Retro Profile: Sunset Riders (SNES)

When I think about the subject of westerns, I usually think of cowboys, whisky, and saloons. When combined, these elements usually make for a nice bar fight somewhere down the line. That’s actually what I like the most about those types of movies. Those things aside, no western scenario would be complete without an outlaw, a bounty hunter, and a town caught in the middle of the battle between the two characters.
It was in that vein that in 1991, Konami released Sunset Riders in the arcade. It was a game that allowed up to 4 players to choose a bounty hunter and clean up the bandit-infested towns using that old fashioned brand of justice. I’m talking about six-shooters and shot guns, of course. It was no surprise that this game would go on to be released on the Sega Genesis and later on the Super NES as well. What I found surprising about these console ports was how they differed in conveying the presentation found in the arcade version. The Genesis port was pretty lackluster with only two characters to choose from (instead of the original 4), watered down graphics, and a shorter game altogether. The Super NES version, on the other hand, had a more favorable outcome.

Sunset Riders can be best described as the result you get when you crossbreed Contra with the Wild West. The 4 bounty hunters to choose from are Billy, Bob, Steve, and Cormano. Once you’ve selected your hero, you then proceed to shoot all sorts of bandits, enter taverns for weapon upgrades and blow stuff up with the help of dynamite sticks that are tossed your way (in the early stages anyway). The goal is to take down 8 outlaws spread across 8 stages, collecting a bigger bounty for each boss you put out of commission. The weapon of choice for Billy and Steve is the pistol. Bob and Cormano make good use of the shotgun. Billy and Steve’s weapons fire quickly but cover a narrow space, whereas Bob and Cormano’s heavier firepower is a little slower, but covers a wider distance. I found the game to be easier when play as either of the later two bounty hunters.

There’s not a huge variety of power-ups to make use of, but what is available is helpful enough. Collecting a silver sheriff’s badge with the dual pistol symbol grants your character double firepower. The golden sheriff’s badge gives you rapid fire which of course allows you to shoot more enemies onscreen at once. Both items can usually be picked up by into certain taverns/buildings or are sometimes dropped by special bandits once they’ve been killed. These upgrades will prove to especially helpful in boss battles.
As with most arcade style shooters, the first few bosses are fairly simple to defeat. As you progress on, you’ll need to pay attention to their attack patterns and time your shots accordingly. One of the more unique battles take place in a saloon where you must defeat a pair of bomb-throwing maniacs know as the Smith Brothers. You’ll be spending most of your time trying to stay one step ahead of them, jumping on the chandelier that sways in the typical Mode-7 fashion. It’s worth the effort though, because afterward some of the saloon girls come out and dance a cute little jig before sending you off to the next area. It’s the little things that give this game its own personality.

The level designs are fun to play through and recreate the look and feel of the Wild West very well. My favorite areas are the ones that have you taking down bandits while riding on horseback through the frontier. The visual presentation on the Super NES looks simply gorgeous and stays very faithful to arcade original. Each character or enemy type is well animated with their own personality and movements which make them easy to prioritize when deciding which foe to take on first when the action gets a little hectic. I can’t recall a moment where the game ever slowed down much at all. That’s a feat worth noting because it’s no secret that the SNES was known for being the slower console of the 16-bit generation.

Play or Stay? Whether you’re a huge fan of western themes in your games or not, the heavy Contra influence mixed with its own original elements makes Sunset Riders a fun little shoot ‘em up that aged pretty well, given the fact that it was released back in the early 90’s. To my knowledge, a sequel was never produced; this was most likely due to the fact that it didn’t receive heavy attention either in the arcade or especially when it was released on the Super NES and Genesis systems. It’s too bad, because I can only imagine what could have been done to 1up the already satisfying experience with a continued story and maybe a new set of bounty hunters. Ah well, even though the sun seems to have set on this particular title (I know…corny pun), I’d say that a re-release on the Wii’s Virtual Console would not too far out the realm of possibility. If that happens, then perhaps Sunset Riders will finally receive to exposure that it deserves.

Jamie Alston is somewhat of an unusual gamer. While most people crave the visual delights that can be found in many of the current generation consoles of today, he actually prefers the 8-bit & “super 8-bit” (SNES) glory days of yesteryear. This is probably due in part to the fact that his brother chose the Nintendo Entertainment System over the Sega Genesis back in 1989…or maybe it had more to do with that time when he fell and hit his head on the blacktop in elementary school. Whatever the reason might be, Jamie has an undying love for those unnecessarily big cartridges he spent so many summer afternoons playing. When he’s not raiding trucks that “have started to move” for rations and key cards, he stays busy supporting his gaming hobby by working as a Policies & Procedures Analyst for a financial company in Baltimore, Maryland. And when he’s not working for “the man”, he’s working on the next retro review for the week. And when he’s not fighting off writer’s block and much needed sleep, he’s raiding trucks that “have started to”—well, you get the idea. Currently living in Randallstown, MD, Jamie sums up his life long dream this way: “If I one day find myself driving on the highway in a 2004 Honda Accord with an NES directional pad for a steering wheel, you can bet that I’ll be holding the up direction for that turbo boost on the straight-aways. That’s when I’ll know that I’ve finally made it in life”.