinionist Purveyor of Wanton Meanderings. And above all, Geek.
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