Towards the end of the NES life Konami released licensed games targeted at western gamers rather than sequels to their intellectual properties. Tiny Toon Adventures, Mission Impossible, and Bucky O’Hare were among this crop but they even had obscure licenses like Zen: the Intergalactic Ninja. In general all of these games were great and the Lone Ranger falls into that category. You’ll be hard pressed to hear anyone mention it though. As a 1991 release it wasn’t too late into the NES’s lifespan but I can imagine gamers most passed on it. They missed out on a good game although it does have a few frustrating issues.
It’s hard to put the Lone Ranger in one genre as it has elements of nearly all of them. Primarily it is similar to Crystalis or Zelda as you visit towns, talk to people, buy items, and visit various caves and mountains. There are even the equivalent of random battles on the overworld map. This view is where you’ll spend the majority of your time. There are even action sequences that utilize the same perspective. Though similar you won’t have to grind as much as in most 8-bit RPGs thankfully. Spending 10 minutes or so at the beginning of each chapter should leave you all set until the next area.
That being said it would be selling the game short to call it an action RPG. The Lone Ranger incorporates side scrolling action like Castlevania, first person dungeon crawling, horseback riding and even light gun shooting. Comparisons to the Adventures of Bayou Billy can’t be avoided. Unlike that game nearly every facet of this product has been done competently.
The Lone Ranger is broken up into 8 chapters with each taking place within a small section of the entire map. There are towns numerous towns where you can heal and purchase upgrades like ammo, TNT, and long range guns. The game does a good job of guiding you although occasionally you might stumble. Sometimes triggering the right conversation to unlock the next destination isn’t as obvious as it should be. These take on many different forms and are where the game’s greatest strength lies.
Once you’ve entered a new location the game will usually switch views. The majority of the game’s action segments are side scrolling platformer not unlike Konami’s own Castlevania. However the Lone Ranger is a much more agile protagonist, able to shoot in eight directions and move at a nice clip. Sometimes these are overhead which is much more difficult as the terrain is more varied and will block your shots. These are more difficult as the enemies attack in greater numbers and are very accurate. Last but not least is my least favorite part of the game, first person action.
While this is a much better game than Bayou Billy they do unfortunately share one feature: light gun sequences. These segments need to die in a fire and that goes double for the first person dungeons. Both parts use the NES Zapper but you’ll also need to keep a controller in hand as enemies attack from all four sides and you’ll need it to switch. Aiming is easier with the gun but using it in conjunction with the controller is cumbersome. Using the control pad means dragging a slow cursor around to aim against aggressive enemies. It’s very easy to be overwhelmed and flat out frustrating. I can appreciate what they tried to do but the Lone Ranger would have been better off if Konami had stuck with the overhead and side scrolling stuff as they are much better realized.
Overall this is a pretty difficult game despite its generosity with money. You have one life and despite infinite continues are sent back to the beginning of the current chapter. That is soul crushing as the later chapters are very long. Each area has a few towns and at least 2-3 action sequences; replaying all of that multiple times is a bitter pill to swallow. The side scrolling levels are just as tough as anything in Castlevania despite the better controls. I’ve already gone over how brutal everything involving the first person is. I don’t blame anyone if they use an emulator on this one to take advantage of save states.
Despite the difficulty however I have to commend the game for being so fun. The constant shifts in gameplay style are welcome even when frustrating. The designers know when to switch between the various play styles to keep things fresh although towards the end the side scrolling bits do take precedence. Regardless of my gripes with the game it at least manageable and long enough that you will definitely get your money’s worth. The entire production oozes that Konami quality, from the excellent graphics to the awesome soundtrack. If they had stuck with just two genres rather than four or five this could have been a classic.
The Lone Ranger is not without its problems but in the end is still a great game. Because of its license it will more than likely never be re-released but that isn’t much of a deterrent. Even today it still flies under the radar of many but can still be found pretty cheap and is more than worth that price.