Wild Guns
by Polly

Natsume always seemed to be one of those companies back in the day that did a lot of fun and interesting stuff, but hardly got any real attention for it. The Pocky & Rocky games were fun action/adventure games that still seem to be severely overlooked, the Lufia series, especially the second game, were top-tier RPGs delivering great characters and stories, and Harvest Moon was an interesting and daring concept when it came out. They were around in the NES days too doing interesting stuff (well, I thought Abadox was kinda cool), but I didn't really start hearing their name thrown around a lot until the Harvest Moon series reeeeally caught on and they got huge off it.

Wild Guns is another in the line of interesting Natsume titles. It's what you'd get if you took a bowl full of the Neo-Geo classic Nam '75, threw in a hand full of Contra's twitch-intensive gameplay with a dash of its sci-fi elements, and mixed in a packet of wild west flavor to round it all out. But since we all know that 93% of all videogames aren't food, it took a room full of developers over at Natsume to come up with the idea of combining all those great ideas into one game and seeing what would happen.

Wild Guns plays exactly as the last paragraph described. In an almost seamless merging of varying gameplay mechanics, Wild Guns is a game that works so well it's a damn shame that the game came out so late, having to compete against Nintendo's huge guns at the time and remained overlooked for the most part. It wasn't until emulators, ROMs, and the age of idiots armed with webcams and Youtube accounts came about that I began hearing more and more people talk about it. Which made me angry, because IT WAS MY GAME FIRST! I LIKED IT BEFORE IT WAS COOL, YOU JUST GO FUCK RIGHT THE HELL OFF! RADIOHEAD ARE SELLOUTS AUGLHGLKSHDLhfjlha;sdf fuck you all!

For a late in the life cycle game, Wild Guns looks decent. It's not as overly impressive when you compare it to other games that were coming out at the time, such as Donkey Kong Country and Ken Griffey Jr's Winning Run, but it works well with what it does. Character and enemy sprites are nicely detailed, with the main characters and bosses obviously getting the best work. Little details such as a character's hair flying back when they shoot and enemies taunting you in the background are neat little bits of animation that give the game a lot of character. The game's huge screen-filling bosses steal the show quite a bit here as they're not only menacing but also feature those little bits of character previously mentioned such as the enemy turning their head to keep their eyes on you and such. The background work is fairly simple. They're all mostly just static images and a repeating scroller here and there, but they're vivid and detailed enough to never really be boring.

Wild Guns' audio department could use a tiny bit of spiffying up. The tunes, while appropriate for the action, lack any real hooking melodies to make them memorable. They'll never get in the way, they're just not all that exciting. Sound effects are adequate, but the gunfire and explosions could have used a bit more oomph. All of the guns sound like toys and the explosions almost suffer from Genesis fart-processing symdrome.

Who cares about all that cosmetic fuckery anyway, right? Wild Guns is all about providing an intense and ass-kicking gaming experience chock full of dudes dying left and right and shit blowing up. If you're an action junkie like myself, then there's almost no way you couldn't be satisfied.

As mentioned before, Wild Guns plays similar to older games such as Cabal and Nam '75. You take control of either Clint or Annie (who play quite similarly and have some nice color variations to boot) and are confined to the bottom part of the screen to run back and forth while aiming your firing reticle in front of you to take out enemies and dodging their incoming attacks. It may sound like a [REDACTED]ed system to those who've never used it before, but believe me, it works in practice. Your goal in each portion of a stage is to survive a certain amount of time in order to make a boss appear. For each enemy you snuff out, you'll knock an additional second off the timer, so it pays to be quick with the trigger in stages where enemies can seem overwhelming. If I have a gripe about the game it's that each section of a stage is a never-changing static background and then suddenly you're just magically warped to the new area. Why they didn't make the areas scroll during the shootouts is beyond me, but it in no way ruins the game.

You're given a lot of control over your character even though you're confined to the bottom of the screen and lots and lots of fun toys and guns to play around with to keep the enemies at bay. In addition to running back and forth, you'll also need to jump to avoid attacks a lot. You're given a double-jump to make this task even easier. You're also given a defensive roll type maneuver that along with making you invincible for a very short period of time, lets you make a small side-step to the left or right to avoid incoming attacks. During the action, little weapon pods will fly in, a-la Contra, that you have to shoot down to grab more powered-up guns such as a shotgun or rocket launcher. Careful though, because you can also end up with a joke pop-gun weapon that does no damage whatsoever, and can't be rid of until you fire off all of its ammo. There's fun for you defensive-types too, with the lasso, which will freeze almost any enemy in their tracks for a few seconds. The lasso is an invaluable tool in later stages of the game when enemy numbers seem to almost get out of hand. You'll be surprised how much heat you can take off your back if you lasso one or two of your more troublesome foes and deal with the smaller targets first to thin the numbers out a bit.

The best part of playing defensively, however, is the Super Fuck Yeah Awesome Time Vulcan. In order to obtain this invincibility-granting, holy fucking hell damaging weapon, you have to fill up a little meter at the bottom of the screen beside your character's status. In order to fill this meter, you have to shoot down enemy bullets as they're coming at you. It definitely takes a little practice to get good at it, but it's possible to obtain the vulcan many times throughout the game if you just take the time to focus on killing enemies while shooting down a good amount of bullets too. Believe me, nothing feels better than shredding a boss in half in under five seconds with this baby. You'll relish in every fucking second of it.

That's not to say the game is a cake walk to any degree. No, Wild Guns is more than content to whoop your ass even in the first stage until you come to grips with it. Bosses will chew you up and spit you out and at times normal stage enemies' numbers can seem all too overwhelming. what keeps the game from really ever being too frustrating though, is the fact that it's heavily player-friendly and gives you all the advantages you need to stay alive while still remaining difficult. For instance, nearly every attack in the game you'll face puts a marker on the screen to show you where the bullets are going to hit. All you have to do is stay away from those markers and you're good. If a bullet is exceptionally close to you, a "LOOK OUT!" word balloon pops up by your character indicating it's time to take evasive action. Bosses are about the only part of the game that'll require repeat plays, but they almost always choreograph their moves as well, so with a little recognition of set-up animations, you'll come to know what attacks they're gearing up for and be able to make the proper dodge or counter. That balance pretty much ensures that anyone willing to stick with it, will make their way to the end of the game.

In all honesty, there's really just not much wrong with this game. Unless these kinds of games aren't your cup of tea, there's really no reason to not at least give it a peek. Wild Guns is the perfect game for the twitch-gamer in all of us.

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