Before the arrival of Red Dead Redemption, there was another game that ruled the west. It brought with it the simplicity that made games of this generation so beloved, the ease of picking it up and playing for instant joy and satisfaction. It’s something that remains the same 26 years later.
Saddle up, partner
Sunset Riders started its life in the arcades and, as made popular at the time, arcade game ports were a big deal on SEGA’s Mega Drive. It didn’t take long to arrive on the console and when it did its popularity exploded onto the scene to a generation who perhaps missed out on the game in arcades. The premise is a simple one. Billy Cool and Cormano Wild are bounty hunters in it for one thing and one thing only – money. Through their adventures, they will be on the lookout for a reward for each bounty they catch and that is as in-depth as the story gets. It’s a good thing because you’ll have little time to be bothered about the flimsy story anyway. As soon as the first song kicks in it’ll light a sense of euphoria that a few other games in this industry can.
As a kid, you might recall watching a karate movie and wanting to kick and punch everything thereafter or watching a western and then joining your friends for some cowboys and crooks when the credits roll. Once that first level loads up ‘you become a cowboy’ and anything that moves must die. You walk over the bridge and into the first town where carnage kicks in right away. There are bad guys, bullets and chickens running all over the show. It’s all complete chaos and there is only one thing that’ll do the job – your guns. You have little time to grasp the controls, but then it’s so obvious anyway. Press one button to shoot (or pick up and throw dynamite sticks back at foes), another to jump and aim using the d-pad. That is really as complicated Sunset Riders is and that’s why it’s so much fun. You don’t need a degree to play this game. Sit back, relax and shoot everything.
You can literally hold in your shoot button and just aim as you walk, as your bullets will only down bad guys and never run dry. It passes by any other living beings that aren’t harmful, though you’ll have to jump on top of bulls as they will trample you otherwise. The good thing is that your bullets won’t harm your co-op partner either. That’s partly what makes Sunset Riders such a classic. If you have a second Mega Drive controller your best buddy can join you in all the action.
The difference between playing as a single player and with a friend is that you’ll now be fighting for those weapon power-ups like being able to shoot with both guns, instead of one, and for rapid fire. Should you die you’ll respawn instantly but without any perks, which is something that becomes tough towards the final levels. Whoever ends up with a power-up or two will always have a greater advantage and in an era where you’re playing for the most kills (which leads to a higher score on the leaderboard), this was important… and still is. Even though the leaderboards vanish once you power down the Mega Drive, those bragging rights are a crucial part of any of these older games and Sunset Riders knows it.
Riding into the sunset
Visually Sunset Riders isn’t bad on the Mega Drive. The parallax scrolling of the clouds in the first level is quite cool and the character sprites are really impressive in terms of its on-screen size, but it’s not the best you’ll see on the console. What it does do is to match the arcade version as best it can. It’s not perfect, but it looks after the important bits. Sunset Riders isn’t a very long game. You’ll finish the game in just over half an hour, but it’s 30 minutes you’ll love every second of. In total there are four areas split into two levels with a boss fight at the end of each. Themes kick off in a town and later moves on to a moving train and mountains where you come face-to-face with Native Americans. You’ll also get to ride your steed to collect bonus items in the form of money and 1Ups in bonus levels after each area you’ve cleared.
Thankfully the game does grant you the opportunity to tamper with the number of credits and the difficulty that allows newer players to play through all that’s there and provides some replay value for players to return for more at a higher difficulty. It’s not going to add hours of replay value, but it’s something. There is also a versus mode for you and a friend to battle it out in a gunfight, but that is really not where the enjoyment in this game lies.
Sunset Riders will forever remain a Konami classic.
Sunset Riders will forever remain a Konami classic that reminds us just how up to scratch this publisher once was in their heyday. Unless you have immense hate for pure enjoyment, you’ll have a hard time not having a good time with this classic western, cowboy. Yee Haw!