In the later days of the NES, Konami developed a number of licensed games specifically for the American market. Some of these were based off of children's properties, like Monster in my Pocket and Zen: Intergalactic Ninja, but others drew from TV shows like Mission: Impossible and The Lone Ranger. Who knows how Konami obtained some of these properties, especially since they'd been off the air for decades, but perhaps they felt American children could still relate to the story of a masked gunmen and his neverending quest to defend the Wild West.
The NES Lone Ranger game is made from the same mold as Konami's The Adventures of Bayou Billy, by combining multiple genres into a single cohesive game. Instead of being a beat-em-up/driving game/light gun shooter, The Lone Ranger combines RPG elements with both side-scrolling and overhead action, along with first person dungeon crawling and more light gun shooting. It is, thankfully, quite a bit better than Bayou Billy, which was a halfway unplayable mess, but it still has problems of its own.
If there's any game closest to The Lone Ranger, it's probably Zelda II. Each chapter begins with an overhead map, where you can walk from location to location, from towns to mountains to caves. There are visible enemies on the map screen, which will trigger a brief battle with them. When you enter a town, the screen zooms closer and you're given more control over the Lone Ranger, as you talk to the inhabitants, purchase equipment and kill the occasional outlaw. Most of the townspeople speak with the grace and intelligence of someone out of Castlevania II, so it's more likely that you just stumble around until you fight the right person to talk to. Once you get your quest - find treasures, kill outlaws, and such - you set off back to the main map screen to continue your quest.
This being the old West, your main weapon is your six shooter. Ammunition, however, is limited, requiring that you constantly purchase bullets from stores. Every enemy will drop money, so it's easy to build up a stash of ammo, and you can also use it to buy silver bullets, which cause more damage, or TNT, which is thrown at an angle and causes quite a bit of damage when it explodes. As the game progresses, you can also buy better guns. As long as you spend a bit of time at the beginning of each chapter killing enemies, you never really need to worry about running out of bullets unless you're especially careless.
The action segments are split into three distinct types. The overhead scenes are much like the town exploration. These tend to be difficult because the enemies have a distinct advantage - in addition to their greater numbers, they can shoot in any direction, while you can only shoot in eight. You're also not a particularly fast walker, making it tough to dodge bullets consistently. The side-scrolling scenes appear to use the same engine as Castlevania, right down the awkward stair climbing and distinctive "kneel jump". You can shoot in almost any direction, which is quite handy, although there are some irritating jumps that require perfect precision.
In the first person segments, you have to explore mazes, much like RPGs such as Wizardry or Phantasy Star. Every couple steps, you'll run into enemies and need to shoot them down. You can use the Zapper if you'd like, but you can also aim a crosshair with the controlling. It'd be too easy if the enemies just popped out in front of you - they come from all four sides, indicated by an alarm at the bottom of the screen, requiring that you turn and face them before they hit you in the side. If you're playing with the Zapper, that means you also need to have the Control Pad ready and waiting in your other hand. There's very little room for error, and requires lightning quick reflexes if you don't want to get completely blindsided. There's no automapping at all, but at least enemy encounters don't reoccur once you've fought them, so if you keep running into baddies, you know you're heading the right way.
Occasionally the game likes to mix things up a bit to keep things fresh. Most of the battles on the map are fought in the overhead perspective, but in certain areas, it'll jump to first person, as you take down enemies while riding on your horse, or change to a side-scrolling view when running and jumping through mountain paths. While each of these three different gameplay modes has its issues, together they create an experience that's not only ambitious, but keeps itself fresh throughout the entire eight chapters. It also keeps the tone fresh by sticking in different enemies - you fight against some unfriendly Indians in the fifth chapter, and inexplicably face up with ninjas in the sixth.
Like Castlevania, it seems like you might have a large life bar, but you really don't. Running into enemies will drain a single life bar, but getting shot will take two or three, and dynamite explosions will sap even more. Once you run out, there's no extra lives; it's Game Over. Choosing Continue won't restart you at the beginning of the section; that'd be way too easy. Instead, it sticks you way at the start of the chapter. Given that each chapter usually has at least two or three segments, not counting the fetch questing or grinding for cash or bullets, that's a LOT of ground you need to recover if you screw up.
No one would blame you if you simply gave up then and there. Konami games have always been tough, but never this unforgiving, and it nearly ruins what would otherwise be an excellent game. While it's usually best to play NES games on their original hardware, you can probably make an exception to play this one on an emulator. That way, you can use save states to get around the development team's stupid design mistakes.
It's quite an achievement otherwise. The graphics are excellent, as is the music, which stands up next to Konami's best. There's quite a lot of tracks, too, including a rendition of The Lone Ranger theme song, and even a speech sample of the famous "Hi ho silver, away!" during the cutscenes. Overall, it's one of those almost-classics, underappreciated for perfectly just reasons, but an accomplishment nonetheless.