Monday, 25 June 2018

Wild Guns

System(s): Super Nintendo, Wii Virtual Console, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows

Genre: Shoot em' Up

Developer: Natsume
Publisher: Titus Software

Release Dates:
Japan - August 1994
North America - July 1995
Europe - October 1996

Note: This is a review of the original version, not the enhanced remake first released in 2017. But that game is even more badass.

Wild Guns was a manga inspired shooter with sci-fi and western influences that was released late in the life of the Super Nintendo. It was part of the shooting gallery genre, which is fairly niche but one I have always found addictive and enjoyable. The game evokes fond memories for me of coin-op shooters in an era in which the arcade was in its' twilight years. Perhaps most impressively, it was made on the cheap on a limited budget with a team of only three dedicated people, plus two support staff and yet was churned out in only five months. International releases were perhaps understandably less efficient, considering the translation process for releasing in Europe but impressive for a such a small core team nonetheless.

The plot of Wild Guns centres around Annie, one of the two selectable player characters, whose family has been killed by a rival family called Kid. This is undoubtedly meant to be a not-so-subtle reference to Billy the Kid. Enter space bounty hunter Clint, who agrees to assist Annie. Assuming that she is a stereotypically dainty, delicate little flower, Clint sets off to fight the family on her own. Annie protests, pointing out her sharpshooting skills and her burning desire for revenge. Allegedly she only wore a 19th century style dress in this game because it was easier to animate but it adds character and charm. The hand drawn art style and anime feel looks great in 2D. Explosions look nice and guns feel powerful. There is something to be said for forgoing the trend of 2.5D that was gaining traction at this time. Bosses and enemies are an outlandish, wacky mix of Western and Sci-fi. It's particularly noteworthy that you can choose either a male or female character, which was rarely a consideration during the pre-Tomb Raider era.

Gameplay is relatively simple, yet challenging. Similar to 'bullet hell' shooters such as Contra, there will be projectiles flying at you from all over the screen and a single hit is all that is required to kill you. Your chosen sharpshooter will move left to right on the foreground, while enemies pop up in the background. You cannot move while shooting, although you are able to dodge, giving you invincibility in the process until the animation is completed. You still need to watch your timing though, as you can accidentally dodge one hail of fire only to end your dodge right into another with not enough time to move out of the way. Enemies will engage you in melee, which is countered with a simple press of the fire button. Some villains will throw explosive, which can be thrown back at them. You can also jump and use screen destroying bombs, of which up to five can be carried at any one time. If you are having trouble you can also use your lasso to freeze enemies.

That's not all you'll have in your arsenal - aside from valuables that give points, foes will leave behind power ups in the form of guns with limited ammo. Shotguns, grenade launchers, machine guns.....but watch out, as you can end up with the dreaded pea shooter. Literally a toy gun which is useless, so you will have to fire every last round until it is used up, all while dodging enemy fire. You can also utilise the deadly Vulcan gun, which will make you invincible for a short period. It is the most powerful part  of your arsenal and will decimate bosses. But don't make the mistake of thinking all this firepower will make the game a walk in the park. It most certainly will not....however, it is nowhere near the hardest of shooters, and it cannot compare remotely with the difficulty of Contra or its' like. It may be tough, but not enough to make you tear your hair out. One downside which is as much a downside of the genre as a whole is that if you are particularly skilled you could easily beat it in less than 2-3 hours. That's still impressive with such a small budget and development time.

Wild Guns has an interesting take on the Wild West soundtrack, with a pop-style opening theme
mixed with traditional western themes. The Japanese influence in the music is strong, but that is definitely a positive. Having said that, as nice as the music is, I wouldn't say it was anything particularly memorable. Much of the music sets the frantic action up perfectly but is ultimately forgettable. The boss music is perhaps the exception to this, which is the best track in the game.  The ending theme is the only other one that comes close, although it's what you would expect if you have previously beaten any other Japanese developed game - it may put you in mind of Streets of Rage or Resident Evil, although not nearly as memorable.

Ultimately, if shooters are your thing or if you aren't put off by the difficulty, I would highly recommend Wild Guns to any player. It's fun, provides a decent challenge and the setting and enemies are quirky and varied. It won't last you too long and the music is not up there with the best, but nearly everything else about the game is damn near perfect and most impressively took only five months to make with the same number of dedicated staff.

Summary

+ Bosses are wacky and great fun to fight
+ Challenging but not insanely difficult
+ Impressively animated
+ Nice variety of attacks and weapons to play with
+ Female protagonist before it was cool

- Only one track truly stands out fro the soundtrack
- Short with minimal replay value


Overall Score

9/10
 

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