Believe it or not, it’s been two years since Red Dead Redemption 2 hit the shelves, to almighty fanfare and following months of hype. It was one of the biggest gaming hits of 2018 and cemented Rockstar’s place at the top of the tree among the most influential developers of our age.
It also demonstrated that Western is a genre that never goes out of fashion. We have been fascinated with the Wild West since the movies and TV shows that dominated our screens back in the 1950s and 60s. While Western movies dwindled in popularity after the 1970s, the world of gaming eagerly picked up the baton. Here are five absolute classics from across the years that are as relevant today as the day they were released.
The Wild Bunch
Let’s be honest, the games we played in the 1980s are a little like the cars from the 1920s. A Ford Model T is fascinating from a historical perspective, but you wouldn’t drive one today, and the same applies to play the likes of Chuckie Egg or Pole Position. However, Firebird’s Wild West-themed game from 1984 is the exception to the rule. It holds up incredibly well, and will even keep 2020’s gamer’s entertained.
The game is predominantly text-based and contains two distinct elements. The first involves making the dangerous journey from town to town and using your wits and strength to overcome adversaries. But the main action takes place in the towns themselves, where you must track down members of the dreaded Wild Bunch, to capture a murderer and prove your innocence.
There are numerous nice touches, not least the “game within a game” where you can play poker in the saloon and win the dollars you need to stock up with supplies for the journey ahead. The Wild Bunch was originally created for the Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum, but you don’t need a vintage kit to play it today, as there are several versions available to play online.
Here’s a Konami coin-op classic that those of us of a certain age will remember playing in the arcades back in the early 1990s. What set this game apart was the 2-player or 4-player option. Here, you could cooperate with your friends in the characters of Billy, Bob, Steve, and Cormano, four bounty hunters combing the wild west and tracking down its most dangerous outlaws.
It’s often the case that when hugely popular arcade games are ported to consoles, the results are disappointing (did somebody say Out Run?). However, this wasn’t the case with Sunset Riders, and the SEGA Genesis and Nintendo versions became instant classics in their own rights. The gameplay was just as immersive, and not having to feed more coins meant players could fully explore the richness of the different levels.
30 years on, it remains an eminently playable side-scroller. You can roll back the years and play it for free on platforms like ArcadeSpot and RetroGames.
As The Wild Bunch demonstrated, gambling and the wild west go together bacon and eggs. If slots had been invented back in the 1800s, you can be sure that there would have been one in every Western saloon! It’s no surprise, then, that there have been dozens of wild west themed slot games over the years, some of which are better than others.
Buffalo Slot is certainly not one of the most famous, but it is something of a hidden gem, and well worth seeking out. It’s a product of Australian company Aristocrat Gaming, a casino game developer that is best known is Australia but also quite popular in New Zealand, and gradually gaining recognition in the wider world.
This is a five-reel game that boasts more than a thousand ways to win. The gameplay sets it apart from other games of its type, as instead of selecting paylines, you select reels. If you’re a regular slots player, this one will really make you rethink your strategy. The RTP is a highly respectable 94.6 percent, and the bonus multiplier that goes up to 27x is one of the most generous you will find. Once triggered, it can lead to some really breath-taking wins.
The space western has become a genre in its own right. It can quickly descend into hokum if it’s not done right – but Natsume was right on the money with Wild Guns. The game has clear steampunk influences that were right out of left field in the mid-1990s, and it was hailed a cult classic almost immediately on its release.
There’s a compelling and logical backstory, as you adopt the character of either Annie or Clint, who are exploring this surreal take on the wild west on a mission of revenge. As well as bullets from six-shooters, expect to encounter levitating robots among the other-worldly protagonists that are bent on taking you down.
Again, this is a game that really comes into its own when you and a friend play in co-op mode, and this is what has kept Wild Guns so popular in the retro gaming community. A revised and updated version, Wild Guns Reloaded, came out in 2016 for the PlayStation 4, and has since been ported to Windows and Nintendo Switch. It retains all the magic of the original, but with additional stages and some new characters added to the mix.
The Oregon Trail
Just as we couldn’t discuss Western movies without mentioning Stagecoach, we cannot talk about Western games without mentioning the one that has sold 40 million copies and will be 50 years old next year. If you grew up in the 1970s or 80s, chances are The Oregon Trail was your first exposure to gaming, or indeed to computers.
The game was developed in the early 1970s by Don Rawitsch, Paul Dillenberger, and Bill Heinemann, three pioneers in their own right. The first release was in 1971, and when the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium got involved in 1975, it led to the widespread availability of the game throughout schools in the USA.
The idea of using a computer game to educate children about the harsh realities of pioneer life in the early 1970s was an incredible innovation. In 2016, and not before time, The Oregon Trail was inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame. Time, meanwhile, has consistently featured it in its top 100 greatest video games list.
These five wild west games have all been around for quite some time. Yet every one of them is still relevant today and is fully deserving of its important place in gaming history.