Archive for July, 2019

Retro-Game Backlog Entry #6: Sunset Riders

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Lists, Retro Games on July 5, 2019 by slateman

Konami’s 1991 side-scrolling western has always been fondly remembered in the annals of gaming, though it never received a follow-up. The title’s impressive animation and lighthearted theme made for a game that stood out in a time of ever-increasing machisimo – an trend that never seems to have faded. Despite playing this back in the day and not really fitting the backlog category, it’s a game I have wanted to revisit for some time. Thus, while the packers jam virtually every possession of mine into boxes and I’m required to be in the house while it happens, today was the day to hit up nostalgia alley. There was only one small hiccup; I played the wrong game.

With a laptop and an external drive available, I booted up RetroArch and synched up my trusty 8BitDo SN30 Pro. The thing is awesome. A quick search on mamedb.org told me the file name to search (as I don’t have a full MAME frontend on the laptop) and away I went! The game, while good, seemed to be a bit lacking. It was reasonable but the animation seemed substantially off and it really lacked some of the punch my memory told me it should have. Upon beating it, with no real story or level transitions, I inspected to see that I was in fact playing the Genesis/Mega Drive port and not the arcade original. Well, that explained a lot!

Still, it was a fun game despite its reused assets and lack of diversity. There were fewer stages and animations but the final stage had a bit more than the arcade game as your hero ran through the city streets. Each world was split in two: the first half to save the lady and the second to face a boss. The simple mechanic effectively doubled the level count, though it was far from transparent. On one level, however, rain started falling, a pretty cool effect on the 16-bit system! I took some snapshots and have no real urge to play the SNES game to compare a third time. I went straight into the arcade game after and chose my favorite: Cormano!

Moving on to the far superior and technically impressive, the arcade version came in two flavors: a two-player model and a four-player one. The latter actually assigned a character to a controller and since Cormano was the fourth such choice, I opted for the two-player game where you could choose who you played as. The experience was familiar, both from my prior Genesis run-through and from my near-three-decade-old memories. This game is fantastic. Animations are over the top. Explosions are enormous. Action sequences are thrilling and colors are tremendously vibrant. From the first stage where you step on a rake and hit yourself in the balls to flames engulfing enemies, the entire run-through was just a pleasure.

Music is the clear weak link, sounding much like an arcade might in 1991. But songs aren’t memorable and they feel repetitive and bland. Sound effects are better and the voice samples, which were changed to speech bubbles in the home versions, are pretty cool.

Of particular note is how un-PC it is. Native Americans run at you with every stereotype known to man and the boss, Chief Scalpem (changed to WigWam on home consoles) begins by saying, “Me ready for Pow-Wow.” Women fare no better. While they are present with dynamite throughout, they are often relegated to the usual sex symbols. You can enter saloons and emerge, babe in hand, with a power up of some kind and a kiss on the cheek. Damsels in distress can be found and they even dance for you in one stage. It’s all nonsense and the absurd nature of it all may be enough to offend nowadays. Perhaps this is why Konami never re-issued it on newer consoles.

But as ridiculous as the entire game may be, it’s a tremendous amount of fun. Horseback-riding sections, bonus levels and characters with different animations and weapons keep the action fast and entertaining and worth revisiting. While the other titles in this retro-game backlog may be console experiences or one-and-done efforts, I would gladly come back to Sunset Riders and very well may do so one day. Maybe get a few controllers and play through with the kids. Politically incorrect or not, it was a genuinely-fun game that looks great even now, 28 years later.