For the most part, Moo Mesa adheres to the same foundations as the rest of the genre. The joystick controls movement, as well as aiming, and there is one button to fire and another to jump. Pressing both buttons together activates a rolling stampede attack, which handily clears groups of generic bad guys. Powerups like explosives, a wicked tomahawk, or even an electric attack can be activated in the same way. A few upgrades allow for faster shooting, or a triple bullet shot that is particularly effective.
The action is quite fast paced, with a good variety, always keeping things fresh. The environments allow the heroes to jump around on multiple levels in order to more effectively mow down the baddies. The levels can be played in any order thanks to the level selection feature - a nice touch. In addition to the standard walk and shoot levels, there are several auto-scrolling levels, including a particularly fun one set on a moving train. Perhaps the most memorable are the quasi-shooter sections, where the large C.O.W.-Boys are flown through the air by rather scrawny looking vultures. As far as mixing up the fighting is concerned, Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa compares very favorably to Turtles in Time, which is high praise indeed.
I had no memory of playing Moo Mesa in the arcades, but checked it out via emulation before writing this article. My eleven year old son, a great co-op partner, was very impressed, and told me it was clever and funny. I very much agree with him; Moo Mesa is one of the better games in its genre - especially for its time, the heyday of the side-scrolling fighter. While it's very true to its era, with garish colors, a goofy concept, and the semi-knockoff pedigree, the game stands up even today. Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa is undeniably a Co-Op Classic.