GameSpite Journal 10 | Sunset Riders

Sunset Riders | Dev.: Konami | Pub: Konami | Genre: Platformer | Release: Oct. 1993

Before Street Fighter II changed the course of arcade games, the side-scrolling brawler (or beat ’em up) briefly reigned supreme—particularly brawlers with big screens and four-player simultaneous play. Together with some buddies and a heap of quarters, you could have a pretty good time before or after a movie, and I’m sure the arcade operator was pretty happy about having shaken $5 each out of four kids in the span of 20 minutes. Konami seemed to make the best of the lot (in my rose tinted memories, The Simpsons: The Arcade Game is still a quixotic delight) and you can see the brawler influence in their game Sunset Riders, even if it plays more like a run-and-gun shooter (e.g., Contra).

While limited to two players on the SNES, your choice of four gunslingers illustrates its origin as a four-player arcade game. The large characters and zoomed-in, detailed viewpoint are also traits of a brawler, to say nothing of the small number of repeating enemies with set behaviors. Yet there is no health bar for your chosen protagonist -- only one-hit kills. You walk in a straight line for the most part, and your only weapon is a gun... a gun that can even be upgraded with spread shots. Sunset Riders is a genre mash-up, and while it’s a little simplistic (you will never forget you are playing an arcade game), it has that certain something that helps it remain compelling and entertaining to the end, assuming you make it that far.

Much of this has to do with variety and the rare use of the Western setting. Traveling mainly on foot, you traverse levels (such as a frontier town or mountain pass) en route to the boss fight shootout. Enemies, just like you, will die from one bullet hit. Luckily, their bullets travel at absurdly slow speeds; otherwise the game would be nigh impossible. Bosses—each a wanted man, with a bounty poster to boot—take quite a few hits before going down with a pithy, yet entertaining catchphrase. Mixing it up, some levels are on horseback, or set on a train—one is simply an elaborate boss fight in a saloon. Rarely does a level fail to surprise you in some way, and there is very little filler stretching out the concept beyond its welcome.

It feels simultaneously authentic to its source material, yet completely “videogamey.” This is best illustrated in the soundtrack. Putting the SNES sound chip to good use, the game offers reasonable approximations of Western themes, then throws in orchestral stinger samples to remind you that this is a silly romp while keeping up the brisk pace. It should be noted that while there is a Genesis version of Sunset Riders, the SNES game is superior by nearly every metric. Beyond the assumed muted colors and tinny sound, the Sega adaptation has compromised levels that look overly tiled, only two characters to choose from, and only half of the bosses to fight. The Super Nintendo game is by and large intact, with the exception of more “family friendly” Can-Can girls, and it even retains the arcade version’s opening animation.

Sunset Riders can be cheap, especially during the boss and “vehicle” segments, and the game ramps up the difficulty during the second half. I play on easy with the credits cranked up to maximum, and I have to use the second controller trick to get through the tough spots. Even so, it’s a very fun, if slightly shallow experience, and a unique one in the SNES library.

By Ben Langberg | Jan. 12, 2012 | Previous: The 7th Saga | Next: Secret of Mana