Insert Disk collects Sunset Riders for the Sega Mega Drive / Sega Genesis.
Today’s retro game review is Sunset Riders for the Sega Mega Drive / Sega Genesis. This retro gaming classic was a well received game from Konami in the arcade and then subsequently converted to the Sega 16-bit systems and Super Nintendo. Looking back its clear that political correctness was not strong here. However, the game is incredibly fun to play and much sought after by fans of Konami and retro gaming.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. It’s time to take a trip to the wild West today in Konami’s excellent shoot ’em up brawler. So hitch your wagon as we take a look back at Sunset Riders for the Sega Mega Drive and Genesis. Originally found in the arcade Sunset Riders found its way in to the home via the Sega Mega Drive and Genesis and the Super Nintendo.
The Sega 16-bit edition made its debut in 1992 whereas the Super Nintendo release was pushed back to June of the following year. It’s not 100% confirmed why this was but its fair to say that’s we can make a good guess and that due to Nintendo’s guidelines around less family friendly or controversial game content. Both the Sega and Nintendo versions do differ from the arcade original but it’s the Sega edition that is considered the non-censored release. More of this later tough.
The game concept is very simple, you play the role of either Cormano or Billy the bounty hunter. Your task is to hunt down the most wanted outlaws in the land. Now it’s worth saying straight away that Sunset Riders is an excellent game. It’s part run and gun / part street brawler. You’ll blast your way through the levels taking down the scum of the local town. They’ll sneak up behind you jump out of windows and generally appear from anywhere. There’s plenty to shot up here and the game moves at a really nice pace. Along the way you’ll be able to shoot certain villains in order for them to drop helpful pickups such as the multi-shot. This is an absolute must for some of the levels as the enemies to tend to swarm in large numbers at points. On the surface you’d have to say that all round Sunset Riders is a really great game. Its bright and bold take on the wild west really give the gamer something to enjoy. It’s only when you look a little deeper to you see the controversy.
Take level 1 for example, you’ll enter what we assume is the saloon. By the way that the lady is dressed it’s clear that Sega weren’t afraid to allow gamers to infer that there was perhaps something more going on. The Super Nintendo version features a more conservatively dressed bar maid. Ok, so there’s some implied adult themes here. It’s the wild West, I think we can handle it. Things take a bit of a darker turn later on though as your primary goal is to get to the end of the level by massacring a vast number of the population of native Americans. I’m fully aware of the history between the new settlers and the indigenous people of America but something in this just seems a little bit risky to put in to a mainstream game. Nintendo certainly thought so and censored the native American sprites with standard outlaws. Sega went all the way with your stereotypical bow and arrow affair and native Americans with fire. Now, I’m not generally one for censorship in games. The game is what it is. Like it or not it’s up to the game developers and publishers to release their vision of the game. People can choose to be offended or not, I’ll leave that one with you. It would be interesting to see if the game were to be released today though whether a younger gaming generation would find this inclusion offensive.
Still, at least they didn’t make up any offensive names. Oh, well Chief Scalpen but they could have done worse I suppose. Let’s see what he’s like in game. “Me ready for Pow-Wow”. So yeah, “Me Ready for Pow-Wow”. I’m getting the sense that this game is riding quite close to the wind when it comes to casual racism. Again, I’m personally not offended but I dare say that there’s a cautionary tale in here somewhere.
Sunset Riders is a product of its time and perhaps we should have known better as a society to not stereotype a group of people in this way. Having said that, all of the enemies, bosses and even the lead characters themselves follow the exaggerated classic wild West stereotypes. So what possibly seems a bit off in today’s climate actually made a lot of sense back when it was released. I’d certainly be a hypocrite if I was offended here, based on the amount of fun I had with the game overall. For what it’s worth I don’t think that there was intent to offend and that’s a good start. After all, Nintendo’s decision to sidestep the inclusion of native American characters at all also isn’t an answer to the issue. You can’t just whitewash a game and claim the high ground either. Perhaps the sensible solution would be just to tone things down a little. Include the indigenous people, just drop the provocative names and don’t play in to the stereotype of broken English and having a pow-wow.
Right, with that said, Sunset Riders is still going to entertain you. The levels show some great variation. Chases on trains, platforming on the back of cattle, balancing on ledges, its all really solid fun and exactly what makes a great game. The boss fights are really well done. Whether it’s a fight on a moving train or a standoff in the town there really is something for everyone. Between levels there’s also bonus rounds to help you pick up extra points and lives. You’ll need them too. Sunset Riders isn’t a particularly easy game, there’s certainly points where you will almost certainly fall foul of a stray stick of dynamite of be ganged up on from both directions. Although on the difficult side the game does make you want to come back for more so its certainly not rage quit material and offers decent replay value. Here in the UK the Sega Mega Drive version of Sunset Riders is very much sought after. In recent weeks the game has sold anywhere up to £50 on the online auctions. This is getting on for $70 at today’s exchange rates. It is great packaging though and the cover is instantly recognisable.
Sunset Riders is a game that really has kept its appeal. It feels very fresh to play even today. There’s a bit of everything here. Fast paced action, power ups and set pieces. If you can look past some rather dated stereotypes then Sunset Riders is going to give you a great retro gaming experience. It may be a little on the expensive side to collect but if you’re a fan of 90’s Konami games than this is a game that will certainly appeal to you.