Surprise, surprise Red Dead Redemption 2 got delayed. Smugness aside that sucks! I was hoping it was going to follow the trend of Fallout 4 by being in development for years without an official peep to then be revealed with a relatively quick date. Again it’s upsetting, but I at least know Rockstar is going to do their best so the wait will be worth it. However, I was really itching for a new game set in the Wild West, which got me thinking. How many are other Western games there? Obviously, there's the first Red Dead Redemption and then the completely different Red Dead Revolver on PS2. Those feel like the obvious recommendations if you haven't played them yet.
There’s a lot more out there than I thought and most of what I found initially wasn’t very good. I dug a bit deeper, found some treasures, and even some unique games on the awful side. Every game on this list, bad or good, at least tried to do something ambitious for this genre. In that sense, I appreciate the effort. What's for sure though, is that you shouldn't miss any of my favorites on this list. If you play them back-to-back Red Dead Redemption 2 will be out before you know it. Without any more delays that is. Let’s put those dismissive thoughts out of our heads and round up the very best and the worst Westerns!
14 Best: Westerado Double Barreled
Westerado started off as a browser game before becoming a bigger thing on Steam and Xbox One as Westerado: Double Barreled. Remember my wish that Law of the West’s mechanics would be transferred into another game? This is it! It’s a basic plot revolving around avenging your family’s murder, but the culprit changes with every playthrough. You gain leads by talking to townsfolk and going on missions. At any time you can pull out your gun in the middle of a conversation. Sometimes this will help get more information while other times it will probably cause you to die especially if you are in town. It may have pixel art, but the game beneath it all is very ambitious, and it nails everything it sets out to do.
13 Worst: Back To The Future Part III
The third movie gets a lot of flack, but I love it. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for this Sega Genesis game. First of all, it's oddly dark. That screenshot isn't washed out either. In fact, I had to brighten it up to make it look like that. Gameplay wise it's a series of time challenges to prevent disasters in time. The first mission is to prevent Clara from falling off a cliff. It’s basically a game of memory since there's a cheap obstacle literally every few seconds. Back to the Future part III has a weird sense of humor about it that I admire. Even though the game is awful, it’s kind of something you need to see to believe. Just don’t play it yourself.
12 Best: Darkwatch
All right so dig this. You’re a vampire cowboy. That's a relatively simple, but brilliant idea, right? All of your gear resembles old-fashioned weaponry, but with a steampunk redesign. Plus there are vampire powers as well like draining enemies of blood for health. Like most vampire games the brooding gothic atmosphere may a bit too overbearing at times and it doesn't nail every mechanic set forth, but it's a really fun game regardless. I can’t believe no one else has made something like this since and it came out in 2005. High Moon Studios planned a sequel, but it was eventually canceled. Since then they’ve been relegated to working on games based on licenses or helping out Call of Duty. It tears my heart apart.
Worst: Lucky Luke
Ever hear of the legend of Lucky Luke? Yeah neither have I, dear readers. That's probably because it’s based on a series of French comics dating back to the late 40s. As obscure as it is I'm surprised there are so many games based on the character. I grabbed one for my favorite console, the Super Nintendo, and was not impressed. It looks good (resembling the comic to a degree), but I wouldn't call it exciting. Lucky Luke is slow as molasses in terms of walking and jumping, which makes platforming a needlessly hard challenge. Shooting is no better either. Worse yet, your objective is not clearly defined in a level. I don't expect games to hold my hand, but give me a break. At least try to be decent to your players.
11 Best: Red Steel 2
The samurai western you should pay attention to is Red Steel 2. When the first was revealed as a launch game the hype was through the roof. That was before we knew the limits of motion controls. Not good to say the least. So when a sequel was announced, I was admittedly shocked and a little hesitant. It switched the setting to a Western and even made it into a cel-shaded game. Felt like they were specifically baiting me into a trap, but the results were good. The controls were a lot better thanks to the Wii Motion Plus. There's still a bit of jank there, but again, much better than the original. Just goes to show that developers can learn from their mistakes. Ubisoft is kind of the king of that actually. Remember the first Assassin’s Creed? Yikes.
10 Worst: Lethal Enforcers II
Unsurprisingly there are a lot of light gun games depicting the Wild West. Revolvers are on of the most iconic guns out there, and everyone knows the best parts of any Western are the shootouts. It’s a natural fit for a video game, but unfortunately, most of these games are bad. Take Lethal Enforcers II for example. This was made for arcades back when developers thought it was a cool idea to digitize actors instead of creating new character sprites. This must have blown minds back then, but it looks like garbage today, and it doesn’t play any better. Lethal Enforcers II is just kind of boring. It may be hilarious especially when you look at some of the cheap costumes at play, see above, but laughter can’t fix all problems.
9 Best: Gunman Clive
We’re finally coming back to those indie games. Gunman Clive is a classic 2D run and gun shooter. Shoot guys, collect power-ups, scroll from left to right, and so on. It’s basic, but what sets it apart is the art style. Better yet imagine if someone took the art style of A-ha’s Take on Me and made a game out of it. It looks like a sketch come to life. I bet if you play that song alongside Gunman Clive everything will match up. Maybe even the devil will appear and rip open time and space itself. Either way: Gunman Clive is a real treat through and through.
8 Worst: Samurai Western
One of the most fascinating sub-genres that I discovered was the samurai western. There were three that I stumbled upon with one being bad, one being mediocre, and the other being fantastic. Let's start with bad, Samurai Western. You just know a game is going to be good when it’s named after its genre. I look forward to playing Platformer, First-Person Shooter, and Racing this Fall. Ahem, cheap jokes aside Samurai Western stars Gojiro Kiryu who has traveled to the U.S. in search of his brother Rando. It’s extremely cheesy, the voice acting is some of the worst on the system. Gameplay is your basic hack and slash with some RPG elements thrown in. It’s a great idea and the box art is gorgeous, but Samurai Western is awful on the whole.
7 Best: Call Of Juarez Gunslinger
The first Call of Juarez game is a decent Westerns, but it's definitely a B-tier 'play it by the books' sort of shooters. Call of Juarez: Gunslinger not only shakes things up for the franchise, but for the genre as well. You play as the legendary bounty hunter Silas Greaves who recounts his many feats to his fellow bar mates. This may seem like a rote storytelling trope, but the amazing thing here is Silas’ unreliability. He may claim he faced off against a hundred bandits when a patron will call him out on it and the game will literally change before your eyes. The shooting is outstanding, and the cel-shading is like icing on the cake. At max, it’s only $15 too so go on Steam, PSN, or Xbox Live and grab it now!
6 Worst: Dillon's Rolling Western
A good crop of the games on here started out as Nintendo exclusives to the 3DS, or Wii U. How Nintendo rounded up a bunch of ambitious Western themed games I'll never know, but this one is a dud. A cowboy armadillo that rolls around fighting rock monsters while trying to protect a town is all good on paper, but the execution leaves something to be desired. I’ve never really been a fan of Tower Defense games, but I always give them a fair shake anyway. This game would be good despite that genre, but controlling Dillon with the stylist is frustrating, to say the least. Again I love the idea, and it looks and sounds good on the 3DS, but overall it’s just not fun to play.
5 Best: Wild Arms 3
This series just turned twenty-two months ago and I made a brief retrospective to commentate it. To keep it short Wild Arms is a turn-based RPG series with strong Western influences. My favorite is Wild Arms 3 because it's the one game in the franchise most heavily inspired by the Old West. The desert planet of Filgaia is filled with dastardly thieves and monsters and it's up to a mismatched group of four travelers to set things right. There's a typical save the world plot behind this one, but the setting and characters are so good that I kind of forgive some of the more cliché events. The music is amazing and it's another cel-shaded beauty to boot. It's on PS4 as a PS2 port, with trophies, and is quite cheap.
4 Worst: Law Of The West
This game is actually a port of an Apple II and Commodore 64 game that actually is available in English. Why then it was brought to the NES only in Japan is beyond me. Anyway, you’re a sheriff who has to face off against villain after villain. You can shoot at any time, but you get more points by talking through situations instead. If you play your cards right, the confrontation will end peacefully. That’s all you do. Putting this as a mechanic in another game would be awesome. It’s like a pre-BioWare conversation system. Actually, that gives me an idea. I hope BioWare’s next game is a Western. Lofty dreams aside avoid Law of the West on the NES, which shouldn’t be hard seeing as this is an import.
3 Best: SteamWorld Dig
Our last Nindie, Nintendo made that up didn’t get mad at me, on the list is SteamWorld Dig. The Old West here is re-imagined as a robotic wasteland. Your character is a digger, seeking to enrich his life with treasure below the earth. You start off simply with a pick axe and a goal in your robotic heart. Go underground, collect minerals until you're full, and then head up to the surface and unload. The more gems you plug into the town the more shops, options, and upgrades will become available. These upgrades will help you break new rocks, reach new heights, and extend your expedition runs. At first glance, the game looked boring to me, but when I started playing for the first time you best believe hours went by in the blink of an eye.
2 Worst: The Oregon Trail
The Oregon Trail is one of the most iconic video games of all time. Every gamer and their mother has played it, but that doesn’t make it good. And hey, I hail from Minnesota where it was developed so (in a way) I am proud. It was a valiant effort to create more Edutainment, but it fails, and it fails hard. All it taught me was that fording a river never works and dysentery is constantly trying to kill you. The Oregon Trail is the Nicolas Cage of games. Fun to talk about and experience, but it will never enrich your life beyond a fleeting moment followed by regret. Still, it's impossible to forget The Oregon Trail.
1 Best: Gun
In my opinion, this is the unofficial sequel to Red Dead Revolver before Red Dead Redemption was even a twinkle in Rockstar’s eye. Playing it again now really cements those ideas in my head. It’s an open-world spanning the life of Colton White, as he grows up as a wandering cowboy in the good Old West. There are towns to visit, animals to wrangle, and of course, loads of bandits to thwart. It was a huge marketing push for nearly every system out there with the front-runner being the newly launched Xbox 360. Even the PSP port a year later was pretty good. It was a weird shakeup for Neversoft to tackle a game on this scale especially after making seven Tony Hawk games, but I think the gamble paid off.