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by ZZZ - December 11, 2007

Wild Guns (ワイルドガンズ) - SNES, Wii Virtual Console (1994)

Japanese Cover

American Cover

Any blatant clone of another video game, with no real major differences, is generally going to be seen as not being worth people's time. This perception often comes from experience - practically everybody played a bazillion Mario or Final Fantasy clones back in the day before they figured out that, while the same basic gameplay is still there, as a basic principle, clones just don't work as well in practice. There are, however, rare exceptions to this otherwise strict rule - if a game offers nothing whatsoever to significantly differentiate itself from another, it can still work well if it can tweak the original formula to make for a more refined version of the same thing. Arkanoid, for example, practically IS Breakout, but the feel of the game is a bit more intuitive, the block patterns are more varied, and the power-ups improve the game even further - all of which has lead to it widely being considered superior to the game it's derivative of. Another great example is Cacoma Knight, which takes Qix's gameplay, gives it multiple characters, power-ups, and better presentation, and arguably leads to an even better game.

Continuing with this theme, look at Cabal - a game so distinctive that other games in the genre it popularized are often simply referred to as "Cabal clones". The original idea was so flawlessly realized to begin with that most games in the genre that tried to do things differently, like Konami's Devastators, just didn't work out quite as well. On the opposite side of the coin, the games that really didn't do anything different at all - like Alligator Hunt, Double Hawk, or Punisher for NES - are poor examples of the formula. A major exception to this is Natsume's 1994 SNES game Wild Guns, which is easily the Arkanoid to Cabal's Breakout.

Wild Guns takes place in a strange collaboration of Western and Sci-Fi themes. There are plenty of cowboys, miners, deserts, and gunfights, but saloons have neon "OPEN" signs, forklifts sit in the background, people drive dune buggies through the desert, and foes wield rocket launchers, freeze-rays, and jet-packs. What's most out of place of all is the many, many robots that you'll fight throughout the game. The contrast of the two themes is pretty goofy, in and of itself, but it's refreshing to see any genuinely novel theme in a video game. (Nintendo's Tin Star also has a science fiction western theme, although it's actually a light gun game.)

Its sparse plot follows Annie and her hired assistant, bounty hunter Clint, as they attempt to get revenge on various thugs who killed a member of Annie's family and kidnapped the rest. The differences between the two characters are mostly cosmetic, but Clint has a long dive and a short jump, whereas Annie is the opposite. Clint is obviously based on, and dressed identically to, Clint Eastwood's character from the "Dollars" trilogy. Annie is obviously based on Annie Oakley, and is dressed in an elaborate late 1800's-style dress with a floral hat. There isn't really any characterization to either of them, but Wild Guns is all about straight arcade-style play, so that kind of thing would be kind of out of place anyway.

At its core, Wild Guns basically plays exactly like every other variant of the genre, so anybody familiar with Cabal or NAM-1975 will be able to get into it very easily. Like in Cabal, your character can only walk left and right across the immediate foreground, and always faces the background with their back toward the player. Enemies will appear in the background and have to be shot by aiming at them with a cross-hair that's controlled with the D-pad. Comparatively, your foes always face toward the player and shoot into the foreground. Moving the cursor will also move your character, but they can't walk while shooting, which you will be doing more or less without pause, so you don't have to worry about walking into enemy fire on accident. Holding Y will fire your weapon, pressing B while holding the D-pad to the left or right then you'll quickly dive out of the way. You're completely invulnerable while diving, so it's an absolutely essential technique. If you're quick, it's also possible to destroy most enemy bullets and bombs by shooting them. You only take a single hit before biting the dust, but you begin with three lives, and can gain more by scoring a crapload of points.

Wild Guns's level structure is basically identical to Cabal's, but how you progress through them has been changed. In Cabal, each level consisted of a series of static screen-sized areas. Wild Guns is similar, only the first area in each level is approximately 1 1/2 screens wide. In Cabal, each area is finished after you defeat a minimum amount of foes, but here, the first two areas of each level are timed - when the timer reaches zero, every enemy is destroyed and you fight a boss. Each of the first five levels has a total of three areas - the third of which lacks a timer, and is just a boss fight. Level six has four areas - the last of which is against the game's final boss - but otherwise follows this exact formula. The first and sixth levels are always identical, but the other four can be played in any order you like.

What few original techniques are available to you in Wild Guns seem relatively minor, but they're what really make it such a great game - they take the genre's conventions and refine them to the point of perfection. For starters, pushing B while you aren't shooting performs a jump in either direction or straight up, and a double jump is executed by pushing B while airborne. You'd expect that this is simply a differently animated dive, but not so - you lack invulnerability while jumping, but it moves you a slightly different distance to the left or right, so it might be a better way to dodge bullets. Jumping straight up is often a better way to avoid a wide bullet spray that's low to the ground, because the alternative risks straight diving into it if you judge the distance wrong. Double jumping allows you to vary the distance and duration of your jumps, and if you change your mind mid-air, you can simply switch directions for the second jump. Rapidly tapping Y will make your character begin to twirl a lasso - stop tapping the button to hurl it at any opponent you are aiming at and freeze them momentarily. This works against every enemy in the entire game, except for the giant tank boss in the desert level, so it's an especially beneficial technique against the remaining bosses. Also, if an enemy enters the foreground, you can pistol them by tapping the Y button when they approach your character.

You have two very different kinds of explosives for secondary weapons: bombs and dynamite. In most games of this kind, you have grenades that do big damage, but still have to be aimed like your shots. Wild Guns makes it much easier to deal with the game's hairier moments by giving you a full-screen bomb that's fired by pushing X. You begin with merely three of these, because of their high power, and finding extras is fairly rare. If you let a stick of dynamite that's been thrown at you hit the ground. you can grab it before it explodes by pushing Y. Dynamite won't explode while you're holding it, and you have to push Y again to throw it back, so if you hold down Y after grabbing it you can keep shooting and save the dynamite for later.

Besides your standard weapon and bombs, you can also find weapon power-ups with limited ammo. These can be left behind by enemies, and are occasionally flown in by little robots. These weapon power-ups consist of a shotgun - which has a huge bullet spray, but fires slowly; a machine gun - which fires very fast, but has a narrow bullet spray; and a grenade launcher - which has an average bullet spray, a decent firing rate, and is extremely powerful. Occasionally you will find a object with a "?" on it that can give you any of the aforementioned weapons, or a pea shooter, which does no damage whatsoever - forcing you to deplete its ammo before you can shoot anything again. Shooting enemies will build up a meter at the bottom of the screen, and when it's filled it will grant you invulnerability and an extremely powerful weapon called a "V Gun". I'll assume that "V" somehow stands for "massive destruction" (or perhaps "victory"?), because that's what it doles out.

There's a great deal of variation in your opponents, and the second through fifth stages each have several foes that are exclusive to that level. Many of the robots that you'll encounter can fire bullets in wide patterns - not like in a shooter or anything, but they are much easier to dodge if you memorize their patterns. You'll also have to deal with rocket fire, freeze rays, a crab robot that attacks with its claws, and a few large robots that shoot machine gun fire that can only be dodged. Bullets often move ludicrously fast, so memorizing each foe's attack pattern makes it much easier to take out more difficult enemies before they can get a shot in.

Probably the most important of all Wild Gun's refinements is that you're shown exactly where enemy fire is headed via cursors that appear on screen. If you wait a moment, you'll even be given a reminder to get out of the way in the form of text that says "Look OUT". Even with its perfectly intuitive physics, absolutely flawless controls, large selection of weapons, and techniques that are impeccably tailored to the gameplay, all of this awesomeness would be irrelevant if it didn't all come together into a cohesive whole. That's why showing where your enemies' bullets are going is so important - it eliminates all the guessing about exactly when to do what and where to do it.

Wild Guns can be played by two people at once - either co-operatively in the normal mode, or competitively in Vs. Mode. In Vs. Mode, you move through three areas where the targets don't shoot back. The goal is to shoot as many as possible, and whoever has shot the most targets total after all three areas is the winner. The first area is a shooting range where Hogan's Alley-style targets pop up briefly. The second area is a mine where boulders fall, and miners move across the screen in carts. The third area is a dock where robots fly across the screen. If you haven't got anybody else to play this mode with, it's also possible to play against the CPU.

Wild Guns probably has the most destructible scenery in any 16-bit game, and much of each level's terrain can be damaged or destroyed by your shots. There isn't any of the chaotic scenery interaction that Taito's awesome arena shooter Dead Connection has, but there are far more background details that can be affected. You can shoot out individual windows, destroy individual bottles at the bar, or break neon lights outside of saloons, among much other possible destruction. It's a pretty cool distraction in and of itself, but shooting certain hidden areas will also reward you with bombs or weapon power-ups. The first level is especially crazy, and virtually everything in the backgrounds of its first two areas will show signs of bullet damage after having been shot.

The kind of gameplay that's in Wild Guns has its origins in the arcades, and its difficulty reflects that. If you hesitate, even momentarily, you are toast. Every mistake you make in Wild Guns will be punished immediately, and you have few lives. As awesomely, intensely difficult as Wild Guns is, it's always fair. There is always a way out of every scenario that you could possibly face throughout the game - it's just a matter of having the twitch skills to deal with things. Luckily, you can continue indefinitely (though it restarts you at the beginning of the stage), and there's an easy mode. There's also a hard mode - good luck with that.

The visuals are excellent, and look deceptively more high-tech than they really are. Everything from the heat distortion after defeating bosses, to the huge flickering explosions, to the massive blast from the flamethrower on the tank boss - it's all achieved by applying simple sprite art in ways that create flashy effects. Its designs are also fantastic. The Cowboys vs. Robots thing works amazingly well, and keeps the game from looking quite like any other. The best designs in the entire game come in the form of a few gigantic boss robots, which all look very different from each other. It's got pretty great music, as well. I've heard it referred to as a cowboy-flavored version of the Mega Man X soundtrack, and, honestly, I couldn't describe it any better.

Wild Guns tends to be a very obscure game, even among more intense SNES fans, and it hasn't been sequeled, ported, rereleased, or remade. If you aren't familiar with this you've missed out, because it's honestly among the best games for its console. If you're a fan of old arcade-style games, intense twitch-based gameplay, or Cabal clones, then you owe it to yourself to give Wild Guns a shot. I promise you won't be disappointed. It's also the kind of game that you can keep coming back to again and again - I've been playing this game for years, and it's just as great as ever.

Quick Info:




  • Shunichi Taniguchi



Wild Guns (SNES)

Wild Guns (SNES)

Wild Guns (SNES)

Wild Guns (SNES)

Wild Guns (SNES)

Wild Guns (SNES)

Wild Guns (SNES)

Wild Guns (SNES)

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Additional Screenshots

[Tribute] The Great Battle V

Wild Guns may not have been much of a hit, but somebody at Banpresto must have been a huge fan, because their SFC game The Great Battle V pays homage to it in several levels - most notably the first level, which is obviously based on the first level of Wild Guns. The wild west theme is maintained throughout The Great Battle V, and a few bosses, and a train level later in the game, are played Cabal-style. In the first level enemies will even hurl dynamite at you, and you can grab it and throw it back, exactly like in Wild Guns.

Comparison Screenshots

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