I’m sure a lot of you are looking forward to Red Dead Redemption 2. Ah, the lure of the untamed West, rifle-fire echoing down a lonesome canyon, hours spent parking your horse on top of dead animals so you could harvest their skin without having to see the associated cutscene for the seven thousandth time. No, wait, that was the first Red Dead Redemption. While we all wait for Rockstar’s latest git-along-little-dogie-em-up, here’s another slice of Wild West action that’ll make you really appreciate modern videogames: it’s Tynesoft’s 1989 Amiga game Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, also known as Buffalo Bill's Rodeo Games!
Here’s William Frederick Cody himself, or Buffalo Bill to his friends. I image most people will still at least recognise the name Buffalo Bill, and that’s hardly surprising because he was one of the most famous people in the world around the turn of the twentieth century. A legend of the Old West, Buffalo Bill rode for the Pony Express, fought in the America Civil War and shot a bewildering amount of buffalo, hence the name. So well-know was he that both King George V and Kaiser Wilhelm II took a break from that minor kerfuffle called the First World War to pay their condolences when he died. Bill’s fame came in large part from his travelling Wild West Show, a mixture of sharp-shooters, battle re-enactments and (presumably) grisly mountains of dead buffalo, a show which toured Europe and the USA. That’s what this game is inspired by, so grab your shootin’ irons and get ready for yet another entry in the interminable genre of home-computer multi-event sports titles!
That’s right, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show is a multi-event sports game, although at least the Wild West Show theme provides a pretty sensible reason to offer up a selection of cowboy-themed minigames. Event names like Bronco Riding and Steer Wrestling immediately conjure images of joysticks knackered beyond repair by intense waggling, but hopefully the shooting games will be less taxing on the hardware.
First up is Knife Throwing, as presented by a Native American chap who smiles fondly at a hovering knife. Perhaps the knife was a gift from a long-ago lover, or perhaps he admires the intricate detail on the sheathe. Intricate is the word, and you can’t fault Buffalo Bill’s pixel work on these splash screen – it’s all very crisp and well-drawn. I’d go so far as to say it’s the game’s best feature. I’d have said that before I’d played any of the minigames, to be honest. I’ve played enough home computer multi-event sports games to know what’s coming.
Yep, that’s about what I expected. Some poor woman is strapped to a revolving wheel, and you’re tasked with throwing knives near – but not at – her. Knives that land closer to the woman score more points, and you control the action with either the mouse or a joystick. I went with the mouse, hoping it would give me greater control, but alas the crosshair wobbles around the screen in a manner that suggests the knife-thrower is standing atop a partially-filled waterbed. So, you move the cursor to roughly the right spot, holding the jiggling crosshair as near to the woman as you dare, then you press fire to throw the knife. There’s a fair old delay between pressing the button and the knife landing, so while there is some skill involved the sullen hand of Luck weighs heavy around your shoulder during this event.
You get eight knives to throw and score points with so, erm, do that. Try not to get distracted by the horse or the gopher that sometimes pops out of the ground. Once you’ve thrown your knives it’s on to the next event… okay, fine. I know you’re all wondering what happens if you hit the woman with a knife, you jackals.
The screen runs red with blood and the knife-throwing competition immediately ends, as you'd bloody well hope it would. Sadly there is no “panicked call to the insurance company” minigame.
Here’s a gun. I assume it’s a Colt Single Action Army, what with this being a Wild West game and all. Mind you, everything I know about revolvers I learned from Revolver Ocelot, so I wouldn’t take my word for it. Do you think gun nerds ever get confused as to why “ocelot” keeps popping up in the autocomplete when they’re looking up Colt SAAs online?
The first part of this event has the shooting part down but not so much the “trick” bit. It’s a fairly standard videogame shooting gallery, where cardboard cut-outs of various people appear and you have to assess their threat levels before blowing the appropriate targets away. I must confess I had some trouble on that front. The identifying part, I mean. Some of the targets easily discounted, of course: gunning down little kids and unarmed women is almost always frowned upon in these kinds of games.
But then there are scenarios like this, where a man with his hands on his holsters and a look of steely determination in the two pixels that make up his eyes lurches out at me. He’s clearly getting ready to draw, so I fired first and whoops, I guess the tiny star on his chest means he’s the sheriff and now I’m wanted for killing a lawman. There are also targets that appear facing away from you and you’re presumably penalised for being the kind of coward that would shoot a man in the back, even though logically that’s the best place to shoot someone.
Your actual targets are anyone with a gun in their hand who’s looking right at you, and they make up a surprisingly small proportion of the potential targets. The trick to this trick shooting is not falling asleep while waiting for a viable target to appear.
The second half is a bottle shooting challenge where your cowpoke assistant throws glass bottles across the screen in a variety of trajectories and you have to shoot them out of the air. The same crosshair wobble from the knife-throwing game is in effect here, and while it didn’t matter much (or at all) in the target shooting round, here the precision required to hit the bottles is such that it’s frustrating to have your crosshair right over the bottle, only for it to suddenly jerk out of the way. Other than that – and the need to reload your gun by hitting the right mouse button – it’s just pointing, and indeed clicking.
The music helps keep things interesting. It’s an aggressively jolly version of the folk song “Shortnin’ Bread,” which isn’t very interesting in and of itself but it did remind me to listen to The Cramps tearing through their version of Shortnin’ Bread, so it gets points for that.
Event number three is Bronco Riding. If this title screen is to believed, the act of bronco riding fills a cowboy with a sense of transcendental bliss. That’s what I’m reading into his expression, anyway. Also I know he’s wearing a cowboy hat but I can’t see it as anything but a massive afro.
Right, here we go. Ridin’ a bucking bronco. So, how does this wor…
Aaand I’m down. It wasn’t so much a display of bronco riding as it was a fast-acting horse catapult. I know the timer at the top-right says I lasted six seconds, but I did not. The timer in this game runs really fast, and in reality I lasted about one second. In my defence, the game does not exactly ease you into the event gently.
The horse goes all-out to evict the cowboy as soon as the event starts, but I tried again and this time I was prepared for the gameplay, which involves nothing more than holding the joystick in the direction of the arrows that pop up on screen. Obviously the arrows are constantly changing direction, so a successful bronco ride is a test of reactions. It’s okay, I suppose. Not particularly exciting, but enlivened by the rather fun graphics of the horse thrashing around as I’m sure we all would if some moustachioed lunatic with a name like Jeb or Cletus jumped onto our backs. Or maybe you wouldn’t. I don’t know what kind of stuff you’re into.
On to the second disk and the fourth event with Stage Coach Rescue. We’re rescuing it from that Native American chap sitting on top. The law of the Old West is harsh, and there can be no mercy for fare-dodgers.
Up until now Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show has been relatively inoffensive, but the stage coach chase sees it dip into some deeply frustrating territory. It’s a two-part event, and your first mission is to catch up to the stagecoach. You can move your horse up and down to avoid the energy-sapping crates that are thrown from the top of the stagecoach, but to actually reach the stagecoach you have to waggle the joystick left and right. You have to waggle it a lot. A ludicrous amount, considering you also have to concentrate on not getting whacked by flying luggage. I would recommend wearing some kind of wrist brace, or possible strapping your controller to a high-powered reciprocating saw.
You’re goddamn right I am, this is the most physical effort I’ve expended since an ill-advised attempt to run for a bus in 2013. After many attempts – and starting the game again so I could turn the difficulty down from medium to easy, which didn’t seem to make any difference – I finally managed to catch the carriage and climb aboard.
Now comes the difficult part of the event. It’s a mano-a-mano fist-fight now, in a fairly typical style for a computer game of this vintage. You can throw punches at your opponent’s head, or you can crouch down and try to punch him square in the dick, which would be a fitting punishment for making me do all that joystick waggling. You can also hold fire and backwards to block, a technique that is only useful to precognitive psychics who know what attacks are coming because there’s no chance you’ll be able to react in real time.
I never managed to clear this event. It was just too damn hard. Between the fact that you’ll almost certainly be missing some energy from the first half of the stage, the sluggish movements of your cowboy and the strict time limit, emerging victorious was beyond me. If my time spent looking up gameplay videos of this section is anything to go by, it’s completely beyond everybody else, too.
Time to pick on weaker, more vulnerable target with some calf roping. Is that cowboy holding the end of his lasso in his teeth? Well, I suppose dentistry was hard to come by in the Wild West.
Oh good, this is a much more gentle gameplay experience than the last event. You chase down the calf by moving the joystick in the four main directions. Catching up to the calf isn’t difficult in itself, but you have to be at a specific distance to the side of the calf for a successful lasso throw: too close or too far away and you’ll miss, and you’re only given one chance to throw your rope. Plus, the track is littered with obstacles like hay bales and barrels, and touching one will also cause you to fail. Thus the event becomes a test of patience, where you wait for the right moment to strike, when man, cow and rope are perfectly aligned. I kinda like it, and I think if you fleshed this event out a bit, maybe with multiple cows to rope or different courses, it could be fairly entertaining.
Oh, and I’m sorry to disappoint you but that meter at the bottom of the screen doesn’t say “danceometer.” It’s “distanceometer,” because you can run out of track if you don’t catch the calf in time. I wish it was a danceometer. You fill it up and all the cowboys in the stand jump down and perform a rousing version of “Oklahoma!” or something. The calf slips away in the confusion, escaping to a life running free on the plains, everybody wins.
The final event is Steer Wrestling and not, as this picture suggests, Riding a Bull Like a Motorcycle and Drop-Kicking a Horse.
Steer wrestling is a mixture of previous events’ controls schemes, with the first part being much like calf roping: get your horse alongside the bull without crashing into anything. Once you’re in position, press fire you jump from your horse and grab the bull by the, well, you know. You can retry the events as many times as you like, so I’d recommend jumping when you’re nowhere near the bull at least once because it’s pretty funny watching the cowboy swan-dive into the mud.
Okay, so you’ve got a grip on the furious, thrashing bull and you’re probably thinking “maybe this wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had, I should have stuck with gold prospecting or whistling along the lonesome trail or whatever else it is that cowboys do.” Tough, you’re here now and you’ve got a steer to wrestle. That means more joystick waggling. Here’s what the resulting struggle ’twixt man and beast looks like.
That bull is not pleased about this turn of events. Excellent work here on the artist’s part, managing to capture a look of pure black hatred in the steer’s eyes. The cowboy might have wrestled it to the ground, but he’s going to have to let go at some point and then, well, there’s probably a reason that this is the last event.
With all events cleared the game abruptly ends, and you’re back to the main menu where you can reflect on what you’ve just experienced. I’ll tell you what I experienced – the horrible sensation of having multiple songs stuck in my head at once, thanks to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show having a soundtrack containing extremely jaunty versions of tracks like “Oh Susanna” and the William Tell Overture, every one of which reminds me of watching old Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
As for the gameplay, it’s a mixture of the passable and the annoying. The shooting events are okay, although too basic to hold your interest, the cattle-grabbing games are a bit more enjoyable but still very limited and the stagecoach chase is a festering lesion on Satan’s ballbag. Okay, that’s going a bit far but it definitely isn’t fun. I’m sticking by my assertion that the graphics are by far the best part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, but apart from the visual flair on display it’s just yet another entry in the long, long list of underwhelming home computer multi event sports games – and it didn’t make me want to say yee-haw even once.
One last thing – I checked the high score tables to see how well I’d done (answer: not very) and saw that the developers had populated the board with “comedy” names, including members of the Addams Family, characters from the Rik Mayall / Adrian Edmondson shows The Young Ones and Filthy, Rich and Catflap and the set pictured above, which are all characters from the “beloved” and definitely not for children British comic Viz. Roger Mellie, Buster Gonad, Billy the Fish, the gang’s all here. Of course, this is a sign that I should get around to covering the Viz computer game at some point. I might have to put a content warning on that one.
- ▼ September (6)
- ► 2017 (91)
- ► 2016 (68)
- ► 2015 (70)
- ► 2014 (90)
- ► 2013 (89)
- ► 2012 (86)
- ► 2011 (98)