He's friendly, he lives in your neighbourhood and he does whatever a spider can. Yes, it's The Punisher! No, of course not, it's Spider-Man. Everyone's favourite web-slinger has had a lot of videogames over the years, some excellent and some... not so much, but I was raised on the Spider-Man cartoon and any opportunity to swing around and make wisecracks is something I enjoy. So here are some of his sprites. You will notice I have made a concerted effort to remember to include the hyphen in his name, because his name is Spider-hyphen-Man. It's very, very important, and for every time I forget to include the hyphen I will jam a compass into my thigh as penance.

Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six, 1992, Master System, B.I.T.S.

Spider-podge, Spider-podge. That's quite the gut he's got there. The little button nose makes him look like he'd fit right in on Sesame Street. A muppet version of Spider-Man would be pretty excellent, actually. And what's going on with his right arm? It's strangely bulbous, and he doesn't appear to have an elbow, giving him something of a Stretch Armstrong look. Still, he looks great compared to...

Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six, 1992, NES, B.I.T.S.

... the same sprite from the NES version. That front-on view is just peculiar, making him look as though he has suction cups for feet. If suction-cup feet are redundant on anyone, it's Spider-Man. The side-on view isn't much better, with him still displaying very rubbery arms and a long, long torso.

Maximum Carnage, 1994, SNES, Software Creations

Maximum Carnage is the first Spider-Man game I really remember playing, partly due to the fact it was so hard I may have a had some kind of aneurysm. Maybe my rage has passed directly into the sprite, because Spider-Man looks pretty furious there. It's a good job Spidey has super-reflexes, because a normal human would never be able to stand upright on those tiny feet. Other than that, it's a fairly good sprite, even with his strangely prominent knees.

Amazing Spider-Man: Lethal Foes, 1994, SNES, Epoch

Lethal Foes was only released in Japan, in case you were wondering why you've never heard of it. It's the best sprite so far, where some kind of effort has been expended in giving him a Spider-Man-esque pose. He also looks good when swinging from a thread:

Unfortunately, they do appear to have put his left hand on backwards.

Spider-Man/X-Men: Arcade's Revenge, 1993, MegaDrive, Software Creations

A slightly generic incarnation, looking a bit like he might be a bootleg toy of Spidey and not the real thing. At least there was an attempt to give the red bits of his costume a web pattern. At least I think that's what that is, he might be wearing his quilted velvet costume.

Separation Anxiety, 1995, SNES, Software Creations

¡El rey del cuadrilátero, Hombre de Araña! Yes, Spider-Man looks like a luchador, and that is awesome. It's the running-with-arms-raised pose that does it; I expect him to knock a goon over, run up a wall (because he can do that, being Spider-Man and all,) and moonsault onto him. His left arm is overlapping in a strange fashion there, making it look like his arm ends in a Spider-Stump.

Spider-Man the Animated Series, 1995, MegaDrive, Software Creations

Whoa there Spidey, been hitting the 'roids? Whatever you've been doing, it can't be healthy. You look like 300 kilos of sausagemeat stuffed into a pair of tights. Poor Spidey has taken a serious Leifelding there. And why so dark? It's kind of difficult to tell where Spider-Man ends and the background begins. No, I don't like this one. Whatever he is, he certainly isn't your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man; he's the menacing brute Spider-Man from the other side of town, the one that went to school with you but was a year or two ahead, and you'd always hear stories about how he punched a policeman or drove a scramble-bike into a pensioner's flat. And what kind of hero would that make you, Spidey?

Spider-Man, 1991, Arcade, Sega

Or Droopy-Man, as he is more commonly known. He reminds me of something, now what was it...?

Oh yes, that's right.

Marvel vs Capcom, 1998, Arcade, Capcom.

I've saved the best for last. How do you know it's the best? Because it's by Capcom, that's how. Looking at those thighs, I should be using him in a team with Chun-Li more often. He's probably the best-looking computerised verion of Spidey ever, and I'm including the CG one that swings around in the films. They really captured the look of the animated Spider-Man, while still giving him a slightly unique feel. That leaves only one question: will you be any good in Marvel vs Capcom 3, Spidey?
Well, you're a lot of help.

That's all for today, and I think I spelled Spider-Man right enough times for my thigh to remain un-stabbed. If you feel like it, check out these other sprite-based articles:



Here, in no particular order, are five videogame intros that I really like.

Super Street Fighter 2, SNES

Short but oh-so-sweet, the SSF2 intro may not seem like much to the masses raised on hour-long high-definition FMV cutscenes, but back in 1994 this was a sight that make me fair tremble with excitement. I think it's the giant, beautifully animated sprite that does it. It certainly makes it seem as though Ryu is really intent on kicking your ass, and the huge "SUPER" that follows left you in no doubt as to just how good the game was going to be.

Ninja Gaiden, NES

This was probably the first videogame I played that attempted to be cinematic in its cutscenes, and it just blew me away. Plus it starts with two ninjas with swords throwing themselves at eachother, so I was always going to be impressed. The way the music changes as Ryu starts telling his sad tale is expertly done, and the whole thing sets up Ninja Gaiden's plot quickly and impressively.

Mega Man 8, PS1

First off, this is the Japanese version, which is superior because it contains the "Electrical Communication" theme song instead of the fairly generic music that replaced it in the other releases. Secondly, it's like a little Mega Man cartoon! That's the sort of thing that makes me happy. Seeing a bunch of the old Robot Masters is nice, and it even includes Shade Man. I have to wonder about Pharaoh Man though, just standing there while Mega Man throws a train at him. I suppose it's not the kind of thing pharaohs are used to dealing with.

Neo Contra, PS2

Four minutes of glorious madness introduces you to Konami's not-actually-awful Contra reboot. You want missiles being chopped in half by sword? Gymnastics performed on artillery guns? Men riding atom bombs? Well, you got it. You also get some woman wailing "NEO CONNNNTRAAAA!" but you'll just have to excuse them for that. This is what all intro movies for action games should be like; balls-out, testosterone-fuelled insanity which ends in some slightly homoerotic hand-clasping. Brilliant.

Resident Evil, PS1

I really have saved the best for last here. This is my favourite video in any videogame ever, and it is at the same time both hilarious, terrifying and the coolest thing I have ever seen. No matter what Capcom do to Wesker's character, no matter what Matrix-esque powers they give him, to me he will always, always be that bored-looking guy at the end of this video. This intro raises a lot of questions, too, such as "Why does Jill shout "JOSEAHH!?"" and "Why do the dogs stop attacking them while our heroes stare at the departing helicopter?", but these are not questions that need answers. Indeed, to answer them would only sully the joy that is the Resident Evil intro. All in all, it is a truly glorious thing. But I doubt we will ever see its kind again, and that's sort of sad. Plus, it's better than all the live-action RE moves combined. These people can act better than Milla Jovovich, that's for sure.



In 1992, Taito released a game with the misleading title of Silent Dragon. It was not, I discovered, the touching tale of a mythical beast who joins a Trappist monastery to work through some deep spiritual trauma, but rather a side-scrolling beat-em-up in which some vaguely martial-arty types punch some guys. Oh well, I've inserted my credit now. Let's see what awaits us, shall we?

Would you care to guess the plot? Go on, give it a try. If you said "[Main Character]'s girlfriend has been kidnapped! You must fight to get her back! And also for justice!" then you are correct. So far, Silent Dragon is off to a very generic start. Let's have a look at our fighters, then:

So, we've got Joe, whose fighting style is apparently "Fighter". There's Lee, the kung fu master, which means he'll be rubbish. For some bizarre reason, in the majority of side-scrolling beat-em-ups "kug fu master" is equivalent to "punching bag". Poor Lee has wasted his life. Next is Kato the ninja, who is shushing us in that picture. What a rude ninja. Finally we have Sonny, a GI who is slowly falling out of frame. These are the men tasked with defeating the evil Dr. Bio and saving the world. Who is Dr. Bio? Well, apart from possibly being Baby Bio's father, he is this guy:

The effeminate Joker-looking guy, I mean, not the blonde damsel. That'd be a great turnaround, though; fluffy blonde girlfriend snaps and kidnaps respected bioengineer. It's almost M. Night Shyamalan-esque. I quite like Dr. Bio. He's certainly a little different from the normal villain that you might expect to find in this kind of situation. So, you chooses a character and the game begins.

Stage One starts with you jumping off a boat, which is a pretty high-octane way to start. I went with Joe for most of the game, partly because he's got the best balance of power and speed and partly because he throws out a Shoryuken at the end of every basic combo he does. The controls are pretty straight forward: attack, jump and a special that drains your health a little when used (in Joe's case, it's a forward flip kick thing, and very useful it is too). As you make your way through the docks, of course some enemies step out to try and destroy you, and they are punks. Street punks of course, the same as always, and these ones are even more generic than usual. There's a guy in a kind of boxing pose, and a guy with spiky hair... and that's about it, really. Granted, I can Dragon Punch them into the sunset like in the picture above, but a little variety wouldn't hurt. Oh, I almost forgot, there is an enemy who is essentially E. Honda in bondage gear, but the less said about that the better, I think. As you move through the stage, the sun slowly sets, which is a nice touch. The second part of the stage starts with you blowing up a Ferrari which someone had inconsiderately parked across the street. I don't know what it says about me, but as soon as I saw the Ferrari, I ran straight over to it and started punching it, ignoring the punks who were trying to hit me. Why did I do that? Have I been mentally conditioned to want to punch expensive cars? The car-smashing minigame in Street Fighter probably isn't helping. I can only hope it doesn't start seeping into my actual life. Eventually you reach the stage's boss, and what a freak he is.

According to the arcade flyer, this guy is called Animal Cupid. Now, that is a name that brings up a lot of questions, and most of them are about bestiality. The kind of questions that you don't want to know the answers to. Dark questions. Let's just stop thinking about it, shall we? Please, stop thinking about what that man did to get the name "Animal Cupid" and just pray to God he runs some kind of animal dating service. He's wearing bandages and nothing else, and the graphics people at Taito went to the extra trouble of giving him a bandage thong. Someone sat down to design this guy and though "You know what he needs?" Exposed buttocks." Thank you, That Guy, wherever you are. Quite posssibly a secure facility somewhere.

Stage two next, and Joe is still travelling through the city. The first thing to notice here is the appearance of the obligatory dominatrix. Every single side-scroller like this has them; I guess just whipping your regular customers isn't enough to pay the bills, and you need to do a bit of freelance evil on the side. To help you dispatch these women, the game lets you pick up a car battery to clobber them with, a weapon which ranks up there with The Punisher's bag of fertilizer as an odd offensive tool. As you hit them with the battery, some construction workers in the background cheer you on, and I end up feeling like a mysogynistic douchebag. Thanks, Taito.
The second half of the stage takes you through a fashion boutique, where more bondage Hondas wait to slap you across the room. It's a short area, and then it's time for the boss, a lion-maned Fist of the North Star wannabe with knives on his wrists. He looks pretty damn cheerful about being a boss, so maybe he was only recently promoted. It was at this point that I noticed that the sprites get smaller as you move into the background, a technique that was used surprisingly rarely and is one of the few things that Silent Dragon does a little differently. The boss is easily defeated, despite his ablility to scale his sprite, and it's on to stage three.

This stage is in the back of a truck, a truck which is apparently impervious to the large piles of dynamite which are constantly exploding inside it. Considering that this truck deposited some enemies during the previous stage, it has a lot of punks inside. Like a clown truck, but instead of clowns it's full of vicious psychopaths. So, like a normal clown car, then. I realised that the enemies don't have names above their health bars in Silent Dragon, and that is disappointing, because it means I can't apply my theory that the enemy names that do appear are chosen by the protagonist when he sees the enemy for the first time. You just lost points, Silent Dragon.
After a while, the sides of the truck fall off and enemies are dropped off by guys on motorcycles, like some kind of evil courier service - goons when you need them, if you like. Then a helicopter appears and shoots missiles at you. It's all go on this truck, I tell you. But who's that jumping down from the chopper? Why it's the stage's boss, and he's pretty god-damn familiar looking.

He's just a palette-and-head swap of the previous boss, but with that swapping they have turned him in to Jagi from Fist of the North Star / Hokuto no Ken. Here's a picture of Jagi:

Okay, so maybe it's just a coincidence and he looks a bit Jagi-esque. Well, here's the bosses profile picture.

Yep, they just ripped him right off, and that's great, because I love Jagi. The boss's name is Wolfkid, and according to the arcade flyer, "He can't be seen in the daytime". I have no idea what that means; does sunlight somehow render him invisible? Is he a vampire? Or does he just stay in bed all day like a shiftless, dole-scrounging scumbag? Well, it's a moot point, because I'm clearly fighting him in the middle of the day and I CAN SEE HIM JUST FINE. As he is Jagi, that means he knows Hokuto Shinken, which may explain why this boss battle is so hard. He's much, much tougher than the last boss, even without having a shotgun. He attacks with combos of little fireballs which seem to be able to hit you when you should be out of range, and they do a lot of damage, too. But, y'know, Hokuto Shinken. What can you do? It turns out what I can do is keep pumping credits in and spamming Joe's special attack, and soon enough the way to stage four is open.

Stage four starts with a monkey throwing a Molotov cocktail at you. No, really. There he is at the top-right of the picture, looking down on the destruction he has wrought, savouring the smell of buring flesh as he breathes deeply with his simian lungs.

What a bastard. Just as you've gotten used to the concept of a dangerous ape with petrol bombs, he changes tack and starts throwing delicious, health-regenerating apples down to you instead. You're messing with my head, monkey-man. Look at you, sitting up there with mischief in your fickle monkey heart like some furry incarnation of Fate. I hate you, Molotov monkey.
The stage continues through the mountains, over a rope bridge that you can boot enemies off of, until you come to a lava-filled cave. In the lava cave lurks a mid-boss. He's a fire-breathing armadillo dragon thing!

After the previous couple of bosses, he's a bit more interesting. As he is an armadillo, you know his attack pattern is going to involve curling into a ball and rolling into you while being invincible, and so it proves. Just once, I'd like an armadillo boss that tries to beat you with laser eye-beams or something. He's easy enough to beat, much easier than Jagi at any rate, and the stage moves on to some kind of Joel Schumacher-inspired neon Indian burial ground. It looks like Sitting Bull should be throwing shapes to some bangin' techno beats nearby, but instead of proud native chiefs, Joe has to face two bosses at once: the Man-Bat who ran (flapped?) away earlier, and a green, bandage-covered, stretchy-armed fella called Frankenman.

Frankenman is pretty cool, actually. I usually like the "hideous creature swathed in bandages" look, like Jennety from Captain Commando or Marco from Kaiser Knuckle. Animal Cupid is a rare exception, but Frankenman pulls it back for bandaged freaks everywhere. But still they are easier to defeat that Wolfkid/Jagi, probably due to Frankenman's terrible posture, which can't be good for his back. With those two defeated, it's on to the final stage.
The final stage is set in the Technodrome, apparently, and it's the fairly standard "assault on the villain's base" setup. You get a bunch of regular punks, and of course you have to re-fight most of the bosses again too. Oh joy. The game shows mercy by not making you fight Wolfkid again, thank god.

There's an airlock that you can open, and then you can hit the goons so they lose their footing and get sucked out. That's all well and good, except that the base is on ground level. Okay, it might be up in the mountains a bit, but it's certainly not in space. Maybe I just don't understand the subtle science of vacuum aerodynamics, but I'm pretty sure that if you open a door at the top of a skyscraper you aren't immediately sucked out into the air. It's at this point that I would be expecting to face the one thing that I thought tied all side-scrolling beat-em-ups together, the one thread that connected them all, from the mighty Final Fights right up to the modern Scott Pilgrims. That thing is an elevator in which you travel while enemies pour in from all sides. Silent Dragon does not have one. I am broken, bereft, destroyed. It's like everything I believed in has been swept away with one sweep of a badly-designed punching animation.
Despite this trauma, I managed to drag myself on until I reached the head honcho, Dr. Bio himself.

He's riding what I can only describe as a Space-Segway. It looks like it should make theremin noises when he moves about. As this game was released in 1992, it's safe to say that Taito predicted the arrival of the Segway by a good eight or nine years, showing how truly ahead of its time Silent Dragon was. I really like Dr. Bio, mostly because he's an effeminate, purple-haired psychopath wearing a lime green zoot suit and an eyepatch with a gun for an arm. Forget your James Bonds, that's cool right there. That isn't Dr. Bio's true form, or course. No, after a few hits all his skin falls off and he is revealed to be a Terminator.

Stomp stomp, punch punch, you get the drill. He's actually really easy to beat by taking advantage of the invincibility offered by your special move to avoid his attacks and then bashing him with a standard combo. I gotta say, I much preferred the first iteration of Dr. Bio, but once his robot form is defeated, that's the end of the game. Boo.
With all the stages complete, I'm still none the wiser as to why this game is called Silent Dragon. It features no dragons, unless you count the armadillo thing, which you shouldn't because HE'S AN ARMADILLO. He's certainly not silent, either. Maybe the Dragon of the title refers to our hero, but he's not silent either. It is a mystery that will never be solved, or more likely it is two English words that Taito liked the sound of together. I think a more appropriate name for Silent Dragon would be No Sleeves: The Game. Seriously, look at the screenshots and you will see that Dr. Bio himself is the only character with sleeves. This game has a real obsession with bare arms. All the enemies have bare arms or are armadillos, all the bosses have bare arms, all the heroes have bare arms. There are more sleeveless jackets here than in the whole of the ninties combined.

The ending? Our hero makes out with a girl. That's the whole ending, that picture. You will notice that the girl is wearing a sleeveless dress. Wait a second, that sleeveless red outfit, those muscular arms, that blonde hair... I think Joe is making out with Ken from Street Fighter. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Well, No Sleeves: The Game is exactly what you would think it is from this rambling article. Short, generic to the point of plagarism and just all round a bit forgettable. But still, I had fun with it, and as it is so short, it doesn't have time to outstay its welcome. Plus, Dr. Bio is a cool, Space Segway ridin' kinda guy. And he has sleeves, making him better than everyone else involved in this game. So give it a go, or not; you probably won't remember it either way.

Here are the arcade flyers:

And here's some gameplay footage. Enjoy!

P.S. Don't forget about the VGJUNK Tumblr!



I think it's fair to say that I'm a fan of the music of the Mega Man series. You know why it's fair to say that? Because I think every Mega Man soundtrack in the original series is a work of genius. For anyone to produce music that good, that catchy and that complex through the NES soundchip... it's a thing of beauty, it really is. Considering they were composed to be throwaway background music, produced decades ago for a long-obsolete console, the fact that people are still listening to them, remixing them and even creating whole albums around them is pretty amazing.
Some of these Mega Man tracks get more attention than others. The soundtrack for Mega Man 2, for example, has had every track remixed, re-mastered and reinterpreted a million different ways. Magnet Man and Spark Man from Mega Man 3 seem to get a lot of love. However, put those famous tracks out of your mind, because this article is about five of my favourite Mega Man tracks that seem to get repeatedly overlooked in the harsh, unforgiving wilderness of the internet.

Hard Man - Mega Man 3

No sniggering in the back, please. He's called Hard Man because he's supposed to be a cement mixer (I think) and cement is hard. I distinctly remember trying to record this music from my television as a child, using the very ineffective method of holding a TalkBoy up to the TV speakers. It didn't work, and I had to wait for the internet to come along before I could listen it during the rare moments when I wasn't actually playing Mega Man 3.

His theme is just some funky and light-seeming, totally at odds with the mountainous theme of the level. Perhaps it is my fault for judging a man based upon the content of his level.

Dive Man, Mega Man 4

Yo ho ho, a submarine boss.

I love the way the NES noise channel sounds like drums and waves at the same time. That's really making the most of the equipment you have available. The little tom fills are excellent, too.

Charge Man, Mega Man 5

Another vehicle-themed boss, Charge Man is a train and he charges into you a lot. He looks like Thomas The Tank Engine's demented brother, and his music sounds like this:

More excellent use of the NES noise channel for the hi-hats at the start. There's an almost nostalgic feel to it, which I guess is supposed to evoke feelings of the long-gone Age of Steam, and possibly to distract you from Dr. Wily's stupidity in building a fighting robot that needs fossil fuels to operate in the far future. It's like taking the engine out of your car and getting a horse to pull it along instead.

Yamato Man, Mega Man 6

Yamato Man is a samurai robot, but his theme doesn't sound nearly as sterotypically Japanese as you might expect.

The chorus effect that comes in at about 0:32 is pretty excellent.

Shade Man, Mega Man 7

He's a robot vampire. That's pretty cool in and of itself, but then he gets this truly excellent theme:

It's like some kind of beautiful bastard child born of nasty musical sex between Mega Man and Castlevania. I think I want this played at my funeral. The section from 0:40 to 1:00 is one of my favourite twenty seconds of music I've ever heard. But that wasn't enough for Capcom. Oh no. Shade Man's stage features an easter egg, and if you hold B while selecting his stage, the regular music is replaced with Stage One music from Super Ghouls n' Ghosts. So he becomes the only Robot Master to get two different (and incredibly awesome) theme songs, thus cementing his status as Best Robot Ever.

So, those are my five favourite overlooked Mega Man tracks. Feel free to disagree with my choices or even simply not care. That's a valid choice too. No doubt someone will now tell me that these tracks aren't overlooked at all, and then direct me to some vast cache of remixes. Actually, that'd be great, please do that.



The very first game I wrote about on VGJUNK was Konami's excellent cartoon cowboy game Sunset Riders. As that was five months ago, I think it's about time I got my rootin'-tootin' back on, so here's a quick look at the NES version of Capcom's 1988 Clint-Eastwood-em-up Gun.Smoke. Yes, the dot is important! It's to differentiate it from some TV show I've never seen. I'd class that as important, but then I am a deeply pathetic individual.

At its heart, Gun.Smoke is a vertically scrolling shooter, very similar to Commando, except the screen scrolls upwards. You scroll upward with it, and in a rare morsel of generosity from a game of this age, you don't instantly die if you get trapped in the scenery. Joy! You just teleport free like some kind of ancient yoga master of the Old West. You also shoot a lot of people, but then I suspect you might have already figured that out.

The firing mechanic is interesting: pressing the B button fires two rows of shots out at a diagonal to the left, pressing A fires them to the right and pressing them both together fires straight forward. The arcade version has an expanded 3-button system, where each combination of button presses results in a different firing pattern. That was far too much for my feeble mind to comprehend, though, so you're getting the NES version. Hah.

You play as a cowboy called called Billie Bob (no, really), a tough talkin', hard-fightin', widow-makin' gunslinger who rolls into the town of Hicksville (no, really) one "windy afternoon" and decides to take out the evil Wingates and his henchmen. With bullets. Lots of bullets, and the occasional horse.

So, cowboying, then. At the start of each stage, you're shown a wanted poster of the level's boss. The first stage is rule by Bandit Bill, world's smuggest cowboy:

He looks like he's balancing a hard-boiled egg on his head. All that and a jaunty cravat too. Truly a bandit of taste and refinement. To get to him, you have to move upwards through the town of Hicksville, pumping lead into anything that moves. The enemies are all fairly straightforward; there are little green dudes who fire single shots, cyan guys who prance around in a truly... flamboyant manner and dynamite throwers. Everytime I see the dynamite enemies, they remind me of former WWF superstars the Legion of Doom.

Man, the ninties were great awful great.

The gameplay is as simple as you like, but that doesn't stop it being fun. The first stage isn't all that difficult either, so you're introduced to the bloody, lawless wasteland of the Old West fairly gently. It helps that the first stage has some excellent NES-produced "cowboy" music. Personally, I think it's great.

Of course, there are powerups. There are icons to increase you firing range and stopping power, as well as a shotgun, maghine gun and Mag Num to buy. I believe the Mag Num is a large, powerful handgun of some kind. Best of all, though, is the horse. A beautiful, noble steed who soaks up bullets better than Kleenex soaks up salty emo tears. He takes damage instead of you, valiantly struggling on as his bullet-riddled body slowly bleeds out, until finally he can take no more and he collapses under you. Of course, you move on straight away and leave him to the buzzards. Ah, the cruelty of the scrolling screen. There is one final item, however: the Wanted Poster. You see, the first time I played Gun.Smoke, I dutifully trudged along for a while until I noticed that the scenery was looking rather familiar. Then I realised that the level keeps on looping round until you find the Wanted Poster. You can buy it from the shop lady for an extortionate price, or you can try and find it somewhere on the stage. Good luck with the latter, though, because, like a bulletproof leprechaun, it is invisible and you have to shoot it eight times before it appears. Just pay the lady so we can move on. It does raise the nice mental image of the lone lawman riding into town, ready to deal some justice... and then proceeding to spend the next few days wandering around in a circle because he can't find the boss. Well, what do you expect with a name like Billie Bob? With poster in hand, you soon reach your target. Bandit Bill is a tricky customer, because he has a secret move up his sleeve. That move is lying down. Yes, his strategy is to lay down in front of you. As stupid as that sounds, it works thanks to one crucial element: Billie Bob is even dumber than Bandit Bill. Our hero cannot, sadly, aim downwards. Perhaps he missed that day of Cowboy School, along with the day they taught lessons on proper horse maintenace. He stands up occasionally, so you just have to pick your moment and blast him. The level ends, you shoot up the very expensive wanted poster and collect your bounty, and then it's on to the next stage. The gameplay doesn't change from here on out: it just shooting, shooting and more shooting, for that authentic taste of the Old West. Sadly there is no sasparilla-drinking minigame, nor is there the option to leave hundreds of Chinese miners trapped in a cave after a landslide. I suppose we're still awaiting that true cowboy sim. Here are the rest of the (suddenly wildly inaccurate-seeming) levels.

It's out into the desert for stage 2, where this lumpy fellow named Cutter awaits.

Good god, he's a phrenologist's nightmare! Those two lump above his eyes look disturbingly like proud buttocks. He fights with boomerangs, which are always a good choice against guns.

Next it's Comanche country, and you battle the game's mandatory Native American chief.

He is called Devil Hawk, and he can shoot fireballs, a well-know technique of the proud Native American race. His stage is a bit more verdant than the previous two, and it's filled with teepees so narrow you wouldn't be able to lay down in them, thus making them the worst house in the world that wasn't once owned by Josef Fritzl. There's no buffalo, though, The white man killed them all. What a bastard.

Stage four, and Capcom suddenly decide that what Gun.Smoke really needs to give it that extra bit of pep is ninjas.

Damn right too. There aren't many things that aren't improved by adding ninjas. With surprising originality, the boss is a ninja called Ninja. I guess Capcom used up all their creative juices coming with the genius-fuelled braingasm that led to them putting ninjas in the game in the first place. The stage takes place on Death Mountain, and the name does not disappoint. This is where the game starts getting tricky, because ninjas. Ninjas everywhere, like a purple herd of buffalo that once used to roam these great plains before the white man killed them all. What a selfish prick.

It's also around this point that I realised I was paying more for the wanted poster than the bounty on the boss's head. I can only hope Billie Bob isn't in it for the money.

Stage five is patrolled by Fatman Joe:

GET DOWN HE'S GOING TO BLOW. He has a cannon, along with around one hundred thousand cowboy associates with no greater desire in the world than to see Billie Bob in a pine box. He also looks sort of Dragonball Z / Super Saiyan-esque. I think it's the veins.

Finally, stage 6 arrives, and it's time to go mano-a-mano with Wingates himself, with our hero determined to make him pay for his vaguely-defined crimes.

I've just invented my own backstory where Wingates is Mike Haggar's evil twin brother who travelled back in time. I think it holds up pretty well! Wingates is hiding out in a cemetary, and his deadliest weapon turns out to be the stage itself. How so? Well, look at this screenshot:

The white brick pattern covers 80% on the stage. Not only is it pretty painful to look at, (I think my eyes keep trying to resolve it as some kind of Magic Eye puzzle,) but it is almost exactly the same colour as the enemy projectiles, so you can't see the bullets flying towards you face. I've just noticed that those graves have crosses on them, in defiance of Nintendo's infamous "No religion" policy. Way to stick it to the man, Capcom. The final boss appears and, slightly underwhelmingly, it's a guy with a machine gun. You kill him, and he reappears as a guy with a machine gun that fires slightly more bullets. Deal with him, and it's game over. Billie Bob has saved the town of Hicksville, and he is left to contemplate his crippling wanted-poster-incurred debts. I think it would be fair to say he could be regarded as a podner. Then, it classic NES tradition, the game kicks you back to the start. You shouldn't play through it again, though. Go outside and get some exercise, your mother and I are starting to worry about you.

So, Gun.Smoke. It's pretty good fun! You should try it out, just don't expect Red Dead Redemption. Kids these days don't know they're born, etc, etc. The gameplay is solid, it controls well, and it isn't quite as punishingly difficult as other NES games of the time, Plus, you get to play as a cowboy called Billie Bob. What more could you ask for? Well, here's something else: a rather nice remix of the first stage music.

And with that, I shall ride off into the sunset on my meat-shield of a horse. Adios, gringos!

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