There are few games set in the Wild West that don't amount to much more than glorified poker or simulators. While the gaming world has been wowed by the Red Dead Redemption more recently, back in the old-school 16-bit era we had few games that really brought the magic of the Wild West to us. That's where Konami came through for us, in the days of wonder and merriment that were the '90s, bringing us the splendiferous Sunset Riders.
Sunset Riders saw great success in the arcades, with its four-player cabinet allowing you and three others to join together to take down the wicked Sir Richard Rose and his band of followers: Dark Horse, Simon Greedwell, Hank 'Hat' Harris... When it came to bringing the arcade hit to home consoles, two versions were made. The Super Nintendo version kept true to the arcade experience, containing most of the same levels and bosses, but reducing the number of players down to just two yet keeping four playable characters to choose from. The Genesis version, on the other hand, could basically be considered an entirely different game.
This particular version of Sunset Riders appears to have been remade from the ground up. The art, game control, progression, story and boss order have all be changed. The perspective has been shifted from its off-angle view to a more face-on view. While core mechanics and gameplay remains mostly faithful, it's like playing an "alternate universe" version of the game. Like cheerleading at a funeral, it feels right and yet it feels wrong... D!-E!-A!-D! Rest in peace now, finally!
The characters, enemies and, in fact, all on-screen sprites are larger, more detailed, and use that blast processing to great effect. Perhaps the space sacrificed by removing two of the playable characters and several of the bosses was instead devoted entirely to graphical prowess. The colours are more realistic and subdued, unlike the garish and bright colours from the arcade and SNES versions. While the other Sunset Riders is a cartoony game focused on being fun and zany, the Genesis version is focused on bringing a slightly more realistic depiction of the Wild West to our TV screens.
I say "slightly" because running on the backs of stampeding bulls, collecting coins thrown by maidens from the back of wagons, sleeping with prostitutes, and walking around whilst on fire and burning to death are all commonplace.
Desperado, won't you let somebody love you?
Each stage is split up into two halves. In the first half, you rescue a maiden who has been tied up by the enemies. She says in a digitized voice, "thank you, nice boys", and gives the player who reached her a kiss. It's a rush to see who can get there first and use their kiss as a bragging right. In the second half, you take on the boss of the stage. Each stage, while set in roughly the same geographical area, look and feel completely different. In this regard, as I pass through each level, I feel a strong sense of progression and moving forward, as though I am actually step by step taking the Wild West on and making it my slave. Give your lives to my service, peasants!
You can pick between Cormano and Billy. Cormano is clad in pink, wears a cool hat, and has a shotgun which has a larger projectile shot. Billy, on the other hand, is self-imposed hard mode. I am pretty sure the only difference between both of them is the size of their bullets, the colour they wear, but I could be mistaken. As you waltz through each stage, you can collect power-ups. Rapid Fire and Dual Weapons — guns akimbo! When you die, you lose these, so don't die, obviously. It also has a versus mode for two-players, unique to this version of Sunset Riders. From what I remember, Cormano still has the advantage.
The game could be considered racially insensitive these days, but it had already been changed significantly from its arcade release so that it didn't offend too many people back in the day. Chief Scalpem becoming Chief Wigwam, for instance. I actually think Scalpem is less offensive than Wigwam, but hey, I don't make the decisions. What next, Chief Tepee?
What really offends me is the blatant British stereotyping, yet again. The main villain, Sir Richard Rose, is British. With a name like that, he would be. Blond haired, big toothed grin, chiselled facial features, "sorry about that old chap"... I always see complaints made about the other bosses, but us Brits are getting picked on too! And why is the leader of the bad guys always a British lad?
The Genesis version of Sunset Riders has fewer stages, fewer bosses, fewer set pieces, and generally less content over its arcade and SNES counterparts. Nevertheless, I enjoy this version more. Maybe it is because I owned the game in my childhood (probably that, to be honest), but for some reason Sunset Riders on Genesis is the version I consider to be the most tip-top top-cat of all three entries.