Cowboys From Hell: Taking a look at NES Westerns, Part II

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In part one of Cowboys from Hell, we took a look at some examples of games from the Western genre for the NES.  Some were good, some were bad, and some were ugly.  There were too many examples to include them all in one shot, so today we’ll be going over the rest.  Like I said before, the NES had a huge and diverse library of games, numbering well over 700 titles, yet there were relatively few titles of this kind.  So what we ended up with were a handful of games making up this niche of titles, the rest of which we’ll take a look at today.

The Lone Ranger (1991, Konami)

lonerangerdowntownOn the surface, this game seems like it belongs in the same class as Gilligan’s Island (1990, Bandai), and The Three Stooges (1988, Activision), being that the character of the Lone Ranger had fallen from the public eye some time in the 1960’s.  However, those games were mediocre at best, the Lone Ranger on the other hand, is the best game in this list, and quite possibly, one of the best in the NES Library.  In this game, you follow the adventures of the Lone Ranger, his trusty steed Silver, and his Indian buddy Tonto.  Your nemesis, Butch Cavendish has kidnapped the President of the United States.  To make matters worse, your sweetheart, Clara, has also been held hostage by, oddly enough, a gang of ninjas in Cavendish’s employ.

youtubelrI cannot overstate how top notch this game was. Like a lot of games released in the late years of the NES lifecycle, it’s an example of what talented developers could accomplish with the system when properly motivated.  The game features multiple perspectives, ranging from side-scrolling to overhead, and even first person.  The graphics were very well done, along with the animation, and the sound was of very high quality, even including digital sounding voice samples.  One example of how this game really shines is in the controls.  They are near perfect, and you can even use the NES Zapper for the FPS shootout segments.  The game consists of 8 stages, at the beginning of which, after speaking with Tonto, you move around an overworld map, between towns and other locations, during which, like in Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior, bands of outlaws will attack our hero.  To deal with this threat, you have 3 basic weapons: your six shooter, some TNT, and your fists.  When you hit town, the view shifts to an overhead perspective.  Here, you can buy items, recover health, and speak to townspeople to find out clues as well as get an idea of where you’re going next.  But unlike traditional RPG’s, the bad guys can attack you in town, but be careful, because you do end up getting heavily penalized should any of your bullets go stray and hit a woman.  There are also sidescrolling stages in the same vein of the Castlevania series, another Konami classic.  Finally, there are maze like stages which you view the action from a quasi-first person perspective.

pleaseletthisbebigenoughThe only gripe about this game I can come up with are the boss battles, which tend to be repetitive and uninspired.  The fact that this game didn’t see a wider release is a pure crime; however the fact that the Lone Ranger franchise hadn’t been popular in America since the days of black and white television had a lot to do with the game’s lack of popularity, in my opinion.  If there is any game on this list that you have to go pick up, it’s this one.

Whomp ‘Em (1991, Jaleco)

Whomp'EmIn traditional ‘Wild West’ stories, Native Americans are prominently featured, in an antagonistic role, unfortunately.  This was especially true at the height of the genre’s popularity in the first half of the 20th century.  As time went by, this turned out to not always be the case, and for our next game here, the shoe is on the other foot in Jaleco’s 1990 side scroller, Whomp ‘Em.  Prior to the release of the most recent installment of Assassin’s Creed, this game had the distinction of being one of the only video games to feature a Native American protagonist.  What I do find odd about this title is the fact that it was released by Jaleco, who ended up putting out somewhere in the neighborhood of half a dozen Bases Loaded titles for the NES, every one of which I hated.  ANYWAYS, Whomp ‘Em places you in the role of Soaring Eagle, who is on a quest to recover his tribe’s six sacred totems.

whompemnightworldThe game’s graphics are lush and colorful, with very well-done character sprites and animation.  There is quite a bit of flicker present, but this was common for the NES.   The sound effects were nicely done, however the music tends to get repetitive to the point of irritation.  You can play the stages in any order you choose, and after defeating each stage’s boss, you acquire his power, much like Mega Man.  There are a ton of items to compliment a great variation of attacks, and the game also boasts a very rich in-game economy, as well as offering a training level to boot!  On the minus side, there is no save feature or even a password system, which sucks when you see how much total effort was put into the game.  All said, Whomp ‘Em! definitely stands out from the pack in terms of quality and originality, even if many of the game’s mechanics seem borrowed from the Mega Man series.

 (Dis)Honorable Mentions

The Western experience on the NES wasn’t just limited to the aforementioned titles in this list; many other games offered Western elements or a Western-themed level.  The downside is some of these games weren’t all that great.  Here’s a look at some games that gained a footnote due to their Wild-West content:

Time Lord (1990, Milton Bradley)

TimeLord_009Time Lord was one of those games that had the potential to be great; an interesting story, interesting design, such as using oblique graphics to simulate depth, which was unique.  However, the game ended up falling flat due to poor overall execution that resulted in a dull gaming experience.  You play as a warrior who travels time to stop an alien force from destroying earth who have attempted to alter our history. The second stage takes place in the American West in 1860, which put this game on the list.

Back to the Future II & III (1990, LJN)

BacktothefutureLJN had a very well-deserved reputation for releasing horrible games for the NES.  This was the follow-up to their horrific 1989 release, Back to the Future.  This action/puzzle platformer was very loosely based on the second and third entries of the legendary film franchise.  You play as who you have to assume is Marty McFly, who spends the game stomping on enemies like Mario as you travel between time periods in search of puzzle pieces (which you earn by completing minigames) until you can fit all the pieces together.  This game is ridiculously convoluted and difficult; there is also no password or save feature, although there is a code you can enter to skip to Part III.  It’s almost as if the designers counted on you getting bored and turning off the system rather than to sit at your TV for a complete playthrough.  Absolute trash.

Day Dreamin’ Davey (1992, Hal Laboratory)

DDDCentered around a boy who daydreams in school, this 1992 release by HAL has to be the low point in the company’s portfolio.  Combining lackluster graphics (this is late period, NES, mind you) a clunky control scheme, and a completely retarded story (someone stole your pencil and you’re on a quest to get it back), an otherwise interesting concept was butchered by poor and sloppy execution.  Steer clear of this one.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure (1991, LJN)

westernworldLJN’s brutal rape of my childhood memories continued in 1991 with their interpretation of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  Although featuring some of the better graphics for an LJN game, this release offers…well….um…look, there’s no other way to describe this game as one big pile of shit, one that you as a player have absolutely no idea what to do with.  I can’t even describe how bad this game is without sounding like the Angry Video Game Nerd.  Let’s just say this is one of the worst cash-ins on a film franchise in all of video game history.  There’s a reason this game sells for less than a dollar at the flea market.

Well, that’s it.  To my knowledge, this is the complete collection of Western themed NES games.  One thing I did notice while writing this was the fact that most of these games were released towards the end of the NES’s lifecycle.  All told, I felt they were pretty solid games, and the effort on the developer’s part shows.  I really hope you all enjoyed reading this, and I look forward to my next NES round up here on 3rd-strike.

As they used to say on Reading Rainbow, “I’ll see ya next time!”

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Cowboys From Hell: Taking a look at NES Westerns, Part II, 6.7 out of 10 based on 3 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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