I like Harvest Moon as much as the next man but I remember a different Natsume. At one point in time Natsume put out action games that competed with the likes of Capcom and Konami. They were a varied publisher and touched nearly every genre. But a man’s got to eat and if farming sims pay the bills so be it. Before they disappeared into cow milking hell they graced us with one of the best SNES games of all time. Wild Guns is spectacular from start to finish and deserves a higher profile. This is the Natsume that I miss.
Wild Guns takes place in a sci-fi meets wild west world that is pretty unique. It is like Brave Starr or the Wild West C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa, both obscure references but, hey, now you’ve learned something. Seeing traditional bandits on horseback mixed with giant mecha and armored tanks is weird. But that meshing of two worlds is what helps the game both stand out and offer variety.
Wild Guns is a third person shooter and harkens back to old school arcade games like Cabal. The controls and mechanics in Wild Guns are near perfect. You can move side to side in a limited space as you manually control a cross hair to attack enemies. You can’t move and shoot, which is an important distinction. Holding attack produces rapid fire shots while tapping it will toss out a lasso that freezes enemies in place, including bosses. Normally third person shooters like this provide cover. Here you have no such niceties. Instead you have a number of defensive moves. You can double jump but more importantly you have a diving roll. You are invincible during its animation, making it the most important technique in the game. With skill you can even shoot enemy bullets out of the sky.
Power-ups aren’t as frequent as in most shooters but they do exist. The shotgun, gatling gun, and grenade launcher are all awesome, even if they have limited ammo. I question why the pop shooter was included as I still don’t know what the hell it does. It seems like more of a punishment than a weapon. Like Sunset Riders you can chuck dynamite back before it explodes in addition to having a limited number of bombs. The most devastating is the V-Gun. Shooting bullets slowly fills a meter. Once full you are granted this bad ass weapon of mass destruction and are invincible while it lasts. Unfortunately it doesn’t carry over from one scene to the next.
Each level is a set of arenas where the object is to survive until the clock counts down. Once the clock hits zero you’ll either move on to the next section or face a mini boss. It sounds simple in explanation but in practice is anything but. There is a balancing act in play during each level. Every enemy killed makes the clock tick faster. Naturally you want to clear each stage as soon as possible. But then you’ll miss power-ups. It is very easy to see the screen cluttered with enemies from every corner. Yet it never feels unbalanced. The way Wild Guns manages to toe that line is part of what makes it so great.
There are plenty of minor details that contribute to making the game so fun. You can usually see exactly where enemy bullets will land by their target reticule. This allows you to either dodge or shoot them. Bigger attacks will prompt your character to shout a warning. The invincibility frames granted by the lasso and roll can and need to be exploited as Wild Guns pulls no punches. This is not an easy game; I’m sure most will die pretty quickly in the first stage. Power-ups are doled out sparingly and stray bullets are easy to miss even with warnings. Wild Guns is a relentless game; there are rarely a few seconds when the screen is empty. You will spend your entire time with your finger resting on the B button to initiate an emergency roll. It sounds exhausting but is also exhilarating.
If I had to give out one complaint it would be the controls. Don’t get me wrong, they work perfectly fine as is. The game only uses three buttons which is a complete waste. The lasso could easily have been assigned to a separate button. It is all too easy to toss out a lasso when you wanted to burst fire. Likewise, I wouldn’t have minded the option to map rolling to L and R. The SNES controller has six buttons for christ’s sake, it’s a shame not to use them.
Wild Guns looks fantastic, relying solely on its art direction rather than special effects. The sci-fi meets wild west aesthetic leads to some really creative enemies. The bosses are often massive screen filling mechanical constructs that wouldn’t look out of place in an arcade game. And the game does all this with zero slowdown. Impressive.
What an amazing game. Wild Guns is a fantastic shooter and one of my favorite SNES games. I would even say it is one of the system’s best action games. For the longest time Wild Guns had a low profile and was hard to find. Luckily Natsume have not only re-released it on the Wii and Wii U but have also given it a remaster for the PS4 and Nintendo Switch as Wild Guns Reloaded. No matter how you play it Wild Guns is an absolute blast.