Tag Archives: contra

FGC #427 Yume Penguin Monogatari

PENGUIN!In a world where Spider-Man isn’t popular enough to merit game preservation, what hope does an overweight penguin have?

Yume Penguin Monogatari is a supremely unusual game. Hailing from a time well before videogamin’ had codified itself into anything that made sense (you know, back when your next mascot creature could be an electric rat that hides in the forest), Yume Penguin Monogatari is the story of… a penguin. And that penguin has a girlfriend. But! Our hero penguin, Penta, has gotten fat. And previously mentioned penguin girlfriend, Penko, is not having it. So Penko dumps tubby Penta, and leaves him for Ginji, a nefarious penguin in a top hat and shades. Now Penta is setting out on a quest to lose some weight and reclaim the heart of Penko, but Ginji is on to Penta’s plans, and schemes to recruit an army of ridiculous creatures that all aim to fatten Penta back into obesity. So Penta has to find his way through six or so levels, and hopefully maintain a slim figure while battling monsters like a sentient/delicious birthday cake. It’s a hard life for an overweight penguin!

But, depending on how badly you want to see Penta achieve his chubby penguin dreams, it might not be a hard life for the player. Yume Penguin Monogatari features fairly unique gameplay for a NES (well, technically, Famicom) title: Penta cannot die. Get hit by every enemy across any given stage, and Penta will still survive. In a time when a mere life bar was a godsend, Penta is practically invincible compared to his dramatically more fragile 8-bit brethren. But, make no mistake, Penta is not going to experience a cakewalk (wait… dietwalk?) on his quest to cut out calories. Every stage features a generally unforgiving Here we go!timer, and, should the hourglass run out for Penta, it’s time to repeat the stage from the start. Additionally, every stage has a “diet goal”, and if Penta manages to beat the boss, but still looks terrible in a speedo, it’s back to the beginning. Considering every boss tosses out copious amounts of edibles, and Penta is an accomplished glutton, there is a very real possibility Penta will be forced to restart a stage due to excess flab. Said it before, say it again: it’s a hard life for an overweight penguin.

But, hard life or no, you’ll probably see the whole stage. Which is more than I can say for so many NES games…

Yume Penguin Monogatari is a Konami title. For Konami, much of the NES/SNES era was the epoch of the shoot ‘em up. Whether it was lil’ ships battling big cores, or lil’ dudes gunning down gigantic hearts, Konami had a number of titles available for satisfying your inalienable right to run around and shoot aliens. But the downside of nearly all of those titles? One hit kills. Assuming you don’t forsake your missiles and laserbeams for a shield immediately, the Vic Viper is going to fall to the forces of Bacterion after the slightest tap from a… one of those roundy things at the start of a stage. They probably have a name. Or Contra! The greatest game of all time that absolutely required a cheat code or you were never going to make it to the third level! Bill and Lance might be heroes of an alien invasion, but they’re just as vulnerable to bullets as weird dudes with backpacks. Basically, back in the day of 8-bit heroes, if you saw the final stage of a game (or even the boss of approximately the fourth level), it meant that you had a nigh-superhuman level of reflexes, or the ability to memorize a level like nobody’s business. I don’t care if Nintendo Power was helping you out with maps, you still had to have some major skills to make it to the end without that precious Konami Code.

CAKE BOSSAnd Yume Penguin Monogatari feels like it may be an answer to all those crying Nintendo kids. Yes, thanks to the timer and weight requirements, it may be impossible for some people to beat even the first level, left alone finish the entire game; but will everyone be able to see the majority of level 1? It’s pretty likely! Penta merely “trips” or inflates to bulbous size when attacked by an enemy, and is not immediately obliterated like so many Gradius defenders. And that’s great! The worst part of any of those one-hit kill games (or games that require a continue after rapidly vanishing “lives”) is that it was nearly impossible to be prepared for the end of a level. People expect increasing difficulty, so it’s only natural that the end of the stage would be the most challenging section. But if you spent all your lives on the initial, “easy” bits (because you’re, ya know, an eight year old just trying to have fun), then the finale is simply going to be a swift kick in the teeth before getting booted back to the beginning. In Yume Penguin Monogatari, however, you actually have a chance. Yes, Penta might be waddling along at maximum fat levels, and it might be abundantly clear that he’s going to get his tubby tail feathers dumped at the end of the stage, but at least you get to see what’s at the end of the stage. At least you get to play the actual game, as opposed to simply being annihilated at the starting gate. At least you can learn from your mistakes, and not be completely blindsided/destroyed by some manner of pig-zeppelin at the end of the level.

FLAP FLAPAnd, thankfully, this helps the player learn how to play the game. There may be traps and pitfalls all over the level, but with the ability to play the whole level, a player is going to get better and better with every run. All effort won’t be expended immediately just in an effort to conquer the start, and practice can make perfect across the entire breadth of a stage. In short, in one silly “fat penguin” game, Konami cracked the “difficulty appropriate for everyone” nut in 1991.

And then no one in America ever got to play the game, because it was never localized.

And, likely because it had the global appeal of… well… an overweight penguin, Yume Penguin Monogatari only ever saw rerelease in 2006, on the i-Revo… and I have no idea what that is. Some kind of smart phone? Smart TV? Smart penguin? No matter. Point is that this penguin adventure isn’t something that can legally be played in any country where there is currently an ongoing debate on the nature of videogame difficulty.

Yume Penguin Monogatari is an excellent, fun, weird game with some interesting twists on videogame difficulty…

And it’s lost forever.

FGC #427 Yume Penguin Monogatari

  • System: NES… or Nintendo Famicom. And, as previously mentioned, whatever the hell an “i-Revo” is.
  • Number of players: Oh lawd, one penguin comin’.
  • Everything you know is wrong: Considering the goal of many videogames (and nearly all NES games) is to consume as many food items as possible, it is really weird playing any game where you must avoid, say, succulent apples and enchanting rice cakes. The fact that apples are anything but a diet item pretty much goes against everything I have ever learned.
  • WeeeeeeLet’s talk about fat, baby: One could make the argument that this game is anti-fat, and ultimately body-shaming. And it is! On the other hand, being fat doesn’t kill Penta, it simply is the reason his girlfriend is going to leave him for another, slimmer penguin. So think of the moral less that “fat is bad” and more “some penguins are superficial, and will make you pilot magical planes to satisfy their own twisted desires”.
  • An end: Oh, and after defeating the final boss (it’s the bad alterna-boyfriend, natch), the ending is a now slim Penta hanging with the pleased Penko. But now Penko has developed an eating disorder, and she bulks up to gargantuan size. Ha ha! You two silly penguins are bad for each other!
  • Did you know? Pentarou, the penguin of Parodius titles, is supposedly Penta’s son. So I guess it is canon that Penta and Penko shake their collective penguin booty after the finale.
  • Would I play again: This is a great game! It would probably be right up there with Kirby’s Adventure and other late, great NES titles if, ya know, there was a legit way to play it.

What’s next? In the name of the moon, I will write about another forgotten videogame. Please look forward to it!

GET IT!?

FGC #403 Contra 3: The Alien Wars

CONTRA!Why are so many phenomenal games on the Super Nintendo?

If you’ve spent longer than five minutes on any gaming forum/group/site/underground fight club, you’ve probably heard the age old gaming question, “If you were stranded on a desert island, but somehow had a television and electricity and maybe access to Amazon.com, which gaming console would you want to have with you?” And, if you’re anything like the pedantic nerds that generally ask such a question, your response is only more questions. Does this “one system” allow for all games ever on the system? Are we talking about a fully backwards compatible Playstation 3? Are we including DLC titles that appeared on older systems? Is there online functionality? Is sand going to get in that cartridge slot, instantly ruining any hope of having fun at all? It sounds completely insane, but if we’re allowed one system equipped with every available game for that system, I might actually choose the Vita. That sucker technically has so many great games… even if its system exclusives are sorely lacking.

But, if you’re talking about exclusives (and not modern systems that are clearly cheating by absorbing entire classic libraries), it seems like the “best” systems are the second ones. Playstation 1 was fun, but Playstation 2 had an amazing library that practically defined modern game storytelling. Xbox was a drop in the online bucket, but Xbox 360 created the console online community of today. And the WiiU was a fine prototype for the concept of a “portable console”, but nothing beats the amazing portability and ergonomics of the Switch. And, when you get right down to it, this all makes sense. Videogames are, at their core, pieces of technology, and it’s rare that any technology gets it right the first time. Nobody is still driving a Model T, and the Wright Flyer isn’t our standard for aviation. To be clear, this isn’t to say that any “early technology” is inherently bad, simply that we usually first get a passable proof of concept, and then, a generation later, we’ve got the good stuff. It’s the way of the world.

WeeeeeBut the Super Nintendo was something special. Back before voice acting and online play and the very concept that you could have color on your portable system (or at least pull that off without 3,616 AA batteries), there was the Super Nintendo. And it’s easy to discount that previous sentence as an old man griping while he waits for the latest Kirby game to download 3 gigs of updates, but it’s worth noting that there was a time when all a videogame console was expected to do was play videogames. No DVDs, no Netflix app, not even the possibility of “updating the firmware”. If you wanted to do something unique and interesting with a later game, you needed to design a special chip, and plump that cartridge cost up to unreasonable levels (hi, Mega Man X3). You want to save? Go hit the battery store! And God help you if you want to require a damned contemptible misguided peripheral. But, through it all, it meant that, by and large, games were games, and all you kids better not be enjoying your walking simulators on my lawn.

Sorry, I had to take a quick break to go yell at a cloud. Where were we? Oh, right, Super Nintendo.

So the Super Nintendo didn’t have any gimmicks. This… might be the only time that ever happened with a Nintendo console. The original Nintendo Entertainment System shipped with its own robot, and a gun with which to shoot said robot (in case it ever demanded you play Beyond the Beyond). The N64 touted its lack of load times, four controller ports, and analog sticks in direct response to Sony’s betrayal. The Wii, WiiU, and Switch were all completely defined by their stunts. And the Gamecube? Its biggest failing was that it had a pile of gimmicks (weird controller layout, GBA compatibility, the fact that it is clearly a near-sentient lunchbox), and none of them ever stuck, because all anyone wanted to do was play Smash Bros. But the Super Nintendo only ever wanted to play videogames. Here’s a controller with some more buttons. Here are a few chips that allow for more colors, graphics, and sounds. Now go nuts! We’ll check back in in five years or so.

BOOMAnd it certainly seems like a lot of developers did go nuts. Nintendo itself (well, let’s include some “second parties” that were synonymous with Nintendo) was responsible for Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Kirby Super Star, Donkey Kong Country, and Earthbound. There was also Super Metroid, which some claim has not been surpassed within its genre even to this day. Square gave us Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy 2 & 3, and Chrono Trigger, another luminary that is still unrivaled. Capcom presented Mega Man X and the last of the great Disney licensed platformers. And Konami was no slouch, either, as we saw the future of Castlevania and Contra, which neatly brings us to today’s featured title.

Contra 3: The Alien Wars is one of the few run ‘n gun games that presents a different playstyle every stage, but still manages to be absolutely perfect. Everything starts in a “basic” Contra stage, with invading aliens, marching soldiers, and the occasional giant turtle monster. Then it’s time for an overhead stage that is less wanton destruction and more hide ‘n seek. The third stage is predominantly climbing based, and the fifth level is a hunt ‘n kill in the desert. It’s only in the sixth and final stage that we return to the “original” gameplay of the first level, and then it’s time for a boss gauntlet that includes destroying a strangely high number of colossal organs. And sandwiched somewhere in the middle is the unbelievable Level 4, wherein Jimbo and Sully (real names withheld to protect the innocent) first ride hovercycles across a deserted highway (though it gets more crowded pretty quickly), proceed to fight a robo ninja beneath a helicopter, and then ride a series of missiles straight into an offending flying fortress. It is the most spectacular thing to ever happen in a Contra game!

GACKAnd that’s the thing: Contra 3 might be the best game in the franchise… And it was released on the Super Nintendo over 25 years ago. There have been other Contra experiences since, but so many of them have been… lacking. And even the best of these new Contra titles (Contra 4 comes to mind) revisit earlier titles rather liberally, up to and including whole bosses or set pieces from Contra 3, yet adding very little to the nostalgia. Then again, Contra 3 did repeat some of the greatest hits of Contra and Super Contra, so… has that always been happening? Is Contra just as iterative as Super Street Fighter 2: Turbo Edition?

Wait a tick… maybe the Super Nintendo is home to so many great games because it was a system exclusively built for iterative games.

The Super Nintendo was a “Nintendo, but super”. The system allowed games to be “the same thing as last time, but super”. Castlevania 4 was, ultimately, a reskin of Castlevania 1. Super Metroid was Samus repeating her zero mission all over again, but now she gets faster boots. Link vs. Ganon. Little Mac vs. Some Tall Guy. There was no need to make Mario a JRPG or fighting game (yet), and the public (or the market) was perfectly content to see the early “arcade” style games evolve into their more console-based final forms. Basically, all the games that defined gaming in the first place on the NES all went Super Saiyan at once, and the nefarious Frieza of Boredom was left floating in space.

BOOMSo why is the Super Nintendo so well regarded? Because it was a videogame system that had the technology and luck to allow itself to “only” be a place for properly evolved videogames. As we grew up, so too did our games, and the Super Nintendo was the host for many of them.

And then we got to murder a buttload of aliens, so that wasn’t bad, either.

FGC #403 Contra 3: The Alien Wars

  • System: Super Nintendo/SNES Classic, and then there was a remake of sorts on the Gameboy Advance. It included a few stages from Contra: Hard Corps in an effort to ditch the overhead stages, which makes for a very different experience. There was also an OG Gameboy port of Contra 3, too, and it was phenomenally awful.
  • Number of players: And the Super Nintendo was a great time for two players (and exclusively two players)!
  • Port-o-Call: Gameboy Contra 3 was terrible, but it had Super Gameboy enhanced features. Which… is vaguely confusing, because if you’ve got a Super Nintendo, and want to play Contra 3 on the television, I want to say there are other options…
  • Favorite Weapon: Flamethrower 4 life. There is no problem that cannot be solved by an unending stream of hot death.
  • I'm not the only one that sees it, right?Favorite… Uh… Thing: A swarm of alien bugs attempt to carry off your hero toward the start of Level 3, and I’ve always appreciated how they’re the approximately one monster in the game that can be touched without incurring instant death. It doesn’t make that section any less hectic (as they will drag you to an immediate death if you let them), but it’s nice to be slightly less destructible for all of thirty seconds.
  • Did you know? In Europe, our Contra heroes are (not) secretly androids fighting an army of alien robots. It’s basically the prequel to Nier Automata.
  • Would I play again: Contra 3 just reminded me that the Super Nintendo was a system of wonders. What do you think?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask! I guess you’ll see that update in… three days. Please look forward to it!

FGC #313 C: The Contra Adventure

Aliens!We use the phrase “bait and switch” a lot, but its original meaning seems to predominantly stem from fishing retail. The modern standard for the bait and switch is basically what you see every Black Friday: tremendous deals are advertised (bait), but when the customer arrives, all that is actually available are the same two Luigi amiibos you bought last year (switch). Unfortunately, this is basically how modern advertising works on a nearly global level, and it winds up applying to not only retail, but also politics (see the entirety of the Republican Party), employment (“This job will be fulfilling in a spiritual way”), and live theatre (“Sorry, Idina Menzel isn’t available tonight, but here’s Tammi, her understudy”). In fact, it’s hard to think of a facet of modern life that doesn’t frequently involve a bait and switch, as fleecing the customer is pretty much expected by anyone over the age of twelve. Nobody ever got rich actually giving the public what it wants, now go out and buy your new iphone 7 8.

Like everything else, the videogame market has a tendency to use bait & switch marketing. Gamers repeat stories about “fake” demos going back to the 90’s, and “real time graphics” wound up being a watch phrase for a solid couple of decades. Cloud looks amazing on that motorcycle, but you know he’s going to be strangely Popeyeish when the player actually has control. And even older than the demos of doom, we have the ever popular cover lie-a-thon. Pick a decade, and I’ll tell you what’s on the back of the box. 3-D rendered graphics? RPG-like elements? A huge, open world? How about the old chestnut of 80 hours of gameplay (for a game that can be finished within an hour)? Gamers are used to being lied to, and about the only thing you can count on to actually be correct on that back o’ the box is the number of players (and, come to think of it, that’s usually on the front).

But once you get past being tricked into actually getting that new game into your old game system, you should be in the clear. Give or take a strange tendency for games to turn into shoot ‘em ups in the final ten minutes (or whatever the hell happened in Solar Jetman), what you see on the first level of any given game is usually about what you’d see on the final level. The bosses may have gotten more apocalyptic, or your hero might have gotten a little more loaded for bear (or maybe your main character became a bear? It happens), LASER!but, one way or another, the game is usually recognizable between first world and last. Whether your new purchase is the best thing ever or sucks beyond the pale, nine times out of ten, it’s a similar experience from start to finish. Once you’ve hit the cash register, there’s no more need for bait.

Well… most of the time. Let’s take a look at C: The Contra Adventure.

As one might expect, C:TCA is a Contra game. That’s good! We all love Contra, right? Run, gun, turn some off-colored falcons to paste. This was also a release from a post Contra 3/Contra Hard Corps epoch, so there were decent odds on gigantic bosses and crazy, completely ridiculous shopping cart robots. Okay, not every game can be as delightfully insane as Hard Corps, but you might get some missile riding or something similar in there. And, hey, this is from Appaloosa, the weirdoes behind Kolibri, so there’s a good chance this will be some good stuff.

C:TCA starts out a lot like a combination of Contra 3 and Super Contra, and that’s certainly a good thing. We’ve got 2-D run ‘n gun gameplay. We’ve got climbing hand over hand above flaming debris. We’ve got infinitely respawning backpack soldiers. We’ve even got a choo choo ride at the end of the stage, and a multi-part, gigantic boss. Wow! It is like someone actually played Hard Corps! Contra is the Contra we all love! And, yes, it’s a little difficult, but that’s Contra, too! Going to take some time to finish that first level with three lives, but you can do it, soldier!

But that’s just the bait.

Past the first level, C:TCA is nothing more than yet another lame, vaguely Doom-esque 3-D action game. Run around 3-D mazes that are the tiniest bit reminiscent of Contra’s original “base” stages while deftly dodging bullets and aliens. And guess what? It’s super easy to survive Contra gameplay when you have 3-D movement and bullets are moving about as fast as a disabled penguin (on land, to be perfectly clear). Aside from some familiar weapons (flamethrower, spread, grenade launcher), this could be any other early 3-D action game starring a grizzled marine-ish dude battling space aliens. In fact, the aliens of this Contra adventure are less Red Falcon and a lot more H. R. Giger. Yes, there’s always been some overlap there, but it’s so flagrant here that no one would bat an eye at this being a reskinned Alien title. What?Plagiarism aside, play through C:TCA, and you’ll find that only the first and final levels are actually “classic” Contra levels, everything else is a switch over to the world of generic (and tepid) late 90’s 3-D nonsense. You have to play through this weak wannabe Contra game to find a real Contra experience!

What was even the point of such a thing? Appaloosa went to all the trouble of creating 2-D physics, monsters, and bosses for… a whole two stages. Was it so they could release screenshots and gameplay videos of “classic” Contra action? Was it because Blockbuster was still a thing, and they figured no one would finish the first (and seemingly most difficult) stage and find out the rest of the game was a sham during a rental? Was it to placate fans that despised the previous Contra: Legacy of War and wanted some classic gameplay? … For… two levels? Whatever the reason, C: The Contra Adventure was bait and switch from case to CD, and the advertised “Contra” here was practically nowhere to be found.

Pew PewLuckily, it looks like the bait didn’t attract that many fish. This contra adventure was apparently an abject failure, and nobody even bothered to localize it anywhere but the States. It would be another four years before we saw a new Contra game of any kind (and this was after seeing a new one every two years like clockwork). C: The Contra Adventure’s switch failed completely, and, to add salt to the wound, the franchise was left floundering ever since.

But one thing is obvious. Buyer beware: Contra adventures are not to be trusted.

FGC #313 C: The Contra Adventure

  • System: Playstation 1. I guess this means the game may be technically played on Playstation 2 and Playstation 3 as well, but don’t go expecting any digital releases.
  • Number of players: The general lack of 2-D also means a complete lack of 2 players. What were they going to do? Implement a split screen? Ha!
  • Say something nice: There is one stage that features Ray, our Contra hero, trapped in a rapidly descending elevator, so gravity is right out. This allows for some neat, floaty gameplay that is pretty much what I always expected a Contra “underwater level” to look like. Of course, the whole thing is only one screen with randomly arriving monsters, so it still feels kind of cheap… but it’s the thought that counts.
  • Grabity!Favorite Weapon: The flamethrower is a fine example of the difference between 3-D and 2-D gameplay. In 2-D mode, the flamethrower practically encompasses the horizontal length of the screen, and can vaporize most any creature in its vicinity. In 3-D mode, it barely seems to stretch inches ahead of Ray, and is really only effective against generally immobile sub bosses. So, to answer the question, my favorite weapon is laser.
  • Retro Roll Call: The final area (when it returns to 2-D) features a boss fight against the Terminator Twins and their colossal cousin from Contra 3. I have no idea why this boss fight was chosen as the reprise du jour in the middle of the alien base (where, I don’t know, maybe a more alien boss would make slightly more sense), but at least they got to rip off Cameron instead of Giger for a few minutes.
  • Did you know? Recent releases in the Contra franchise include Contra 3D, a pashislot game, and Neo Contra, a slot machine. Long live Contra!
  • Would I play again: Nope. Never. Man, this game is bad. There are so many actually good Contra games out there! Play those!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Kung-Fu for the NES! Punch, kick, it’s all in the pagoda! Please look forward to it!

What?

FGC #295 Sunset Riders

BAM POWI’m not going to claim that the fall of the Western genre has led to the degradation of society, but… Okay, that’s exactly what I’m going to claim. Westerns are no longer popular, and that may destroy us all.

Everyone can identify a Western. There’s a dusty, one horse town, and a sheriff that just does his best to keep the peace. A posse of black hats roll in, scare the local populace, and only one man can stand against the encroaching lawlessness. Granted, sometimes it’s the reverse (town ruled by bad guys, and one man of honor appears with the sunrise), but, one way or another, the same basic beats are followed with the precision of a Texas BBQ. Hero does his best, maybe loses a dear friend, defeats all the henchmen, and then has one final showdown with the baddest hombre around. Everything wraps up around high noon, and the protagonist rides off into the sunset with the apparently only single woman in town. Maybe she has a heart of gold.

Given that plot synopsis, you would think there would be more Western videogames. I mean, what about that description isn’t a video game? One solitary hero against a world of “monsters”? Check. Whole world full of people that are there to offer advice but are otherwise completely useless? Check. Town in the middle of nowhere so the rest of the planet may as well not exist? Check. Final battle with the big boss that is just as allergic to lead poisoning as everybody else, but somehow is the only one that survives until the final moments? Check. Almost entirely male cast? Double check. Yet, it seems like the Western genre has been largely ignored by videogame producers. Yes, we’ve got our Red Deads and Call of Juarezes, but aside from the arcade style shooting games that are more about reliving specific dueling battles and a handful of games based on properties already firmly entrenched in olden days (does Back to the Future 3 count?), the Old West is snubbed by digital storytelling. Even games like Wild Arms and Gunman Clive seem to be living in the land of the cattle rustler, but before the credits roll, you know a space ship or anthropomorphic lizard aliens are going to make the scene. Despite efforts by highfalutin Hollywood bigshots, cowboys and aliens do not go well together.

Here we goSunset Riders is a pretty standard Western videogame. Actually, that’s a little bit wrong, as I’m pretty sure the average Western doesn’t contain this much neon. Also, Native Americans in this Konami action game are Native Ninja. But conceptually this is a standard Western: three (nearly identical) bounty hunters and their Mexican stereotype sidekick are looking to make a few bucks, and, on the way to bigger and bigger bounties, wind up saving fair maidens and one-horse towns. There’s some cattle rustling, horseback riding, and saloons out the wazoo, so there’s no question about the Western-authenticity of Sunset Riders. Yes, the game leans on goofy whenever possible (I’m pretty sure running atop a stampede is something out of a Charlie Chaplin routine), but, glowing bullets or no, this is still a bloody Western. I’m not one for counting, but I’m pretty sure Sunset Rider Bob (clearly the best named hero of the bunch) mowed down about 12,000 gunslingers between here and the Rio Grande. They… uh… let’s assume they all shot first.

But that’s the appeal of the Western.

There are a lot of important aspects to any given Western, but the body count is always there. Why? Because when you’ve got a problem that can be solved with a sixgun, and bygum, you’ve got a sixgun, then, well, I reckon guns aren’t exactly known for the most peaceful of solutions. I don’t care if you’ve got a slab of defensive metal under your poncho, if you’ve got a Western without bloodshed, you’ve got a pretty darn boring Western. Bad guys getting their just desserts (a big ol’ helping of death pie) is endemic to the genre, and the same grandmas that would later complain about the violence of videogames seemed perfectly okay with the Baby Boomers watching a lot of rifle booming.

Yee haBut that’s the thing about the Wild Wild West: it was fiction, and everyone knew it was fiction. Yes, there are stories about “the bad old days” of the West, when frontier towns were lawless and desperados roamed the prairie, but, by and large, those stories were just… stories. The Old West did not operate in any conceivable way like a John Wayne picture. If you think otherwise, at least acknowledge that your average “small town” could not have ever survived with a mortality rate of 80% and an economy based entirely on booze and whores. The truth is that a town in Utah is exactly as boring today as it was a few centuries ago, just today it might have a slightly better internet connection. The Old West has never been a place for legitimate historical dramas any more than Camelot and its band of chivalrous knights was a proper representation of the Dark Ages.

But, over time, the Western has fallen out of favor. Maybe it’s because people got tired of the formula, or because Clint Eastwood is three years shy of 90, or maybe it’s just that Hollywood finally called in an exterminator to take care of that tumbleweed problem, but, one way or another, the Western is by and large dead. It’s an anachronism, and the best the genre can hope for is a Wolverine movie or two. The Western is in a pine box, and, in its place we have… the exact same stories. One hero against a gang of bad guys, and all of the guns is the only solution to every conceivable problem. The only difference is that now it’s set in the now, and the bad dudes aren’t just black hats, they’re all manner of scary terrorists and smart white guys and maybe even a foreigner or two. Modern movies feature modern threats in modern settings.

And that’s the problem: modern media blurs the lines between fantasy and reality to a significant degree. It’s easy to immerse yourself in a videogame that could potentially be taking place down the street, but it’s a little disconcerting when that game encourages you to steal everything that isn’t nailed down and murder anybody that gets in your way. No, I’m not going to claim Grand Theft Auto has magically transformed the videogame playing masses into murderbots with a taste for trashcan medkits; Lotta deathbut, in a time when we need empathy more than ever, it’s very easy to lose yourself in a world where nothing matters but you, player, and everybody else is a brainless NPC that just happens to look like the average person you’d see on the street. No, I’ve never encountered anyone wearing a ten-gallon hat and two straps of chest ammo, but I have encountered the average “business guy” or “dude in a bandana” that I’ve plowed over in Saint’s Row before. We’ve still got all the violence of the imaginary Old West, but now it’s right here in our backyard.

Assuming those neon bullets are as lethal as their Contra brethren, Sunset Riders has an incredible body count. But it also takes place in a magical Old West that no one is going to mistake for something with historical accuracy. But Sunset Riders is also an anachronism onto itself; the Western is dead, and no we’re stuck with a simulacrum of reality for all of our murder simulators. So maybe we need our Westerns back, if only to give our children something new to shoot. Or… uh… old, I suppose.

Where have all the cowboys gone? And could they remember to bring the neon? Makes ‘em a better target.

FGC #295 Sunset Riders

  • System: Super Nintendo for the review, though there is a very compromised Genesis version out there, too. And, of course, find an arcade cabinet wherever available.
  • Number of players: Two for the SNES, but a whole four if you’ve got an arcade handy. Simultaneous play is always the best.
  • Favorite Character: I had to choose Bob for obvious reasons, but Cormano secretly holds the key to my heart. An all pink/purple poncho and sombrero? You’re the hero we all need, Cormano.
  • Ninja!Favorite Boss: Chief Scalpem/Wigwam is the weirdest kind of racist. He’s a Native American “savage” like you’d cringingly expect to see in your average Western, but in this case, “savage” equals “ninja”, so he flies around like Rolento tossing knives all over the place. I am not familiar with that particular stereotype.
  • Speaking of Racism: Okay, I might miss the Western, but I do not miss the inherent racism in the genre. I have no idea why the playable characters for this game are three identical white dudes and then one random Mexican fellow. I have no idea why Dark Horse appears to be some manner of stripper riding an armored horse. I don’t even want to know the deal with Paco Loco. It’s all very confusing.
  • Did you know? Also speaking of racism, a number of subtle changes were made to the SNES version. Instead of murdering an entire stage of Native Americans, now there’s just the one at the end of the level. All the women have slightly more modest outfits, and, to prove that Final Fight isn’t the only franchise with this problem, all female enemies were modified to be male. But everything else is the same! Except the dogs!
  • Would I play again: This is a fun game that is ideal for multiple players. It’s basically a beat ‘em up meets Contra. And that’s fun! But I’ll probably never play it again, because, ya know, Westerns are dead.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Driver for the Playstation 1! Who wants to go driving… I guess? Please look forward to it!

Stab!