Wednesday 20 May 2009

Classics Revisited: Sunset Riders

In 1993 it was hard to be into cowboys. Sure, Unforgiven was great, but not really the typical Western action movie that kids from the generation previous to ours had grown up on. Every time a Bank Holiday rolled around you'd probably get High Noon, the summer hoildays usually had The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and every Sunday had an episode of Rawhide on Channel Four, but I think that was about it. So, for high action shooting, yee-hawing and cattle-rustlin', the only option was Sunset Riders on the Sega Mega-Drive (and SNES, too, but we'll get to that Political Correctness fiasco later).

The game, set in the Wild West, revolves around two bounty hunters, Billy and Cormano, who are out to claim rewards for the most wanted outlaws in the West. At the beginning of each level the player is shown a wanted poster, showing the criminal, and the reward for stopping them. That's about it, as far as plot goes. What the fuck do you want from us? It's a 90s video game. It's this or watch The Chuckle Brothers.

The game is still surprisingly good. The action is smooth and fast. Bullet fly through the air, and there's plenty of ducking and diving to be done before you can return fire. There's horse chase sequences, running along the top of a moving train and evil Injuns to fight too (unless you played the SNES version, but we'll get to that Political Correctness fiasco later).

The only trouble is that the game doesn't really get the ambience right for the Wild West. For starters, the colour palette is all wrong. Any Wild West should be dirty yellows and browns - the colour of leather, prarie dust, horse shit and tobacco. However, one of the main player characters is this fruity little Mexican:

In all honesty, can you remember any Western movie where one of the characters was quite Billy looks okay...maybe blue leather isn't historically accurate, but he'd look okay next to the cast of "Young Guns" at least. Cormano here, on the other hand, looks like...well...something of a queen, to be honest.

The sound effects have dated rather badly as well, (which you'll be able to hear in the video clip at the end, if you haven't played the game yourself). Only some of them, though. The thundering of cows hooves during the stampede sections sound fantastic. The explosions from the dynamite are great. The chugging of the train, whilst not amazing, is functional. But, and whilst I appreciate that this game is nearly twenty years old, why is the gun firing sound so shit? Rather than a percussive "bang" sound, it like the sound of someone pinging a rubber band against an empty drinks can. It's especially painful as it's the noise you'll hear most often throughout the game.

One of the things apparent in the game is how violent it is, even buy today's standards. This isn't one of those cutesy platformer games where the cute little dragon/mushroom/plumber/whatever jumps onto the monster's head, and the monster kind-of jumps sideways with a slightly concussed expression. When people are shot in the game, they fall down dead. When a player is hit by a speeding steer, they are catapulted across the screen by the impact. When a player runs into a brothel he comes out with a whore on his arm (unless you played the SNES version, but we'll get to that Political Correctness fiasco later). People are burnt, knifed, shot and thrown off moving trains. The garish colour scheme obviously makes this cartoony, but the fact remains that this is still a pretty violent game.

Ultimately, Sunset Riders has retainted its appeal. Playing it with my brother the other day, I wasn't playing it purely for nostalgia, but also for enjoyment. It's fun, it's blasty, it's's everything that a 90's video game should be, in cowboy packaging.

Unless you played the SNES version...

For those you unaware, Nintendo used to refuse to manufacture cartridges for a game, unless it met their "Nintendo Seal of Quality"; a standard that held the video games industry back from being taken seriously in much the same was a The Comics Code Authority did. Put simply, this meant that they had to "gay up" Sunset Riders in order to release it.

One of the major changes Nintendo version was completely remove the Native Americans from the Native American level, and replace them with cowboys. Your first reaction is probably "Ah, probably because it's racist.". Your second reaction is probably "Wait...why is that racist?". The simple fact is that it isn't. Cowboys and Indians fight. End of. Unless you're Nintendo.

A healthy third reaction is "Wait...isn't removing the Native Americans more racist than just leaving them in?".

Oh yeah, and they also edited out the whores kissing the cowboys, and made all the skirts and dresses on the ladies longer. And none of the cowboys drink. Cheers Nintendo. Thank God you're okay with explosions, guns and violence, otherwise this game would really suck.


  1. Along with Steve Harris' trademark galloping Iron Maiden bassline.. this music mite as well be run to the hills..

  2. All right, as you know, I am not the slightest bit interested in computer games (apart from 'The Sims' but I'm in rehab for that little addiction and doing nicely, thank you) but I still have two things to say about this article:

    1. Fuck you very much for making me look at a picture of the Chuckle Brothers. Quite frankly, I was less disturbed by your sex toys review the other week.

    2. How seriously fucked up is your definition of 'the generation previous to ours'???

    Westerns haven't been mainstream since the 1960s!!! (Not since Gene Roddenberry made everybody realise they'd be SO MUCH MORE COOL if you set them out in space!) Do you HONESTLY consider everybody under the age of (let's see... to be a teenager in the '60s you'd have to be at least...) FIFTY THREE to be part of YOUR generation??? That's very, very weird, if so.

    I generally consider 'my generation' to be anybody up to two years older or younger than myself. Experience has shown me that anybody outside that five-year bracket generally doesn't get all my culture references and I generally don't get all of theirs; hence 'my generation'.

    I realise that it's not unreasonable for somebody to extend their definition of 'their generation' a bit beyond my (admittedly quite exclusive) five-year span, but if my calculations are correct, YOUR generation, according to you, spans over half a century!!! Good grief...

    Anyway, rant over. Please continue talking about these strange 'video game' things that people of my generation will never really understand the huge appeal of. In our day, we were happy with a hoop and a stick... I remember when all of this was fields...

  3. I don't normally comment on my own articles, mostly because I hate discussions via the Internet, but I have to take issue with this.

    Paul, the reason you're managing to get a rant off here is because you are using your own personal definition of the word "generation".

    The Oxford English Dictionary defines "generation" as "a set of members of a family regarded as a single step or stage in descent". In other words: I am one generation, my mother and father were the previous generation, and my granparents were the generation before that.

    As you say, Westerns haven't been popular since the 1960s, my Dad was still aged between four and fourteen in the sixties - a perfect age to be into cowboys. In fact, he still has the Hopalong Cassidy watch he had as a kid (which he really should wear more often).

    The problem isn't that I'm "extending my definition" of "my generation", but rather that you're making up your own definition of what it means, and then getting pissy because the rest of the world doesn't agree with you.

  4. The trouble with your definition of the word generation, Brad, is that it doesn't allow for anybody else's family but your own to factor into the equation, which can cause serious problems with communication.

    For example, by your definition, there is no room for another generation between your parents' and your own, which is clearly bollocks, as their are millions of people out there whose minds would boggle at the thought of having to belong to one or the other. While I grant you that your 'dictionary' definition of the word is ONE of the meanings of the word 'generation', I would suggest getting a more comprehensive expanded version of the OED if that's seriously the only definition it lists.

    Also, let's cut the bullshit here:

    1. We both know that I'm twisting your original statement to make a joke, and you coming back with a serious reply just kills it stone dead, for fuck's sake...

    2. We all know that the real reason you don't comment on your own articles is because you're a pompous git.

    P.S. Do you remember a time when Brad took himself too seriously? Shub-Niggurath remembers...