Back in 1994, Natsume delivered the definitive ‘shooting gallery’ shmup made famous in previous years by the likes of Neo Geo NAM-1975 and TAD’s Cabal. Sadly, a limited number of copies coupled with being a late generation SNES game meant that a lot of people missed out on this slice of space western action. Add in some inflated prices and nowadays it remains a crown jewel on many gamer's Super Nintendo collection. But two years ago, the game had a new chance at the spotlight and at long last it has now made its way back to Nintendo hardware. But are these guns worth reloading?
You will find the complete content of the original WILD GUNS in the newly minted Wild Guns Reloaded. That means that every level, heroes Clint and Annie, the original soundtrack (if you unlock it by completing the game with no continues) and the original graphics (with some slight lighting enhancements) are all present and accounted for.
However, Natsume made sure that use of the word ‘Reloaded’ in the title wasn't just for show and enhanced the already stellar original game with a few extras. The biggest additions are most certainly the two new playable characters and, unlike Clint and Annie (who were just a gender swap in terms of their gameplay style), the new faces offer completely new ways to tackle the challenge.
Unlike Clint and Annie, Doris does not carry a gun, instead opting out for grenades to do her long range damage. Holding ‘Y’ will charge up to three grenades at once, and she even has a ground pound area attack that you can use to very efficiently ensure her physical safety should enemies get too close to comfort at melee strike range.
The second new character, Bullet, could well be the very first playable dachshund in a video game. Since it's a dog, it carries no weapons and isn't exactly a master of close quarter combats. However, it is far from useless on the battlefield since it controls a hovering battle drone that can auto lock onto any enemies on screen. The pooch can even use the drone to hover to safety. Having to control two characters at once takes a bit of getting used to, but once you master their movement it's absolutely brilliant. Just keep this in mind at all time when playing with Bullet: the drone is invincible, the dog is not.
Along with these new characters, Natsume also added a couple of extra levels: ‘Underground’, a horror-themed stage with mask-wearing enemies and ‘Flying Ship’, an aerial enemy fortress. It successfully manages to keep the original game’s visual aesthetics intact (and add a couple more memorable bosses to the memorable original line up), creating something that looks, sounds and feels authentic to the SNES era. There are also a few new weapon power-ups such as the laser that gives you new gameplay options to take on your enemies.
If you are unfamiliar with the original game or even what a ‘shooting gallery’ shmup is, you control your aiming reticule freely all over the screen. Unlike games such as Taito’s Operation Wolf, you will also have your character present at the bottom of the screen, and moving the reticule left or right will also move your character in the same direction. ‘Y’ shoots, ‘B’ jumps and double-jumps while ‘X’ allows the use of a limited quantity high explosive weapon that will clear most of the screen of baddies and bullets. Tapping ‘Y’ repeatedly and letting go will unleash your electro lasso attack, able to stop or slow down every enemy in the game if successfully connecting.
You can use ‘B’ to help you dash out of harms way (speed and distance depends on chosen character) and sometimes there will be enemies that come into your character’s movement line that you can’t shoot, instead needing to dispatch these with a quick stab at ‘Y’ for a well-placed close quarter attack. Most of the scenario is destructible, so shooting around instead of just the enemies will often reward you with bonus pickups and is thus encouraged. Each stage as a few different scenarios and will always end with a huge, memorable boss fight. Successfully clearing five stages will take you to the final fight stage. Lives and continues are limited and there are several difficulty levels to choose from (with a few left for you to unlock).
There is one last addition to this ‘Reloaded’ version. While more than able to stand on its own as a single-player game, the two-player co-op mode on the Super Nintendo was what made up for the best memories over two decades ago. Natsume upped the maximum player count here up to four players on-screen and despite being local-only on the Switch version, the console’s design focus on multiplayer means it's ideal for sharing Joy-Cons or Pro controllers with up to three of your friends. The game truly takes off here, with the single-player survival gameplay taking a back seat to some friendly rivalry.
Wild Guns Reloaded sets the new benchmark on how to bring back old Super Nintendo titles to the current generation of gamers. It not only manages to remain faithful to everything that made up the original such a stellar effort, but actually offers some worthwhile new content. With the continued absence of the Virtual Console service on Switch (and the rising costs of a complete-in-the-box original Super Nintendo versions of the game), we offer little refrain in welcoming one of Natsume’s finest games home. Solid, memorable and fun arcade shooting action that will keep you coming back for more, even if only to see Bullet hovering about while grappled by his lethal drone.