As children many of us spent several lazy afternoons watching old cowboy flicks, so it seems almost criminal that this classic Hollywood genre hasn't been granted a decent videogame adaptation for some time. Last generation's GUN was a modestly successful representation of the movies, but the focus on adventure meant it lacked the all-important gun-slinging. Right up until this day the closest thing we've come to being in a real cowboy gun fight is Wild Gunman on the NES. Is Wild West Guns, an on-the-rails light-gun game, set to change all that?
Actually, Wild West Guns does exactly what the title suggests. The game has you travelling around stereotypical environments taking down bandits and shooting targets. The heart of its personality comes from the way it exaggerates well known clichés. You'll be asked to tackle tyrants on a speeding train, beer-drenched bandits in a saloon, and even to take on a shootout in the cemetery. The characters and environments are all presented in a sharp and vibrant cel-shaded skin to boot.
Wild West Guns has two main modes: single player, where you tackle six different levels alone, and multiplayer, where you play with a friend either co-operatively or against each other. Each level is divided into three parts. Completing all levels will reward you with a “Hard” mode which is essentially the same single player experience all over again but with the difficulty levels raised.
Each level will see you complete two training exercises before pitting you in a real gunfight next to a train track, in a saloon, or at the cemetery. You point the Wii Remote at the screen to control a cross hair and use the “B” button to shoot. There is Wii Zapper support for those who own one, which adds as much to the game as you allow it. If you like playing light-gun games with the Zapper then this game is the perfect accessory to the hardware, though the Zapper is by no means essential. You will do fine with the Wii Remote alone.
The enemies and targets are incredibly responsive to your shots enabling you to go for headshots to maximise your score. Points are awarded for every enemy or target you hit and are multiplied by the number of targets you’ve hit before the last miss. It’s a simple system, which is key to Wild West Guns' appeal; this is a game that has obviously been designed with the Wii’s expanded user base in mind.
Given the simplistic nature of the game, though, it’s not without depth for hardcore players. To achieve the highest scores you will not only have to take down all the targets in the foreground but also hit sub-targets which pop up in the background. These range from frogs hopping across the ground to spade wielding farmers who will run at you and give you a decent wallop. Some enemies will grab onto you, in which case you can shake the Wii Remote to free yourself (or, if you are using the Wii Zapper, you rotate the Nunchuck’s analogue stick in a circular motion). Shaking the Wii Remote induces more panic than rotating the analogue stick, but either way it’s a nice way of mixing up the action.
The range of objectives is somewhat disappointing, however. Early on you must shoot balloons and sombreros but the ideas get tired a little later on as everything gets recycled with more speed and less margin for error. It’s also a shame that the main shootout battles get reused in later levels too: you’ll fight the same bandits on the train in levels 1, 4 and 6. It would have been extremely satisfying to have a different shootout at the end of the six levels but sadly this is not the case.
Even though they get a little repetitive, the final sections of each level are still the most fun with enemies popping up from all over the backdrops wanting to take a pot-shot at you. Sadly there are only a few different enemy sprites which fit in with the intentionally cliché design of the game but given the size limits of WiiWare games this is forgivable. The enemies present are unquestionably satisfying to shoot and your enjoyment is increased when your character somewhat sarcastically shouts out “Rest In Peace” after filling yet another foe with lead.
The music is well suited to this kind of game; Western style country-flavoured themes blare behind the sound of your gun, but be warned – the tinny speaker on the Wii Remote is used to deal with some of the sound of your firearm and while it adds to the interaction the constant repetition of the gun-fire sound effect will eventually grate.
The multiplayer mode, on the other hand, provides kicks for two players as you take on each of the single player levels competitively or co-operatively. More enemies pop up on screen to cater to the extra player and it’s definitely fun stealing your partner's kills to get extra points in the friendship-destroying competitive mode. It’s not going to add stacks and stacks of extra replay value, but it does make for a good time-killer with pals. Having said that, if you’re looking for a serious challenge to enhance the single player game, I found that playing co-operative mode alone is great fun by placing a Wii Remote in each hand and essentially dual-wielding. The game’s certainly playable this way and is a testament to your multi-tasking skills if you can pull it off.
Wild West Guns main shortcomings are its length and replay value. The lamentable lack of scoreboards means record setting comes down to a personal level and the range of activities on offer won’t keep you hooked for long. Gameloft have included “achievements” but these boil down to you gaining a 100 multiplier or earning more than a $1,000,000 on a particular level. It’s nice that they are there but given there is just an image and personal gratification up for grabs there is little incentive to unlock them.
Gameloft has crafted an addictive and attractive game with enough gameplay to keep you coming back for short blasts every once in a while, but there's not really enough meat on the bones to hold your attention for prolonged play sessions. There's little doubt that more modes, environments and enemies could have made Wild West Guns an essential purchase but overall what’s on offer for 1,000 points is a very well executed and likable light gun game that is made even more enjoyable thanks to some robust multiplayer options.