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As a kid I was subjected to several camping holidays around the south of England. Whilst most of the holidays consisted of playing with other kids in the camp sites and walking fucking EVERYWHERE it also had a pretty neat bonus in that most camps had small arcades hidden away. The majority of the sites we stayed at had passed their prime and so their arcades sometimes contained some old gems, for me Sunset Riders is one such gem.
Contender for raddest fucking box art EVER.
For the uninitiated, Sunset Riders is effectively a run & gun but with a beat-em-up aesthetic. You play as one of four cowboy types (the originally named Steve, Billy, Bob... and Cormano) and you move your guy around levels full of bandits. It controls somewhat similar to Gunstar Heroes or Metal Slug in that you move your character around in the same fashion. Enemy bullets will kill you in one hit but they are slow moving and made to be highly visible, so dodging isn't too tough. Shooting the right bandit or entering the odd door would reward you with a weapon power-up, usually this would give you dual guns and therefore double the amount of firepower - this was handy in later parts when bad guys and bullets flooded your screen. It's easy to play, vibrantly coloured and the pacing's just right.
I was genuinely amazed at seeing this in action for the first time.
The feature that made this game stand out from other arcade games is definitely the humour; enemies are catoonishly flattened by barrels, rakes can be stepped on ala-Sideshow Bob and you can throw dynamite back at enemies and watch them pick it back up just before it exploded. It was also individual in its sense of style, setting and variety of play - there are a tonne of scrolling games in arcade history but most of them doggedly stick to the same mechanics every level, Riders liked to mix it up. There were boss fights that played out like cover shooters, levels on horseback and even shooting gallery parts. They were a welcome change to the flow of the game and they were used the right way; not every level ended in a shootout or horse ride for example.
If you're choosing anyone else other than Cormano you're a dick.
It was ported over to the SNES and the Mega Drive, but these versions couldn't hold a candle to the original arcade edition. However, the arcade version was a total coin gannet and you’d have probably needed to throw a load of money into the machine in order to complete it - I have only completed it via an arcade emulation (two player on a PC in my high school’s IT room).
It's an original game with a somewhat leftfield theme (it's essentially a Spaghetti Western Shoot-Em-Up) and it's something that brings back those memories of discovering the odd decent game in a sea of pokey little amusement parks. Often I'd be met with a load of fruit machines or some lame racing game, complete with gear sticks and bucket seats, but once in a while I'd be greeted with the warm, flickering glow of a screen from something unfamiliar. Sunset Riders was one of the first, and for that reason I'll always think of it fondly.