Today is the 4th of July, where America celebrates its independence. There are few things that symbolize America more than the defenders of the old west, the cowboy. Okay, there is apple pie, but to my knowledge, there haven’t been many video games made about apple pie. Anyway, in honor of America’s birthday, this week’s $20 GOTW and Lost Classics will take a special look at some classic 8 and 16-bit games taking place in the wild wild west. So saddle on up, and mosey on down to your favorite game shop and seek out these games pardner!

Cowboy Kid (NES)
I got a hypothetical question for you. What would happen if Konami made Legend of the Mystical Ninja for the NES? Before you answer that, what if they replaced the Japanese feudal era setting with the old west and instead of ninja, you played as cowboys and Indians? Well, the end result would be pretty much like Romstar’s 1992 NES sleeper, Cowboy Kid. Playing as a young bounty hunter (and his Native American partner if playing 2-player) out to take revenge on his father’s killers, you are made sheriff shortly after the game begins. You are given a knife (yessir, that’s right, it’s the old west where everyone and their mom has a gun, yet all you get is a knife, makes sense to me), and are sent after the members of the scorpion gang. You are free to take them on in any order you wish. Each of the levels involve exploration, platforming, and there are even a few puzzles to solve. You’ll also encounter several NPCs to talk to and shops to purchase items at, not unlike an RPG. Throughout the course of the game, you’ll earn better weapons, which is a good thing, since the bosses are tough. Other than that, there isn’t much else to say about this game, other than that it’s a solid, if overlooked title from the NES era. There is a very slim chance of this game showing up on the Virtual Console anytime soon, as Romstar went out of business sometime in the mid 90s. Thus, this is one of those NES carts you’ll have to hunt down if you want to experience a true gem.

Gun.Smoke(Nes, Xbox, Playstation, Sega Saturn, Playstation 2, Playstation Portable)
Not to be confused of the TV show of the same name (the old west theme is the only similarity they share), Capcom’s Gun.Smoke centers around the bounty hunter Billy Bob, and his mission to take down some of the biggest criminals in the old west. The game plays like a combination of a top-down shooter and Commando. You scroll upwards and can shoot in three different ways. Special weapon upgrades and items are scatted about, and you’ll need them too, as you have to blast your way through all the enemies to get to the boss. The NES version added some new features. It had a plot (in which your job was to rid the town of Hicksville of the Wingate gang), new weapons, new items, and different music. There were also shops where you can purchase weapons, unlike in the arcade game. Be warned, although this game stands as one of Capcom’s best early releases, its punishing difficulty also makes it one of Capcom’s hardest. The game is available on Xbox, PS2, and PSP as part of the Capcom Classics Collection disc, along with several other Capcom releases. You can even adjust various options for the game, and they even feature remixed music. The Playstation and Saturn versions of the game are from the Japan-only Capcom Generations series. Seeing as how Capcom is big on Virtual Console support, I have no reason to doubt that it will be showing up on there in the near future. Fans of old school Capcom games who don’t mind a little punishment will want to check out this classic.

The Lone Ranger (NES)
This is a very surprising choice for an NES video game to say the least. Well, the Lone Ranger was the wild west’s version of Batman, Konami’s 1991 action game based on the game wasn’t half bad, and when you think about it, if a game developer wanted to cash in on a popular TV show, the Lone Ranger would be a much better choice for a video game than say, Home Improvement. Besides, it’s not like there aren’t worse choices for intellectual properties one can make choose to make a video game out of.

Anyway, playing as the titular character, you set out to avenge the deaths of your comrades and fight crime throughout 8 different levels. You are assisted by your Native American buddy Tonto, your horse Silver, and your arsenal of weapons. Just like in the show however, the Lone Ranger adheres to a strict code of honor, and random acts of violence will get you nowhere. In fact, you even get penalized for shooting women. The game features several different styles of play. When you’re in town, things are shown from a top-down perspective. Here is where you’ll find out information concerning the current level, converse with townspeople, and shop for items, similar to an RPG. You explore the countryside on an overworld map, reminiscent of Zelda II. When you go to fight the boss, you’ll travel through a side-scrolling level, and there are even first-person segments which give you the option of playing with the Zapper. There are a lot of different styles of play in the game, so it presents something for everyone. Unfortunately, this is yet another game you’ll have to do some searching for, as god only knows who owns the licensing rights for the Long Ranger, and weather or not they will be kind enough to allow Nintendo to release this on the Virtual Console. A shame too, because Konami did a good job of staying true to the source material while also making a game that’s fun to play, and lets face it, how many other 8-bit games based on preexisting IPs can you say that about?

Sunset Riders(SNES, Genesis, Arcade)
Here is another hypothetical question. What would happen if Konami made a Contra game, set it in the old west, and toned down the difficulty? Well, the result would Sunset Riders, a fun 2-player co-op arcade platformer. Selecting one (or two if playing a two-player game) of four bounty hunters, each having their own weapon, you set out to take down some of the most wanted men in the old frontier. Blasting your way through 8 levels, you make your way through dozens of enemies in order to get to the boss. Just like in Contra, your characters can shoot in 8 directions. Unlike in Contra, colliding with enemies won’t instant kill you. Your weapons are upgradable, and there are hidden doors which yield either power-ups and enemies. The game also has 2 bonus rounds to mix things up. A few changes were made to the SNES and Genesis versions. In particular, the Genesis version removed 4 of the levels, 2 of the characters, and added on some new segments. The SNES version is closer to the arcade game, although there was some censorship added due to Nintendo’s policies. Either way, this game is enjoyable, and it’s even more fun when you bring along a friend. Hopefully it will show up on the Virtual Console sometime soon.

Wild Guns (SNES)
Some of you older readers may remember a game called Cabal, or its sequel, Blood Brothers. Some of you Neo-Geo fans may even remember a game called Nam 1975. These games had a very unique style of play. They played similar to a light-gun shooter, but from behind the back of the player. Not only did you control the player, you controlled an on-screen cursor which you used to target enemies. It was unique for its time, and it served as the precursor to today’s first and third person shooting titles. Wild Guns is a throwback to those days, and it’s sci-fi meets wild west atmosphere makes it something else completely. It’s mecha vs cowboys! How ill is that? Playing as either Clint or Annie (or both if playing 2-player), you set out to avenge the death of Annie’s family at the hands of the Kid gang. By the way, I wonder how they managed to come up with the inspiration for those names? All kidding aside, the game starts out like any old [anime-inspired] wild western shoot out. But as soon as you blow away the cowboys, you’re attacked by a very futuristic robot gun turret, letting you know the direction the game is going to go in. From there on out, you’ll fight several types of wild western inspired mecha throughout a variety of different levels, including a saloon, an train yard, and a robot factory.

The game mechanics work better than you think they would. Although you can’t shoot while running, the targeting reticule speed is responsive, and it’s easy to target enemies. There is even a dodge maneuver, which is easy to use and will come in handy. You gain several new weapons throughout the course of the game, and each weapon has its own blast area. The game also earns points for its use of destructible environments, bright graphics, and catchy music.

In terms of coolness, robot cowboys are tied with gangbangers at a distant third place after space marines, with robot samurai and ninja being tied for first place. Even so, Natsume’s SNES sleeper hit demonstrates how awesome they can be given the right vehicle with which to showcase them. Hopefully Natsume will give us a Virtual Console re-release, or better yet, a sequel which makes use of the Wiimote.

The Oregon Trail (Apple PC, Windows)
In 1971, three Minnesota college student teachers, Don Rawitsch, Paul Dillenberger, and Bill Heinemann set out to create an educational computer game for a history class they were teaching. The game set out to teach students the harsh realities of pioneer life. 30 years later, The Oregon Trail remains as much of a cultural icon as it is a gaming icon. Playing as the head of a family of settlers, you make your way from Independence Missouri to Oregon’s Williamette Valley by way of the famous Oregon trail. Along the way, you’ll navigate rivers, hunt for food, manage your provisions, and try your best to keep everyone from dying from starvation and disease. At the end of the game, you’re awarded points based on your chosen profession, your remaining provisions, and how many family members are still alive. The game inspired two spinoffs, The Yukon Trail, and The Amazon Trail.

Come on now, who didn’t grow up playing this game in school? It was fun and educational! Most other video games fall into one category or the other. What started out in 1971 as a student project, became a cultural icon, and there have been several revisions throughout the years. This game is screaming for a console release. The game would work well as an Xbox Live Arcade/PSN downloadable title, a Wii ware release, or even on the Nintendo DS. Either way, this is a game that needs to be reintroduced to a new generation of gamers.

That does it for our special. I hope you’re had a happy 4th of July. You can find these games in any store that deals in classic used games. You should seek them out too, as they are all classics in their own right. Just like this Kool Moe Dee video.