Sticking with the wild west theme from my Wild Guns review, I thought we’d take a look at another frenetic cowboy shooter, but this time from Konami. Capcom and Konami ruled the arcades scene in the 1990’s. Konami was especially known for their hit arcade beat ’em ups like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, and X-Men, and unlike a majority of the console licensed games of the day, these arcade beat ’em ups are classics. With the success of these series of arcade hits, it allowed Konami to create new wildly fun IPs like Sunset Riders which originated in the arcade and later ported to the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Both of these ports were in the same genre of game, but still distinctly different games similar to the differences to another set of Konami games Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time on the SNES and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist on the Genesis. For the purpose of this review, I’ll only be reviewing the SNES port.
At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss Sunset Riders as another beat ’em up, and if you did, you’d be wrong. Sunset Riders is a run and gun action platformer in the same vein as one of Konami’s flagship titles, Contra. Similar to Contra, you’re going to be blasting away at an army of enemy cannon fodder all the while trying to avoid the hailstorm of bullets relentlessly raining down on your frail one-hit character. If you want to survive to see the end credits, level memorization and quick reflexes are the order of the day, but that’s not to say that your character is entirely helpless. With the Y button, your character can shoot in all eight cardinal directions while running and shoot left, right, diagonally down and to the left, and diagonally down and to the right while crouching. From the four selectable characters, Steve and Billy are your classic cowboy characters holstering the faster and more powerful six shooters, and Bob and Cormano are your typical frontiersman and obligatory stereotypical sombrero and poncho wearing Mexican, respectively, equipped with their weaker but wider ranged shotguns. Each character can power up their guns with two types of power ups: the rapid fire power up, and the dual wielding power up. Movement is almost exactly the same as Contra except for a few distinct differences. The first is that your playable character has a slide with the A button that allows you to escape those nigh impossible situations by the skin of your teeth. The second difference is that not only can your character jump around with the B button, but the game operates with two planes most of the time like Sega’s Shinobi franchise where down or up pressed together with the jump button moves your character between the planes. Another aspect that is similar to Contra is the fact that the game mixes up the levels, so the player is never bored with the same thing over and over. Sunset Riders offers a plethora of level types from your standard action levels, to horse riding levels, to behind the back levels reminiscent of Wild Guns, and even shooting gallery bonus levels. Needless to say, the tight gameplay with the level variety is a winning combination.
But what’s amazing gameplay without a bit of eye and ear candy? Well, still a pretty darn good game, but Sunset Riders doesn’t disappoint in these categories either. The characters and backgrounds are bright and vibrant, and animate fairly well for the amount of characters that are onscreen at once. The style and animation is similar to Konami’s own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series of arcade games. All the characters down to the generic baddies have their own personalities and expressive faces (or eyes in case of the masked bad guys). Sound and music in Sunset Riders has its ups and downs. The music has some memorable tunes and not so memorable ones, but they’re all very western. Sound effects are your standard Konami stock sounds, but the game admirably uses digitized voices with the eight bosses. The voices are a bit muffled, but impressive that it’s coming out of the SNES.
Sunset Riders is an often overlooked run and gun shooter that’s not held in high regard as the pantheon of the Contra and Metal Slug series’ or other classics like Gunstar Heroes, which is too bad, since Sunset Heroes has a lot to offer and offers novel gameplay mechanics worth checking out. It’s a colorfully fun romp through the wild west that you can come back to time and time again. It’s gotten a little bit spendier in recent years on the usual auction sites, creeping closer to the $40 to $50 range for the cart only. It’s probably not worth that much, but if you can find it on the cheap, then by all means give it a try. How else are you going to live out your Man With No Name fantasies?