I get it, I really do. Hamster Corporation’s ‘Arcade Archives’ series is all about emulating some beloved and well known… along with some much less well known… arcade classics. Bringing the coin-op pleasures of yesteryear up to date with faithful console ports is indeed a laudable goal, it’s just that Konami’s early 90’s western run-n-gun, Sunset Riders, really deserved more.
It’s a game that I’ve been interested in since I borrowed the Mega Drive version for about a week from a neighbour at some point during the early 90’s. Being mostly a platform gamer I hadn’t ever really played many run-n-gun titles, let alone one that was as vibrant as Sunset Riders. That wild west town of the opening stage with its saloons, bandits popping up from every location and … bulls running through the streets?… drew me in to the extent that, despite never owning it, I’d often fire it up at times when I’ve indulged in a bit of sneaky 16-bit emulation over the years.
With all this in mind I was delighted to see it inconspicuously tucked away in the new releases section of the Nintendo Switch e-Shop under the Arcade Archives banner recently and barely paused before parting with the necessary funds to start it downloading.
Stepping in to the boots of one of four western cowboy cliches, the player must face bandits and outlaws of the wild west, bring down a colourful cast of boss characters, and even visit the occasional house of ill-repute. The core gameplay is nothing ground-breaking; enemy projectiles seemingly crawl across the screen compared to the steady streams of lead that the player is able to dish out to their seemingly endless numbers. With only two powerups, dual wield & rapid fire, it focuses on that arcade action rather than complexity, but balances those basic elements with wall-to-wall action across seven varied stages, each with its own unique elements and visuals. On to this bare framework, the games adds in some satisfyingly character movement (for some reason I find the flip they perform when jumping up a level just really pleasing) and a handful of quirky game elements such as shootable items, dynamite that can be thrown back at the enemy, and special stages.
So yeah, I like this game. It’s not going to win prizes for complexity and give it a couple of hours and you will have seen all it has to offer, but there’s a charm and flair there that makes it an arcade classic…
Perfect for a faithful recreation.. right? Well, yes, but it could’ve been so much more. I fired the game up and was met with one of the blandest, most utilitarian mode select screens that I’d seen for a long time. The game includes four versions; western and Japanese releases of both the 2 and 4 player arcade machines are available and are apparently faithful reproductions apart from a few minor alterations. The biggest difference is between the 2-player cabinet and 4-player cabinet. In the former the players get to pick which of the 4 protagonists they want to control whereas in the 4-player characters are assigned based on controller number as the original machine would have had four sets of controls, each devoted to a specific character.
… and I’d love to get three friends together to see the chaos that ensues when four people try and play in the already crowded screen space at the same time…
Make your selection and the games cuts to that version of the arcade game ready for you to tap an insert coin button and press start. Alternatively you can just watch the demo play over and over again and waggle the sticks like a kid at a bowling alley who’s run out of change. And heck, I had a load of fun with it, but it was disappointing to see a game, that I’ve personally wanted re-released for some time, given so little extra. Current generation gamers are presented with a near endless stream of remasters of old titles, special editions, re-releases, all packed with behind the scenes footage, concept galleries, new graphical options, and special shiny subtitles like “definitive edition” and “super X hyper edition origins”, yet here is poor Sunset Riders with barely a finger lifted to add any pizzazz to its belt buckle.
In the interests of fairness the Arcade Archives team have added a couple of high score challenge modes: High Score & the time limited Caravan Mode. I’d also like to say that, whilst I’m not normally a fan of retro filters, the scan lines option really adds a crispness to the sprites. Unfortunately those are the only extra features worth mentioning. I flicked on the screen boarder art in the options just to see what the game looked like with an arcade style surround and… I thought it was broken… as far as I can tell it adds a slight sheen to the black borders indicating a … blank arcade boarder…
So I’m going to abandon reality for a moment and ramble about what else I would like to see in ‘Sunset Riders: Definitive Origin Edition X Super Dash”. First up let’s start with the basics: unlockable character bios, concept art, and an updated optional soundtrack. At the very least a definitive edition needs a few random unlockables. I think next on my list would be reworked graphics (again optional alongside the original look) either high-res sprites, or something bizarre and reimagined – like a digitised character Mortal Kombat look, but everyone is played by the same actor… and it’s Steve Buscemi… ok, maybe that’s too much… But I think something that’s really missing are the other versions of the game. The home console ports, especially the Mega Drive version, was quite different. Developers had to cut some of the bosses and locations, but made each region 2 stages long. There’s also graphical differences, a horse riding special stage, and glorious 16-bit renditions of the soundtrack.
Ok, back to reality. Yes, Sunset Riders is great fun, and if you (like me) have some fond memories of playing this in the arcades, at home, or on Blockbuster rental then for the money this is a faithful port that’s probably worth picking up. It’s just that I’ve wanted this game ported for soooo long, and with the current glut of cash-ins and re-releases, it’s disappointing that Sunset Riders hasn’t been given the full retro-vision cash-in treatment because for once this is one that I’d buy in to.