Yee-haaaaahhhhh!!! The Mega Drive version of the popular coin-op could have gone horribly wrong but thankfully for Konami this is one of the most beautiful, perfectly balanced scrolling shooters I’ve ever seen on the 16-bit. Fans of the Sunset Riders arcade machine will tell you that the game’s main allure is its co-op mode. In fact, most fans will tell you that you need a buddy to enjoy the game at all. This version begs to differ. Billy the blonde Texan and his Mexican amigo Cormano are the two to have survived this conversion and their differing skills sets makes this a good combo (sorry Bob, sorry Steve). Choose either in one-player mode and away you go. The wild western-eque theme remains – hooray! The cheesy western-esque intro sequence has gone – boooooooo! As soon as you load the game it feel like a classy package.
Graphically it’s not far off the coin-op which is a massive coup for the Mega Drive even though the arcade version is a year older. The sprites and backgrounds are colourful, detailed and contrive to give the same feel without the constant lack of 50p coins. Also to have survived is the soundtrack and to a slightly lesser extent the sound effects which are 16-bit good although we have lost the cheesy dialogue from fallen bosses (replaced by speech bubbles, we can live with this). I’ve seen better animation on the 16-bit but the sprites do what they need to.
Graphics, sound, feel, all present and correct, so how does it play? Fairly. Bloody. Well. To say this is enjoyable is an understatement. Both characters are a joy to control. Leaping, sliding, spraying bullets in eight directions – this is what a scrolling shoot em up should be. Injuns and the like hurl themselves at you from every bar, brothel and cowshed – often with comedic effect (put the torch down Sidney!). The control system allows you to pump em fulla lead whilst leaping and bounding like ol Clint. Ok, Mr Eastwood probably wasn’t as spritely as these guys.
The AI, although a bit kamikaze, is fun and completely works on the 16-bit. The boss fights are fun, usually involving them hiding behind some kind of barrier with hordes of minions dying for your attention. It makes it all the more satisfying when you scoop up all their lovely gold. Although the horse level from the arcade didn’t make it here, it does exist in the form of a bonus level. You can’t have a wild west shooter without horses. Tick.
This brings me nicely to the only bad thing I have to say about the game, Sunset Riders is way too short. Picking up every power up and annihilating every foe still only takes you around twenty-five minutes to clock the game. The coin-op wasn’t much longer but I estimate at least three levels have been culled so that the game can fit on an 8-meg cartridge. Even though my favourite levels remain (the train, the canyon, the mansion), I dispose of Richard Rose and instantly yearn for more. The one-player mode is good and with two players the game is outstandingly good, but that’s the only thing that will keep you coming back.