Sunset Riders was one of the first games I owned on the 16 bit Sega Megadrive. After beating Streets of Rage, Golden Axe and Sonic multiple times I requested a new video game challenge, which my father generously obliged. A little after high noon he returned home, with a new cartridge for my console collection, before riding off into the sunset. Pop isn’t the most well versed chap when it comes to gaming so I guess he cannot be blamed, as a diehard fan of westerns, for picking a title with cowboys on the box. Thankfully the blind buy he made turned out to be a good one. Although I wouldn’t class Konami’s run and gun shooter as one of my favourite games on Sega’s system I did enjoy it enough to replay it several times.
The game sees one or two players take control of a bounty hunter seeking to bring four outlaws to justice. The Megadrive version gives wannabe desperadoes the choice of playing as Billy (not to be confused with The Kid) or his partner the purple sombrero wearing Mexican Cormano. Billy looks the coolest as he duel wields pistols which allow him to fire straight ahead and diagonally at the same time, but I found Cormano’s shotgun to be more effective at taking down enemies. The wide burst of buck shots Cormano fires ensures that anyone mocking his oddly coloured choice of headgear is unlikely to live long enough to take part in tonight’s poker session at the local saloon.
Gameplay wise I would say that Sunset Riders resembles another title from Konami’s catalogue, namely Contra. You’ll spend most of the game walking from left to right filling anyone who gets in your way with hot lead. Downed bandits drop coins which you pick up to boost your stockpile of currency (considering that you play as a bounty hunter it shouldn’t come as a surprise that high scores are recorded in dollars earned.) Aside from having a deadly aim, players will also need to become proficient at evading damage as this is one of those games were getting hit just once spells instant death and the loss of one of your lives. What pussies, John Wayne was made of sterner stuff pilgrim.
Acquiring some bullet proof vests would seem like a shrewd investment for the Sunset Riders, but alas none of the power ups on offer provide any defensive protection. The only boosts you will find on your travels enhance your piece in terms of rate of fire and how many bullets get discharged when you press the A/B button. Thankfully you do not have to worry about ammunition as, thanks to the wonders of video game logic, reloading your gun is not required. Hurrah for infinite bullets. Besides the weapon power-ups players should also keep an eye out for sheriff stars. If they can find one they’ll be able to take part in a horse riding bonus stage when the current level ends. The bonus sections, were you ride behind a wagon, are well worth playing as they allow you to pick up coinage and extra lives which are being tossed out by the dame travelling in the carriage.
The game isn’t particularly long, spanning just four levels broken down into two parts. The first stage of a level has you rescuing a rather careless lass (who manages to get herself kidnapped four times over the course of your adventure) whilst the second stage has you taking on the criminal you are pursuing (providing that you can get past their henchmen first.) Although I wish the levels weren’t as short as they were I can at least commend the creators for keeping things varied. Every stage is set in a different location, in keeping with the western theme, with each stage being populated with it’s own unique set of enemies and obstacles to overcome.
Level one takes place in town where the gunfight is sporadically interrupted by rampaging bulls which you have to leap over. The second level is set on a runaway train were you not only have to deal with the locomotive’s hijackers, but also avoid getting hit by telegraph poles which can knock you off the rails. My favourite part of the game would have to be level three were you take on Indians (that’s native Americans not the Hindu kind.) Facing off against bows and arrows is a nice change of pace as is the section were you ride on a cable car fending off hordes of Apache who want to scalp you. After that it is off to the final level were you take on the game’s final boss Sir Richard Rose. To get to him you’ll have to breech his heavily fortified mansion protected by a small army of men and guard dogs. Here’s a tip, use the dynamite you find to blow up any walls that get in your way.
I’m awarding Sunset Riders three amigos out of five. Overall it is a fun shooter with some tight controls. Using the A and B buttons you have full command of your firearm allowing you to shoot in eight directions whilst standing still or on the move. The C button in conjunction with the D-pad works perfectably in evading hostile projectiles permitting your character to walk, crouch, jump and baseball slide away from harm. I cannot however give the game a higher score as the length of the main story is short even by retro game standards. It will take you just half an hour to get to the very end which isn’t exactly great value for money. The initial challenge of instant death, upon getting hit, is soon overcome once you play a level a few times. Once you memorise the layout of the stages and what is coming, mastering the game isn’t particularly difficult.
The Megadrive version also loses some points as it contains fewer playable characters and levels than the arcade and Super Nintendo editions. On the plus side the sacrifice in content allowed the programmers to beef up the graphics. This is one of the few examples were the Megadrive instalment looks better than its SNES counterpart. The Sega version also isn’t censored (kid friendly Nintendo forced the level one whores to dress more modestly and they removed most of the Indian enemies due to racism fears.) I don’t mind the omission of tomahawk wielding bad guys, but making the prostitutes cover up their lingerie and stockings is outrageous!
Sound wise I was impressed by the music. The Western themed tunes, with a sixteen bit audio twist, are very catchy. The same cannot however be said of the sound effects, particularly the muffled groans heard whenever someone meets their demise. The game’s sole foray into voice acting comes when you rescue the kidnapped girl who says “Thank you nice boys.” The line is delivered as cheesy as it reads. Still don’t let those quibbles put you off. If you are an old school shooter fan, who spies a cheap copy for sale, I recommend lassoing it up. This modest sixteen bit cartridge is packed with a “Bonanza” of shoot-em-up action.