Friday, November 22, 2013

Wild Guns - SNES' answer to Resident Evil 4?

at 5:11 PM
I like Wild Guns. Do you?

WELL THEN GO PLAY IT!

That response worked regardless of whether you said yes or no. Who writes this damn blog? SmarterChild?

Wild Guns, along with CabalBlood Bros., and NAM-1975, belongs to a small niche of late-'80s/early-'90s Japanese third-person shooters. They are, to some degree, simply vertical shoot-'em-ups with an inclined viewing angle. Take Galaga, slide the camera back behind the ship to look over its "shoulder", force the player to aim along the Y-axis as well as the X, and you've pretty much got Wild Guns. It's no surprise that the originator of the style appears to be the arcade Contra's variety missions.

There aren't a ton of these games, as their first-person shooting gallery cousins like Operation Wolf and later light gun games like Time Crisis and House of the Dead were far more popular, but they set an interesting precedent for third-person shooters - a precedent which went largely unobserved but for a few modern Japanese games. It's no revelation to learn that arcade-style gallery games have gone out of fashion alongside rail-based shooters of the Star Fox 64 and Panorama Cotton variety in favor of modern Western first- and third-person multiplayer and cover shooters. These days the classic shmup and the twin-axis shooter couldn't be farther apart, but back in the days of Wild Guns they were very nearly the same thing.

One of the perceived flaws of the arcade third-person shooter is that the style is inherently limited and died out simply because it had reached its maximum potential. In accordance with that understanding, such games are often referred to as "Cabal clones", evidencing the opinion that they never evolved past that seminal classic. I say this is bullshit. Beyond a personal distaste for proclaimed limits, there's a very simple response to this defeatist attitude: Sin & Punishment. Not only does Sin & Punishment take over-the-shoulder shooting and dodging to the next level, Sin & Punishment: Star Successor pushes it even further. It comes as no surprise that Treasure would be the ones to wring blood from this stone, but it's asinine to suggest that they're the only developers capable of expanding upon Cabal and Wild Guns' gameplay.

More interestingly, I think Wild Guns is a sort of secret predecessor to the arcadey Japanese third-person shooters that we don't see often enough today (if anyone knows another game like Vanquish or P.N.03, please call me on the phone immediately). There's an interesting little detail to Wild Guns that subtly expands the game's sense of realism and helps it leap-frog over other shooters into the true third-person shooting field ("true" in the sense of "not a rail-shooter"): the environment is wider that the screen and the camera is in the player's control. It may seem trivial, but this gives the player the ability to explore - they can choose what to look at, they can miss out on things, and they can strategically position themselves within the enviroment, not just on the screen. Even games like NAM-1975 and Sin & Punishment which introduce humongous contiguous journeys into the arcade over-the-shoulder shooter still rigidly auto-scroll, preserving the notion of the screen as the playing field. By handing camera control to the player and offering just that tiny bit of exploration, Wild Guns creates an experience uncannily reminiscent of a fetal Resident Evil 4 or Vanquish.


If you like scrolling shooters, fast paced over-the-shoulder action, or rail-shmups like Star Fox, I can't strongly enough encourage you to go check out Wild Guns (on Virtual Console or... other platforms). If you haven't played it in a while, give it another go, this time thinking less about Contra, Gradius, and Cabal, and more about Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War

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