For Co-Op Classics today, we dig into the treasure trove of co-op games released in arcades in the 90s. Sunset Riders came fairly early on, being released in 1991. It was ported to the SNES and Genesis as well. Sunset Riders is a charming game, for sure. The art is bright and colorful, the characters are fun and unique from each other, and the gameplay has enough variety to keep things interesting.
The story behind Sunset Riders is quite simple, which was certainly the case for most games of the time. You play as a bounty hunter, looking to collect the rewards offered for returning nefarious outlaws "dead or alive" (cue the Bon Jovi). Four people can play at one time, and can choose from four unique characters. These fellows aren't just palette swaps of each other, each one has a totally different look. I always like this in my co-op games; often the action is hectic and it's hard to tell who is who. (River City Ransom is one example of what I'm talking about). Particularly cool is Cormano. He makes up for being pink and red by having a sweet poncho and a truly enormous sombrero. Two characters use revolvers, one a rifle, and Mr. Sombrero wields a shotgun. These weapons play differently, too, which adds much to the replay factor.
One of the best parts of Sunset Riders is the art style. The Wild West is usually portrayed as a dust-covered, desolate place. Not so in this game! The rainbow colors and cartoony graphics really pop off the screen. There are all sorts of neat things going on. At one point, you have to run on the backs of a stampeding herd of cattle. There is the obligatory railroad tracks chase. Often the side scrolling stops for a shootout at a saloon. One really neat touch is what happens when you get powerups, which are found behind doors. You might get two weapons, or rapid fire, allowing you to rest your poor fingers a bit. The cool thing is, when you get these items, its represented as a kiss from a saloon girl, or swilling down a bottle of what I can only assume is ginger ale. (Hey, it's a family website!) All these design elements combine to make Sunset Riders stand out from the crowd.
Gameplay is pretty much what you'd expect: run from left to right, shoot bad guys, dodge bullets, rinse, lather, repeat. The gameplay can be a bit repetitive, but, as I said earlier, there's so much going on visually that the game is quite enjoyable anyway. During bonus levels, the side scrolling stops for a bit, and the game goes into first person perspective. Your joystick controls crosshairs, and you shoot enemies who run out in front of you. It's a nice diversion and breaks the side scrolling up nicely.
The boss fights are where the game really shines, in my opinion. In particular, the voice acting is hilarious. Each boss has a wildly different style of fighting. Dark Horse rides around on, you guessed it, a horse. The Smith brothers are explosive experts and toss dynamite at you. One boss, Chief Scalpem, is certainly not politically correct but you won't have time to consider it much when you're trying to dodge the knives he throws. There's even a boss who wields an antique machine gun! Each boss has a voice sample or two, as well, which was not exactly common at the time. Who wouldn't crack a smile at such classic lines as "Hasta la by bye" and "Bury me with my money"?
Sunset Riders is not as fondly remembered as Konami's other classic co-op games, like Contra. However, it's definitely a solid title in its own right. Having four players in and of itself was unusual in 1991. The unique characters, Wild West setting, well designed boss battles, and especially the graphic style make Sunset Riders enjoyable even now. I'd love to see this game tweaked a bit, updated graphically, and released to modern consoles. I suppose until then, I'll just have to keep looking for a pink poncho somewhere else.