If you’re a little burned out from shooters on the Nintendo, one could hardly blame you. There were nearly a dozen released last year, and only a few were worth owning. However, Capcom’s first release this year has a much different take on the genre. Gun.Smoke takes place in the Old West, a nice respite from the traditional outer space fare that’s so commonplace. Whether or not you enjoy Westerns, this is an intriguing title with plenty to offer from the pros at Capcom.
Traveling back to 1849, you play as Billie Bob, the hero tasked with saving the town of Hicksville from Wingate Gang and other foes. You traverse through six different levels, meandering through the town and then moving into surrounding territories like the Cheyenne River, Comanche Village, and even Death Mountain (no, not that Death Mountain). Each stage is loaded with ruthless outlaws, hostile Natives, and violent bandits. The gameplay is comparable to Commando, as you move vertically through each stage, killing or evading your attackers, collecting items and weapons, and eventually facing an end-level boss. A key difference here is that the stage auto-scrolls, keeping you on your toes at all times.
Commando was a solid game when it released over a year ago, but it already seems dated. Gun.Smoke vastly improves upon in it in every fashion. The first thing you’ll notice is you can fire in 3 different directions, rather than only straight ahead of you. You start the game armed with a simple pistol (which you have unlimited ammo for); but you can purchase a Shotgun, a Magnum, a Machine Gun, or a Bomb. Each of these weapons has specific benefits, and you can own all of them at once. However when you are killed, you lose the gun you had equipped and will have to purchase another.
When shooting barrels or killing enemies, ammo or power-ups will appear. Boots increase your speed and rifles increase your range. Extra lives and a few other bonuses can also be found. A horse is available for purchase, and can sometimes be found during gameplay. Riding the horse through each stage makes Bob much quicker and adds 3 extra health points, which the horse absorbs. Without the horse one hit will cause you to lose a life. The horse is an amazing power-up and certainly cuts down on the game’s difficulty.
Like many, chasing a high score does very little for me. In Gun.Smoke you obtain points, but they are extremely useful, as they are used as currency. You’ll really want to kill all the bad guys you see, as you’ll always want to have plenty of money on you. Throughout the game you’ll meet merchants that will sell you guns, horses, ammo, and most importantly a Wanted Poster. These feature the end level boss and are required to finish each level. You can find one hidden in each stage, or you buy one, but they are expensive. Once you have it, you can showdown against the boss and his entourage. Without a poster, the level will just loop and loop until you get one.
There’s a nice little intro with animation and a brief story when you begin the game, but graphically Gun.Smoke looks mediocre. It’s nothing like Capcom’s last release, the gorgeous Mega Man. There are a lot of browns and greens featured in the backgrounds, creating a muddy atmosphere that’s just boring. I like the variety of the six stages and the different end bosses, but nothing about the art style really excited me. The music is catchy and complemented the Western theme, but it’s not in the league of recent hits like Wizards & Warriors, The Goonies II, or Mega Man.
I enjoyed the atypical play control in Gun.Smoke. B fires left-center, A fires right-center, and pressing them together fires straight ahead. The game offers a healthy challenge, but it’s not brutally hard. As you progress, your attackers become more frequent and difficult, but collecting all of the guns and keeping a horse helps you out tremendously. Each boss has a different way of attacking, so it will take a few times for most gamers to analyze patterns to defeat them.
The game doesn’t have a giant adventure, lacks variety in gameplay, there is no 2-player mode, and the graphics are bland. That being said, I’ve still managed to have hours of enjoyment with it. This is most fun I’ve had with a shooter since Gradius, which was released over a year ago. The western setting, and in particular, the unique bosses really stood out to me. Turning the points into currency is a great gameplay mechanic, although I’m still not sure if I like the requirement of finding the Wanted Poster to progress.
Final Thoughts: GOOD
If you have fallen in love with giant adventures like Metroid, Rygar, and The Legend of Zelda; perhaps Gun.Smoke may not be for you. This is a straight-up action game. Also, a very skilled gamer might be able to complete all six levels in a day or two, and possibly regret their purchase. I found it to be a great game to turn on for 20-minutes a day. The violent combat and constant action should appeal to older gamers, and maybe even parents or grandparents who enjoy Westerns. I just wished they would have added a 2-player mode and spiced up the graphics.
Aaron got his NES in 1991 and has loved and collected video games ever since. In addition to gaming, he enjoys Stephen King novels, Twins Baseball, and his cats.