Cowboys From Hell: Taking a Look at NES Westerns – Part I

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gunsmoke title There was an odd phase in my life that came after dropping out of college when all my friends were listening to Metallica and drinking whiskey while eating ramen noodles late at night. It was during this time that I first got into Spaghetti Westerns. I have to give Metallica the credit for that, because, because of what I saw after I acquired their Live Shit: Binge & Purge box set, which contained 2 full concerts on VHS. At the beginning of one of these tapes, there was a 2 minute intro video of the graveyard scene from “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” that played before the band took the stage. Of course, my friends and I thought this was the coolest thing ever, and caused us to go out and rent the full movie, which led to all the other great Eastwood Western films.

Now, we were also playing an inordinate amount of NES games at this time, and I think it is the memories of that time which has led to this post. In today’s day and age, we have some great current-gen options for a full Western experience with games like Gun, and the Red Dead series. But what options existed for my 1980’s counterpart? Well, to be honest, the aforementioned options were limited, and what we had to choose from were a mixed bag at best. What follows here is my NES Western round up. The good, the bad, and the ugly, if you will. Let’s get started.


Cowboy Kid (Romstar, 1992)

By far the most interesting game of the bunch, Cowboy Kid was released towards the end of the lifespan of the NES. The best way to describe this one is to approach it as a Western version of River City Ransom. The game has an action/RPG element, and also includes several minigames, such as a shooting gallery and blackjack.

cbkidaction The storyline is that you are the new kid in town, and you become sheriff and set about cleaning up your town. Your character, which moves around the screen at near lightning speed, collects coins to buy food, weapons and other supplies in order to accomplish this task. There is a good deal of light hearted ethnic humor involved, which probably wouldn’t make it into a modern game. Things like stabbing tequila drinking Mexicans, shooting red headed Irishmen and attacking half naked Indians on trains. I’m not kidding.

Some of the more unique features is the game lets you choose the order in which you play all the levels, sort of like what we did in the Mega Man games. There is also a 2 player co-op, which allows a friend to take control of the Cowboy Kid’s Indian buddy. This simultaneous player action gives a new dimension to the game. Cowboy kid received mostly positive reviews upon its release, and it really is up to the individual to make a judgement call on whether or not the game is any good.  I enjoyed it, but not to the extent where I would call it a ‘must have’ for any collection.

WG 2outlawWild Gunman (Nintendo, 1985)

Probably more famous for its appearance in Back to the Future, Part II than anything, Wild Gunman arguably is the first Western game ever made. It was part of the NES ‘Black Box’ series of launch titles, but prior to that was a staple in the arcades of the early 1980’s. It is played with the NES ‘Zapper’ light gun, and to be honest, a lot of the fun of the arcade is lost on the home console version, in my opinion.

Basically, the game is a reaction based, quick-draw shooter. You choose between ‘one outlaw’ and ‘two outlaws’ mode. From there, your opponent(s) make their way onto the screen. They yell “Fire” and you have to be quicker on the draw than they are in order to survive and move to the next round. This amounts to pulling the trigger on the Zapper before they shoot you. This is calculated by the ‘shot clock’ in the upper corners of the screen. Keeping the zapper pointed at the screen prior to the beginning of the round almost ensures your victory. You will either shoot your opponent dead or shoot him in a hilarious manner that results in his pants falling down or his hat flying off in the air.

WG gang modeThere is also a “Gang” mode, which is more or less the Western version of Hogan’s Alley, another popular Nintendo arcade game from the same time period. You begin at the saloon screen, and outlaws pop in and out of windows and the front door. You have to be careful to not shoot innocent townsfolk who have the misfortune of being in the saloon at the time of your shoot out.

So that’s Wild Gunman, a classic for sure, but the one-dimensional aspect of the game has caused time to not be very kind to it.

gunsmoke titleGun.Smoke (Capcom, 1988)

Our final entry for Part 1 of this series is probably the most widely known NES Western. And of course, I’m talking about Gun.Smoke. Bearing no resemblance to the popular TV series of the 1960’s, Gun.Smoke is a unique forward-scrolling shooter. Now, there are some specific features which keep this game from being “spaceship substituted with a cowboy,” and we’ll talk about that in a moment.

gunsmoke town shootoutAs for the plot, the year is 1849, and the town of Hicksville (I’m not making this up) has been taken over by the Wingate gang. It’s up to your player, a bounty hunter named Billy Bob (still not making this up) rolls into town to kill everybody involved. In order to do this, you simply shoot everybody you see. You can score enough points to earn better weapons, better boots to make Billy Bob run faster, and even a horse to absorb bullets for you.

gunsmoke2Score enough points, and the wanted poster option appears, which allows you to fight the final boss, each of which offer varying degrees of challenge to defeat. Until you have enough points to access the wanted poster, the level recycles and you keep playing through until you’ve met your goal. The graphics are colorful and par for what was going on in 1988, and the music is repetitive, yet catchy. Those of you who have played it can probably still hear it in your heads as you read this article.

All in all, Gun.Smoke is still just as much fun today as it was back in the day. Its replay value is underscored by its addicting gameplay and sometimes frenzied pace. A solid offering from Capcom, which unbeknownst to us at the time, would continue serving up quality titles like this for decades to come.

That’s all for part one of Cowboys from Hell, keep yer eye out for part II, up in them thar hills.


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Cowboys From Hell: Taking a Look at NES Westerns - Part I, 9.0 out of 10 based on 2 ratings

I am a full time Firefighter/EMT living in the United States. In my spare time, I split my time between modern games on my Xbox and the rich universe of the systems we all grew up with.

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