Throwback Thursday: Rootin' and Shootin' With Sunset Riders
Back in the 90's, when you wanted to get some premium four-player gaming done, there was really only one place to turn – the arcade. It's here that companies like Konami and Capcom truly dominated, with offerings like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (both the original and Turtles In Time), Captain Commando, Cadillacs & Dinosaurs and The Simpsons Arcade. There was no greater feeling that joining up with your friends and unleashing havoc on an otherwise unstoppable foe.
So why did Konami's Sunset Riders stand out from the pack? First of all, at the time, it was an unlicensed game. Back when franchises like Alien vs. Predator and X-Men were extremely popular, this was a wholly original title. Secondly, it was a Western game – a theme that had not been tackled since Capcom took its hand to the top-down shooter Gunsmoke years earlier. Finally, it offered an interesting dynamic on the four player theme, letting players shoot at bandits and other foes with a number of weapons, ranging from pistols to twin shotguns, depending on the character.
Throughout the game, you face a handful of ne'er-do-wells that are harassing their way through the Wild West, from a selfish millionaire with an enormous army of cowboys (at the end, he insists you "bury me with my money") to a pair of twins with a penchant for throwing Molotov cocktails, to an Indian chief who wants nothing more than to bury a hatchet in your back. Of course, the key to defeating these enemies is to avoid incoming bullets, then fire away when you have the chance.
As you proceed through the game, you can pick up power-ups to help you along, including a rapid fire option and a double-up item, which gives you an increased spread on firepower. Of course, you still have to keep your wits about you, whether an enemy is shooting at you from the bottom level of a train you're running on or you have to literally run for your life across a herd of stampeding cows. Failing to do so meant you would see your tombstone sooner rather than later.
The simplistic charm of Sunset Riders made it a hit in its day, prompting Konami to give the game a pair of home releases for Super NES and Sega Genesis. However, to everyone's surprise, the two versions were quite different from one another.
The SNES version, which was preferred by many players, allowed for two players to simultaneously work together (unlike the four from the arcade game – due to the SNES' processing power, this was too much to bear), and featured all the stages from the original arcade release. The Genesis, version, however, was shortened, with two stages missing and a more story-based structure around each stage (it also only came with two characters, and was built as a single player game only).
Yet, surprisingly enough, many players preferred the more solid feel of the Genesis version to the SNES one, even with its arcade roots. They felt that the game was better structured around the characters themselves, and made more sense in terms of telling a compelling story, despite being based on an arcade title. Meanwhile, the SNES version thrived as well, with plenty of fast-paced action for friends to enjoy.
No matter which version you preferred, both versions of Sunset Riders were loyal to the theme and to this very day, they're still actively sought amongst the retro community. At one point, it almost looked like we would get an improved version of the game, to be released inside Microsoft's Game Room compilation for Xbox 360 (the company released other titles for it, including rare games like Devastators and The Main Event). Unfortunately the game's developer, Krome, shut down before it could be done, and Sunset Riders was left in limbo.
Of course, Konami has been on a "retro" kick over the past few years that has seen the re-release of TMNT, The Simpsons Arcade and X-Men on the digital front, for both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Sunset Riders could get its turn down the line, with HD visuals and four player compatibility, so the bullets can once again fly all over the screen. It never hurts to keep those fingers crossed.
In the meantime, seek out an arcade version if you can, or try your luck with finding a SNES or Genesis cartridge. This is one game that definitely doesn't show its age.