The Wild West is a fantastic setting for a video game. Rugged gunslingers, drunken shootouts, limited presence of the law and a surplus of criminals lend to a volatile and rowdy backdrop for a tense, controller-gripping time. In the case of Wild Guns it takes the Steampunk route, injecting hostile machinery and advanced weaponry into the proceedings. This 16-bit gallery shooter from the mid '90s has taken aim at the Wii U Virtual Console and, guess what? It's undeniably worth loading into the chamber.
As previously mentioned, Wild Guns is a gallery shooter, but it's one that features the player character on the screen at all times. In fact, you're not only in full control of his/her movements, but dodging and jumping to avoid incoming fire is as important as spraying bullets into the scene in front of you. Shifting from side-to-side can be accomplished with simple directional inputs, but as soon as the Y button is administered to begin shooting the character is fixed in place and control switches to the crosshairs. Knowing when to remain stationary and when to move around — and anticipating which evasive manoeuvre will keep you alive — will require much practice; not because it's unintuitive, but because the intensity of most situations requires fast reactions. That's due to Wild Guns being tough — really tough.
Each stage consists of two areas that end in a mini boss fight, followed by a third area that puts you head-to-head against a true boss. Coming in contact with a single bullet, an explosion or an enemy knife equates to death, and three deaths results in a continue; as you may or may not have predicted, reaching the dreaded game over screen can be fairly effortless. There are six stages in total, and after any of them has been completed they will remain so during that session; luckily, continues are unlimited. Couple that with restore point support, and the difficulty is much more digestible than it would've been on a SNES cartridge.
Having screen-clearing bombs, enemy-freezing lassos, weapon upgrades and even inviting a buddy to saddle up for couch co-op (there are two characters to choose from: Clint and Annie), aid in ensuring the steep challenge goes down smoother. The gameplay is so action-packed and explosive that even when the going got particularly tough, we couldn't resist anteing up for another go. Since practice makes perfect, it wasn't long before we were watching the most ruthless of robot bosses burst into itty-bitty pieces. It's a rush.
To make it all the better, the visuals are absolutely superb. Crisp and detailed with fluid animations, the western towns and exceptionally-dangerous factories come to life. There's a level of quality here that, at times, reminded us of the kind of souped-up sprite work common on the Game Boy Advance. The audio even impresses with energetic tunes that fittingly compliment the action. Even in modern times Wild Guns manages to wow us, being a prime case for why 16-bit presentations are often considered a timeless art style as opposed to a limitation of their era.
We would've preferred that the difficulty was slightly scaled back, and that movements were a little more fluid, but other than that this is a polished and pleasant effort. The fact that there aren't an overwhelming number of stages means that replays should be irresistible; though, it would've been nice had one or two more shootouts been worked into the mix. In many ways, Wild Guns could be compared to a series like Sin & Punishment. You'd don't have the same level of freedom and unhindered agility when it comes to moving your characters throughout the screen, but this is the same experience in spirit. If shooting gallery games or even rail-shooters are your thing, then Wild Guns deserves to be centred in your crosshairs.
Wild Guns is a classic that has gone largely overlooked due to the rarity and tremendous asking price of the original cartridge. Luckily for you, the Wii U Virtual Console has made it readily available — and it's affordable to boot! If you're a fan of the Super Nintendo and the idea of a serious challenge doesn't turn your stomach, this is a shooter hollering for the attention of your best trigger finger. Not only should it have you planted on the edge of your seat, in command of your full attention, but it also makes for a rousing cooperative experience. So go ahead and roll into the wild wild west with guns blazing.