(SNES / Super Nintendo)

Sunset Riders (SNES / Super Nintendo)

Game Review

Sunset Riders Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Jamie O'Neill

Bury me with my SNES

Just for a moment, cast your thoughts towards Saturday matinee Western films and reel in all of their imagery of the Old West. Picture in your minds the characters deftly dodging stampeding cattle, guiding their trusty steed as it gallops alongside a runaway train, chasing down a stagecoach, gun fighting in uncouth taverns and leaping logs, and always somehow steadying their feet atop a rattling steam train. In 1993 Konami crammed all of the above set-pieces as unforgettable moments of gameplay into a humble 8-megabit SNES cartridge. This game is so much fun that after playing it you will ask: why are there so few video games starring cowboys?

The SNES had a side-scrolling run-and-gun cowboy game worth whooping about: Sunset Riders is jam-packed with cowboys. Whilst the original arcade title allowed four players to step out into the American frontier, the SNES still did a fine job of letting two co-op players pull up their boots and dig in their spurs. It has cowboys who are so rock hard, that they enter the fray wearing pink ten gallon hats, pretty fuchsia ponchos and bright yellow wrangler pants. These cowboys are so nails they do not need tough prefixes to their names like Cisco Kid, Rowdy Yates, Texas John Slaughter or Wild Bill. They are simply known as Steve, Bob and Cormano, although one of them is called Billy, which is a cool cowboy name.

They need to be tough, because they earn each of their dollars by hunting down bounties, with the game's boss's mugshots decorating the 'wanted' posters of eight levels of incrementally more prosperous, but challenging rewards. Thankfully every $50,000 awarded earns an extra life and on occasion small piles of gold can be collected as they clutter the floors of the Old West towns. Also a smattering of 1-up heart extra lives are littered amongst the game's levels.

The heroes have two gun preferences: Bob and Cormano opt for the slower-firing, but wide spread bullet shower of a shotgun, whilst Steve and Billy choose the single shot six-shooters, allowing for more nimble, quicker fire. Therefore, progress through the game is easier using co-op and when playing as Bob and Cormano, because of their wider firing shots. A number of power-ups can be collected along the way; the most effective are sheriff's badges with a single gun star badge increasing the speed and size of your bullets, whilst badges displaying dual crossed guns double your firepower, increasing the bullet spread. It is also a welcome addition that you get to keep your powered-up weapons when you move on to the next level. Occasionally a badass bandit will lob a stick of dynamite your way, at which point you have a choice of either chucking it back or standing well clear of its Mode 7-boosted, pixelated explosions.

These cowboys do not run into battle either, they strut and if you leave them idle, they will happily show off some neat finger-twiddling gun trickery. Initial impressions suggest a comparison to the Rolling Thunder games, with power-ups stored in doorways and the way the stages often contain an upper and lower level to jump between whilst evading bullets. This resemblance may conjure images of an especially tough game, but there are such a number of variables that can be altered in the options menu, that the amount of lives, continues and options (easy, medium and hard), can all be tinkered with to create a custom game challenge.

The director of arcade Sunset Riders was H. Tsujimoto and it is not a coincidence that he also wrote and directed the arcade's Super Contra. SNES Sunset Riders tries its utmost to replicate its arcade inspiration and therefore it is to all intents and purposes paced as a run-and-gun game: the four heroes walk quickly and soon get their feet moving when forced to run on top of charging bulls, complete with comical gangly leg animations. They each have an agile move set; players will shimmy across rope wire to avoid flames and can become experts at sliding their way out of trouble, just like Capcom’s Strider Hiryu.

It is worth stating that SNES Sunset Riders is not close to being arcade perfect. The 1991 arcade game has graphical details, an influx of sprites, more clear speech and minor gameplay additions which were just beyond the reach of the SNES hardware capabilities. However, regardless of whether Sunset Riders has the looks of its arcade daddy, what is far more important is that the heart of the arcade game beats within the SNES cart. It is a much more accurate portrayal of the arcade's level layouts and playability than the Mega Drive version, plus it is still far from ugly.

During the early '90s Konami had a penchant for developing bright and colourful arcade and console games, set around the vivid art of licensed TV cartoons. TMNT and Simpsons arcade games immediately spring to mind and this approach was also taken in licensing the arcade pseudo-sequel to Sunset Riders, a 1992 game called Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa. Sunset Riders is as lively and eye-catching as these titles, without relying upon another source for inspiration. Konami's artists were able to let their imaginations go wild and proved that their designs could compete with any TV cartoon creations, which thankfully avoids potential licensing issues for gamers hoping for a Virtual Console release.

The characterisation is first-class, not just for the controllable heroes, but most noticeably with the game's eight bosses. The bosses are wonderful, although a Mexican bandit, a lost and manipulated Native American chief, plus an ungentlemanly English cad may well be stereotypical and clichés of the Western genre, it is all played for fun and laughs. If current gen games like Call of Juarez depict the grit and violence of a Sergio Leone movie, Sunset Riders has its tongue set in it cheek like a jolly Mel Brooks film. Much of the humour is conveyed through excellent animations: these sprites perform their roles brilliantly through their expressive gestures.

However, SNES Sunset Riders is also consciously politically correct, with any arcade instances of liquor swigging, harlot snogging and Native American tribe battling being removed in the conversion. The end of level bosses are vital to the game balance too, actual progression through the levels is straightforward, it is the boss who will remove most of your lives and potentially send you back to the very start of the level, particularly by the time you reach Chief Wigwam on stage six. The inclusion of outbursts of speech during boss fights adds to the humour, as well as providing quotes for retro gamers who enjoy mimicking their favourite gaming excerpts.

Run and gun games thrive from their depiction of action and Sunset Riders follows Contra’s lead with an explosive approach presented through fast, snappy levels, relentless set-pieces and enough variety to win you over with the arcade entertainment. An example of this is clambering across a train top to hunt down a $50,000 bounty for El Greco during stage five, a level in which the scrolling landscape is draped in an orange hue cast by the first display of the setting sun. You will be waving your own calls of "adios amigo!" farewell to that particulary short level's encounter in no time at all.

The designers have thoughtfully broken up the run and gun dynamics with two instances of bonus stages, following the second and fifth levels in the game. They are possibly a nod to Sega’s 1984 arcade game Bank Panic and offer a shooting gallery of quick fire cowboys as they pop up onto the screen and enable you to earn dollars galore by being a hot shot. The idea of a first person quick draw, aim and fire 'shoot out' game fits the genre so well that Gameloft brought one to WiiWare with Wild West Guns in 2008. Therefore, the variety and pace of Sunset Riders is perfectly pitched, you will be having so much fun that you may actually crave more levels.

Motoaki Furukawa was a member of Tsujimoto's sound team during the arcade Super Contra development and he was brought in score his very first solo work, for arcade Sunset Riders. Special mention must go to his achievements: the SNES converts these tunes brilliantly and all of the music, sound effects and speech erupt with the atmosphere of the Old West. The music rattles along with the clattering trains, and jauntily canters with the horseshoe beats, celebrating it’s genre with each cowboy yell. Any retro gamer with nostalgia for this game will gush over the catchy arcade tunes, just as much as for the bright visuals and addictive gameplay.

Video games set in the Wild West are simply too few and far between. From a retro Nintendo fan perspective, Capcom graced the NES with Gun.Smoke, Natsume sent the SNES sci-fi crowd rowdy with Wild Guns, but arguably best of all, Konami galloped to the SNES with a splendid conversion of Sunset Riders.


Sunset Riders can hold its head up high and stand tall amongst the plethora of amazing side-scrolling run and gun games on 16-bit consoles. It is bright, colourful, fantastically well animated, with superb music and sound. It understands its place as a Western game and within the run-and-gun genre, by combining imaginative characterisation and humour, with well-paced action set-pieces, plus variety in its gameplay. Its difficulty and options calibrations present the player with as easy a ride, or as much of a challenge as they desire, although its short length may leave you hollering for more. Sunset Riders is a late nineteenth century dime novel, painted through the eyes, talent and from the vivid imaginations of an early '90s Japanese games development team, who turned the horseplay up to the max. It is 'pulp' gaming and possibly the most fun and entertaining 16-bit Wild West game that money can buy.

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User Comments (37)



ReZon said:

Definitely needs to see a VC release. Not sure if I ever played the SNES version, but the arcade version was quite epic.



Moco_Loco said:

Great review. Really makes me want to try it. Maybe it'll be on VC one day...



JamieO said:

As @Orgone mentioned, Arcade Sunset Riders is also a superb game and would be a brilliant inclusion on Virtual Console Arcade, although Konami have not released any of their Arcade games in the West yet, I am not sure about Japan. Below is a list of some of the details which the Arcade game features, which the SNES does not:

  • 4 player co-op.
  • A manoeuvre whilst riding your horse, in which you can lean down low on it, to avoid bullets.
  • More clear speech.
  • Loads more enemy sprites.
  • Massive, nicer looking explosions, including a superb eruptive blast during level two when you blow up the stage coach, although the SNES mode 7 style explosions are still cool.
  • On screen prompts for joystick and button controls.
  • Booze and tavern girl kissing doorway power-ups and female bandit enemies.
  • Slightly longer levels.
  • More wacky character animations when your character steps on a pitch fork, is flattened by a barrel, or is burnt to ashes by flames.
  • Stage one has animated horses in its background.
  • Native American enemies are on level six, as well as a wicker basket lift which carries your characters down the mountain.
  • A section in which your horse gallops through the river on level seven, splashing water as it leaps.
  • The final level's fort collapses under explosions more convincingly, you get to use a gattling gun to blow up fences and this level also has a huge water wheel which takes you upwards, through the stage.

You get the idea, it is mostly visual differences, the Arcade is more detailed, but the SNES still does a fine job of replicating the gameplay from the Arcade game.



TheLonelyGamer said:

I love Sunset Riders! It's such a great game!
Everything about it is just awesome, the music, the challenge, the controls, everything!
Not to mention, it is a very good SNES port for an arcade game, kinda like how Turtles In Time had a port just as good as the Sunset Riders port.




JaredJ said:

Nice review for a great game. I've been wanting to pick this up for awhile. I'm just torn on whether to get the SNES or Genesis version. As mentioned in the review the SNES version has the same level layout as the arcade while the Genesis version has a completely different layout. The Genesis version is also missing two of the playable characters as well.



vherub said:

played on the genesis and in the arcade, tons of fun. Never tried the snes version.



astarisborn94 said:

This sounds like a very good game to play. Let's hope if the game ever makes an apperance that we get this version and not the obviously inferior Sega Genesis version.



StarBoy91 said:

Once again, great review, JamieO.
I never played Sunset Riders, but it is a game I've been interested in for some time. But I have played Bank Panic (while I still had MAME32) and I remembered having fun with it. I'ma have to pick up the SNES cart someday.
Fucshia. Haven't heard that color name in a long time.
I also love that introductory line.



JamieO said:

@JJ I have just booted Mega Drive/Genesis Sunset Riders again for a quick blast, you know lots about each version already, but this will give you some extra pointers specific to the MD/Gen, to help you decide:

  • There is no longer the arcade/SNES intro sequence.
  • Colours are generally less bright than the SNES version, with goofier main sprites, it is nicely detailed, though. It is a shame that the MD/Gen title has that ugly black bar at the top of the screen, creating a border and squeezing the graphics, to show the number of lives remaining and how many dollars you have earned.
  • Gameplay is a complete mix-tape of Arcade and SNES versions, bosses are in a different order, set-pieces are similar, like the train top sequence, but they have still been altered.
  • Excellent music is still present, but in a different sequence and I think that the MD/Gen may have its own specific tunes(?). There is no boss speech, only comic book style speech bubbles.
  • Levels are longer and are split into two parts now, the first is a save the "Help Me!" girl and the second part is hunting down the boss for the bounty. The MD/Gen version has less bosses.
  • Animations for characters being flattened and burnt to ash have returned, the bar girls are back in the doorways and Chief Wigwam's (now retitled and poorly spelt as Chief Scalpen) cliff top rope lifts & tribe are back.
  • MD/Gen has a new bonus sequence in which you chase and catch coins/1up lives thrown by girl out the back of a stage coach.
  • Only two selectable characters, now called Billy Cool and Cormano Wild.
  • You are no longer sent to the very start of the stage when you lose all of your lives, although this does not make the MD/Gen version an easy game, this version still throws a lot at you!

If I was forced to choose between the two Sunset Riders conversions, I would go for the SNES game. I would treat the MD/Gen version like Sega's console release of Golden Axe 2, in that it is more fun as a side-addition to the original, once you have already played the arcade conversion through. There is still lots of fun to be found in the MD/Gen adaption though, plus loads more kissing! There has not really been a poor Sunset Riders game.

Also, Cheers lots, @Starboy91.



StarBoy91 said:

I also concur about Konami making good licensed titles: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (a childhood favorite of mine) and Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose! are such good games.
I've played The Simpsons arcade game once, at CiCi's Pizza years ago. And from what I've played, I had fun. I miss it so.



outrun2sp said:

Great game. The snes one is a very good port in times when it was harder to get them arcade perfect.

Well worthy of the 8/10 heck maybe even 9. No complaints about it at all, the differences between arcade and snes are acceptable considering. Also in my top 10 of best snes shooters. After contra / Metal slug I think this one goes in next.



StarBoy91 said:

What's funny is, when I was very little, when I played Turtles in Time on the SNES with my cousins so much, I never knew of the arcade version until I saw the arcade cabinet (but haven't played) in a Hampton Beach Funarama Arcade in New Hampshire years ago during summer vacation.



blank_user_1 said:

I enjoyed reading the review. At the very least, I'm hoping it gets a VC release, even if I don't play it myself.



StarBoy91 said:

Hard as Contra, eh? I love Contra III, so I'm sure I'll have so much fun with Sunset Riders.



Sean_Aaron said:

I had never heard of this game until the asset request came in from you! It does look pretty cool though. No Konami arcade games have reared their heads on the Wii yet, sadly; I suspect they'll get the MSX ports out before they do that to maximise the double-dip potential.

The two western-themed arcade games that stick out in my mind are the aforementioned Gun.Smoke (totally brilliant, I'd love a VCA edition) and TAD's follow-up to Cabal, Blood Bros., which improved upon Cabal by replacing the more fault-prone trackball with a joystick and "dive/roll" button.



StarBoy91 said:

I think I played Cabal once when I once had my MAME32 CD my cousins gave me (before it ran away from home). It was...okay from what I remembered. But I forget if it involved a ton of keyboard buttons or not (I don't have a USB controller, and I haven't played the CD for years).



JamieO said:

@Sean_Aaron Ha, ha, good call on TAD's 1990 arcade Blood Bros., it was completely nuts! It did not just have Wild West trains, there were biplanes and zeppelins in it, too. It had a cool level set to a waterfall backdrop and featured full on destructible scenery, on one level you could take down entire mountains. The end of each sub-level little ditty tune still sticks in my head!



StarBoy91 said:

Does Wild Guns have a similar play control to Cabal? That game looks interesting too.
That's two wild west games, not counting that one stage from SNES Turtles in Time, that I'm interested in



JamieO said:

@Starboy91 Yep, for Wild Guns think of Cabal, Blood Bros. and the Neo Geo game NAM-1975 and you are on the right track. It has robotic cowboys and simply giant robots, massive bosses, destructible backgrounds, two player co-op and versus (on the bonus levels) with two characters, Clint and Annie. It was decent looking as well. However, it was criticised back in the day and I'll quote Super Play magazine on this:
"But it has one fault; you can't use a mouse with it. For a game with a moveable target, this is a glaring omission." (Issue 24, Oct 1994).
I don't know of that many games which used the SNES mouse, though it might be surprising!



StarBoy91 said:

The only game I played on the SNES that required a mouse was Mario Paint. Fun game, too, played it when I escaped Hurricane Rita four years ago.

Cripes! I just noticed the rarity and expensiveness of Wild Guns at $50+. That game must be highly sought after.



Wardy said:

This game was in every pizza joint and arcade in northern California in the early 90's. Absolutely love this game. Walk in a door, get laid, have a drink, all in 0.7 seconds. That's my kind of day.



Gamebits said:

A great game, but I'm pretty sure the SNES port lacked levels found in the arcade original, which was a major bummer.



E-Man said:

Sunset Riders was a great arcade game made by Konami. Every Konami arcade game was great in the days.



axdaxm said:

Why hasnt sunset riders come out yet? This better come out on vc for Wii u

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