In this vintage 1986 Data East classic, you step into the snakeskin shoes of the toughest hombre in the West. In fact, you're so tough you never even use your guns when robbing odd-numbered trains. This translates into a game of two halves, each with distinct gameplay mechanics. It was certainly fresh back in 1986 and Express Raider was deservingly praised for it.
You begin your infamous heist career by the power of fisticuffs. When entering odd numbered train levels, you walk on foot and use a traditional two-button setup for punches and kicks. On some levels you even begin on the ground, having to deal with bank tellers and coyotes before hopping onto the top of the last car in the train, before traversing along its rooftops. Of course, there's plenty of things trying to stop you – railroad employees will do their finest to stand in your way (going as far as bombing the carriage couplers just to get rid of you,) as well as the need to duck under post signs and tunnels.
Things change up radically on those aforementioned odd-numbered trains. It's here you're finally given use to your six-shooter while riding alongside the train on your mighty steed. The game turns from a brawler into a shooting gallery game, with the first button firing and the second allowing you to ride sideways on your horse (making you invincible to bullets and other hazards like birds). But you can’t just spam bullets mindlessly - on several occasions in passenger cars, your mischievous lady companion throws out money bags for you to shoot/collect and hitting her will force you to lose a life.
Unlike previous Data East offerings, Express Raider has no end. After the tenth train the stages begin to loop, with ever increasingly harder enemies thrown at you, clearly showcasing the true coin-munching design philosophy from arcade games. With the lack of Caravan modes and infinite credits, it truly is just a matter of how long you can endure the punishment before giving up.
Both sides of the game are fun for short bursts, but we must give the fighting stages the definitive thumbs up. These play out like a re-skinned version of Spartan X (best know in the west as Kung-Fu Master) and connecting hits on opponents is extremely satisfying. While the shooting stages don’t really do anything particularly wrong, they end up being more of a shore and become just a distraction while you eagerly wait to get back to punching coyotes.
If you have been keeping up with our reviews of Johnny Turbo’s releases on the Switch, you know exactly what we are going to say about the emulation wrapper: it's lacklustre when stacked side-by-side with Hamster’s offerings. A few graphics filters and screen ratio options are no substitute for being able to access DIP switch settings or just turn off all filters completely. Yes, you are still forced to play with bilinear filtering turned on if you choose not to use any of the graphics filters which remains an annoyance if you like your emulated arcade games pixel crisp.
Here's something else we noticed with this port - the shooting stages do not feature the aiming cross-hair that made them less of a chore to play. The existence of this cross-hair in the original arcade board is currently under investigation (it most certainly existed on the ZX Spectrum home version) and after reporting it, Flying Tiger Entertainment is looking into this and will update this package if needed. It’s no deal breaker, but in case you played the original you may find the experience slightly different than the one you remember.
Express Raider remains a fun 2-in-1 game, with the fighting stages standing head and shoulders above the shooting ones, which is something of an oddity considering the Wild West setting. As such we recommend it to anyone who was a fan of the original or who played the home conversions and want to have the original on their virtual arcade Switch museum. But if you have an itchy trigger finger, we recommend you buy a ticket to a more steampunk kind of Wild West.