Sunset Riders
  • Genre:
    • Run and Gun
  • Developer:
    • Konami
  • Publishers:
    • Konami
    • UK Palcom (SNES)
  • Released:
    Arcade
    • September 1991
    Genesis
    • December 1992
    SNES
    • 06/08/1993
Score: 90%

This review was published on 05/13/2017.

Sunset Riders is a side-scrolling run and gun shooter video game developed and published by Konami for the arcade, Sega Genesis, and Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The game was originally released as a coin operated arcade machine in September 1991, but received a stripped down Genesis port in December 1992 and an SNES release on June 8, 1993. Konami handled the publishing for most territories, but Palcom published the SNES version in Europe. Before Konami made a name for itself on consoles, the company was a force to be reckoned with in the arcades. In 1990, Konami was dominating the arcade scene with a beat 'em up based on the popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles license. Along with that game, many of Konami's other arcade hits were ported to consoles, which is where Sunset Riders comes in. Like the Ninja Turtles game that came before it, Sunset Riders is one of the best arcade games of all time.

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As its title hints at, this game is set in the American Old West. The game really goes all the way with its theme, exploring every possible trope. You play as any one of the four gun slinging cowboys, whose names are Steve, Billy, Bob, and Cormano. These four dashing desperados work together as bounty hunters, saving towns from seedy outlaws. However, each major outlaw has hordes of bandits, horse thieves, and other unscrupulous types under their command, so the job won't be easy. Along the way, the four heroes will save beautiful damsels, ride horses, and potentially get trampled on by bulls. Despite the various dangers, the game's tone is far from serious. There are bits of humor sprinkled all throughout, most of which is intentionally campy. This creates a lighthearted feel that works well with the over the top action. The game's premise is simple, but its action is intense.

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All this Wild West wackiness is displayed in some of the finest graphics of the time. The first thing you'll likely notice about this game upon laying eyes on it is the highly vibrant color palette. These visuals are exploding with so much color that it almost feels as if you're staring into a rainbow. It's like a Western wonderland. Backgrounds and foregrounds are intricately woven with minute details, giving the world a really fleshed out, lived in look that will tempt your imagination. The characters are bursting with personality, featuring big sprites, lots of detail, and solid animation. For example, there's a rake in the first stage that will temporarily stun your controlled character in a slapstick manner if you walk into it. Each character has a different animation for this goofy occurrence, with Cormano taking a nasty hit to the family jewels. At any rate, the game looked great back then, and it still looks great today.

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Audio wise, this game also earns high marks. You can tell right away that the music and sound effects are done by Konami, as they sound similar to other games made by the company, like the Ninja Turtles arcade game. Aside from the awesome music and sound effects, this game has some impressively clear voice samples. Most of these voice samples come from the game's criminal bosses, each of whom generally say a line when they first appear and when they're defeated. For instance, the first boss is a wealthy businessman named Simon Greedwell, and he opens the fight by saying "it's time to pay," but ends it by stating "bury me with my money." Another boss attempts to intimidate you by exclaiming "you in heap big trouble." Then there's an Indian boss whose final words are "me pow-wowed out." As corny as these lines are, many of them are quite quotable.

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Similar to Konami's well known Contra series, you can walk left or right, jump, crouch, and fire your gun in all eight directions. Also similar to Contra, you die in one hit. One thing you can do in Sunset Riders that you can't do in most Contra games, however, is slide. Reminiscent of the slide from the Mega Man games, this smooth move has you slide along the ground, which is quicker than walking and lowers your hit box. Normally, your tall sprite has a massive hit box, so this maneuver is an invaluable tool for narrowly avoiding enemy fire during heated situations. Also, most stages have an upper portion and a lower section, which you can freely jump between by holding the appropriate direction and pressing the jump button. Higher areas tend to include the roofs and balconies of buildings, while the lower area is usually the ground level. Constantly switching elevations is another good way to evade enemy assaults. The controls are intuitive and precise, which is precisely what you want for a game like this.

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Like most of Konami's run and guns, there are power-ups that will beef up your guys' guns. Some power-ups are gotten from defeating certain enemies, some are simply lying around, and some are obtained by entering the doors of buildings in the background. Shortly after entering a door, your guy will either come back out with a lovely lady that kisses him or a bottle of booze that he downs in one go. Presumably, kisses and booze grant immeasurable power. Guns get two types of power-ups: ones that increase rate of fire and ones that let you dual wield guns, widening your spread of bullets similar to the spread gun in Contra. Suffice to say, the power-ups are extraordinarily useful, but you lose them the instant you die. However, power-ups appear frequently, so it doesn't take long to get fully powered up again. That's very convenient, because it gets you right back into the action with minimal fuss.

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This game plays like a beat 'em up, except with guns. In other words, you valiantly march onwards as you blast away foes with an unlimited supply of bullets. Naturally, enemies will also attempt to give you a bullet shower, so you must have quick reflexes to prevail. Turning back isn't an option, as stages only scroll forward. Each stage begins with a wanted poster showing your next bounty, but you have to make it through an onslaught of bad dudes in order to reach the boss. The chaotic action stays interesting all throughout the game due to the varied set pieces. As mentioned earlier, the first stage has sections where you run across the backs of stampeding bulls to avoid being trampled to death. Some stages involve horseback riding, one of which has you riding alongside a train filled with goons as a man throws logs at you from a nearby carriage, which you can crash by shooting out one of its wheels. Occasionally, there are bonus stages where you shoot dastardly men in a first-person view, further spicing up the action. This game really gets a lot of mileage out of its theme.

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There were two variants of the arcade version of the game available: one that supported up to two players and another that went up to four. In the two player variant, each player can select one of the four heroes, but the four player variant forces each player into controlling a specific character. The console versions function like the two player variant of the arcade machine, more or less. In all versions, players can jump in at any time for seamless multiplayer action. While the four characters control the same, they are armed with different firearms. Steve and Billy have revolvers, whereas Bob and Cormano have shotguns. The revolvers have a faster rate of fire, but they lack the wide spread of the shotguns. Admittedly, the pistol wielders seem underpowered when compared to the shotgun users. In the event that you're playing with three or four people, this may result in everyone fighting over who gets to play as Bob and Cormano. Outside of that balance issue, this game's multiplayer is ace.

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Out of the three versions of the game, the arcade original is easily the best. The SNES port isn't a bad substitute, however, as it's a fairly faithful recreation. It isn't perfect, though; some of the more advanced special effects have been removed, the sprites are smaller, and the overall resolution is lower. Additionally, due to Nintendo's harsh censorship practices of the time, the SNES version was also heavily censored. All the bomb totting female enemies are now male, all the Indians in the mountain stage have been changed to regular bandits, all references to alcohol have been removed, and all the distressed damsels are dressed more conservatively. Unlike the SNES port, the Genesis version contains far greater changes, most of which are downgrades. The Genesis port has less playable characters, less stages, fewer bosses, worse graphics, and nearly all of the voice samples are gone. Bonus stages are also different, though they aren't necessarily bad. One feature that's actually exclusive to the Genesis version is a two player versus mode, but it's not terribly exciting. Just avoid the Genesis port, because it's the worst.

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Considering Konami made Contra, another excellent arcade game that essentially gave birth to the run and gun genre, it should come as no surprise that Sunset Riders is also excellent. Fantastic graphics, fantastic music, fantastic controls, fantastic stages, and fantastic bosses; everything about this game is fantastic. It even has fantastic cooperative multiplayer that can go up to a whopping four players if you play the proper variant of the arcade version. Along with Wild Guns, which Natsume released a few years later on the SNES, Sunset Riders is one of the best cowboy video games of all time.

Word Count: 1,622

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