Let’s talk about cowboys, challenges, and save states.
Today’s game is Wild Guns, which has been on the ol’ ROB list for a while. Why? Wild Guns Reloaded, the remake of Wild Guns, was released a few years back, so I have a physical copy of that floating around the collection. And then, just about a year ago, Wild Guns, the original SNES version, was added to the Nintendo Switch’s online library. This is a rare opportunity for the FGC! This is a game that I did not play during its heyday, but now I can play its original and upgraded versions side by side on legitimate hardware! I can compare and contrast versions! I love comparing and contrasting! I’ve been doing it since grade school!
Unfortunately, I hit a pretty familiar wall in Wild Guns almost immediately: this game is hard as (Cement Man’s) balls.
Wild Guns is, at its core, a graduated shooting gallery. On a basic level, there is very little difference between the gameplay of Wild Guns and your average shooting gallery you might find at an amusement park (that’s where all the arcades went, right? They’re still safe and happy at Six Flags?). You play as one of two (or four) cowboys/cowgirls/cowdogs who stand in the “foreground”, a series of targets pop up on another plane, and they require a whole lotta shootin’. Unlike in your traditional shooting gallery, though, these targets shoot back, so you have to not only manually aim, but also shuffle, jump, and roll around the screen to avoid a hail of bullets. And, just for the fun of it, this ain’t just a Western, it’s a Western in Space (or, at least, some nebulous future), so half of your opponents are tanks, giant brain pods, and a whole murder of Terminators. And if you are at all on the fence about shooting robots with shotguns, let me assure you that the inclusion of all sorts of Contra-esque opponents is unequivocally a good thing, as they allow for a lot more varied attacks than your traditional six-shooter. It is simply more fun to dodge the claws of a giant, mechanical crab than your 700th stampeding horse.
And, while this is a fun game, I am inclined to blame the abuser (the game) and not the victim (my poor gaming skills). Despite being remarkably straightforward, the controls and “details” of Wild Guns can often be confusing to a neophyte. I have an attack button, but what am I supposed to do when one random bad hombre wanders into the foreground? Use my special attack? That works, but apparently Up+Attack whips out a hitherto unmentioned melee weapon. Would have been good to know that three deaths ago! Oh, and everything is a one-hit kill. Probably should have mentioned that immediately, as one stray (yellow, tennis ball-sized) bullet is just as deadly as having a car thrown in your face. Granted, this kind of weakness-to-firearms is true to mundane existence, too, but I think we are all used to heroes that are slightly more resistant. And, give or take the occasional laser lasso, absolutely everything in Wild Guns is instantly deadly, which pairs poorly with depth perception involving a little more wiggle room than should be allowed. With the faux 3-D layout of these stages, it can be difficult in the heat of battle to determine whether a bullet is going to safely sail to the side, or straight into poor Annie’s heart. It takes some significant practice to survive Wild Guns, and it feels like not every death is actually the fault of the player.
Though one could argue that this is the entire point of Wild Guns. I played “upgraded version” Wild Guns Reloaded initially, and foolishly assumed it had modern trappings and an appropriate “easy mode”. I was wrong. While Wild Gun Reloaded contains an easy mode, that easy mode did not transform WGR into a cakewalk where I could just soak in some giant robot fights. When I lost my last life on easy mode, I chose “Continue”… and then had to start at the beginning of the game all over again. Wild Guns Reloaded is just like the original Wild Guns: you are expected to clear three entire stages on your limited count of lives, and if you do not survive, it is right back to start for you. Despite the fact that you could lose nearly all of your life within the first seconds of the first stage, you have to survive straight through two stages, two minibosses, and the final big boss capper for the level to see the next continue point. And, yes, in all stages, if you whiff it during the final boss, you are returned back to the start of that level, and have to survive every other onslaught all over again just for a chance to maybe learn the pattern that led to your death the first time. Wild Guns demands a lot of practice to reach the final battle, and, while the challenges are not insurmountable, they will lead to a player being much more conservative with their playstyle. You can pick up that lit stick of dynamite and toss it back at an opponent, but do you want to? Do you really want to take the chance that that explosion will be fatal, and then you won’t have enough stamina to outlast the monster at the end of the level? Can you afford to stop dodging for even a second, lest you have to repeat everything ad nauseum? No one likes losing progress, so are you willing to risk your valuable time on a jump that may or may not land you right on top of a knife’s edge? You are constantly stuck making life or death decisions in Wild Guns Reloaded, and you know the punishment for a wrong decision is having to do it all over again.
And then I played Wild Guns on the Nintendo Switch Online “Snesflix” service. That emulator contains a rewind feature. And, shock of shocks, I completed Wild Guns inside of an hour without a single (logged) death.
Gee, wonder what changed?
Look, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I support cheating in videogames. What’s more, I’m one of those nerds that can and will wax philosophic on the nature of if you even can cheat in a videogame. Is a “game” defined as a competition between two entities? Is it man versus (the people who programmed the) machine? In that case, is it cheating that I have way more experience with videogames than should be expected of a player? Or, put another way, do you figure the AI in Wily’s latest Robot Master is capable of understanding that it is fighting a Mega Man that has obliterated thirty years’ worth of its robotic brethren? I hack in huge experience gains in JRPGs because I don’t want to waste my time grinding. I hack in gigantic funbucks accounts in fighting games because I don’t want to spend the rest of the day beating Very Hard with Worst Character™ just to see a gallery image. And, yes, I use save states and rewind features in action games, because my time is valuable, and I don’t need to repeat an entire level (or, in some NES examples, an entire game) because the boss scored a lucky hit. Mistakes happen, and you should not have to waste your time because you hit the jump button without the all-important directional pad input that would transform that deadly hop into an invincible roll.
But, yes, it would be foolish to claim that using save states does not drastically change the game being played. Wild Guns is not a game that involves much resource management or having to think “three steps ahead”. Wild Guns is a pure action game, so if you have the ability to “rewind” as little as two seconds, you can dodge that bullet. You can throw that dynamite faster. You can duck left, when you now know dodging right would have been fatal. And thus do all those “life or death” decisions fall by the wayside. What’s left? A competent shooting game with some whacky enemies that are color swapped repeatedly, a handful of memorable bosses, and that one guy who does a hula dance on the side of a train. Wild Guns transforms from a white-knuckle ride to a pleasant-but-forgettable game with the addition of one minor gameplay option. And it is not just about save states! If Wild Guns included an “instant continue” feature or infinite lives, it would similarly become easy to live sloppily in this New Old West, and we would be talking about a different experience. Wild Guns is, for better or worse, defined by the existence of its omnipresent challenge, and changing that changes everything.
So what’s the moral here? Well, it seems that even if you have the ability and will to cheat, maybe hold off on cheating for a solid half hour before diving into the cheaters’ pool. Even if a videogame was made by three people, it was made to be played a certain way, and denying yourself that experience is denying everyone that made that game. Save states, rewind, or even your traditional Game Genie will change that base experience, and you are missing out on what might be the entire point of any given game. Don’t cheat, kids, because you’re only cheating yourself.
And next week, Random ROB has chosen… Battletoads? Goddammit! Forget I said anything. Cheat to your heart’s content, everyone!
FGC #568 Wild Guns (Reloaded)
- System: Super Nintendo, then “Reloaded” on Playstation 4, Windows, and Switch, and then the SNES version popped up again on the Switch. It was also on the Wii and WiiU, but those systems feel like some kind of fleeting dream now.
- Number of players: 2 player simultaneous! And 4 in Reloaded! That looks like fun, and I will give it a shot the absolute minute I find someone that can play this game and doesn’t die in seven seconds!
- Why Reloaded: I apologize if I made Wild Guns Reloaded sound impossible with its lack of contemporary conveniences. The widescreen format of this modern version really does feel like how the game is meant to be played, even if such a thing were not possible back in 1994. And the new characters (and possibility of four players!) are just aces. … And I’ll never beat it, because who has the time?
- Favorite Character: Every character except Clint. Annie is the original cowgirl that can conquer an army of robots while wearing a frilly dress. Doris is the rarely seen videogame “big girl” with even bigger grenades (not a euphemism). Bullet is a Dachshund. This leaves us with Clint, who is only a generic Western protagonist. See you never, Space Cowboy.
- Favorite Gun: Just to piss you off, sometimes a gun powerup will transform your deadly weaponry into something more appropriate to Splatoon, and you won’t be able to do a lick of damage for fifty bullets or so. This is evil, and I hate it. Or, when I’m playing with save states, I am capable of finding it funny. Weird how that works out.
- Did you know? I wasn’t kidding when I mentioned “a videogame (that) was made by three people”, Wild Guns was put together over the course of five months with three core designers and two support staff members. In that context, Wild Guns is an accomplishment on par with the Parthenon.
- Would I play again: This is a great “arcade style” game that could be fun to play for a half hour some random afternoon. Of course, if I don’t want that to be a frustrating time, I’m going to have to remember how to actually survive the game. Hm. That might make this a “no”…
What’s next? Random ROB actually has chosen Battletoads, but it’s not regular ol’ Battletoads, it’s Battletoads 2020! The future is now! Or at least Monday! Please look forward to it!
So is it biting Metroid or Contra?