Lightgun adventures: Gunfighter II: Revenge of Jesse James and Vampire Night (PS2)

How often does anyone talk about a game that was released exclusively in Europe? As in, a game that never saw the light of day in Japan or America? This is a first. And unlike the one other Europe-only game I own (Formula Karts Special Edition on the Saturn), I quite like Gunfighter II: Revenge of Jesse James. It’s a blatant, and I do mean blatant Time Crisis knock-off, but at least the UK-based developer Rebellion Developments did a good job with it.

Novelty factor aside, I’m going to discuss Gunfighter II in tandem with Vampire Night here because I got very similar feelings playing both of these games: It’s a Wonderful Knock-Off. The main difference between these two is that Gunfighter II (and I presume its prequel Gunfighter for PS1) lifts its cover system and shooting mechanics straight out of the Time Crisis series, while Vampire Night takes its cues from the House of the Dead series.

Cool

Nice detail there: “Deadman’s Court House”.

Gunfighter II is extremely well-designed for the most part. Every level is different, the setpieces are fun and action packed, and the game transitions smoothly from on-foot sections to a horse chase to an on-foot section to a minecart run, introducing new challenges and elements all the time. The speedy pace and strong design easily rivals the Time Crisis series, and that’s a big compliment coming from me.

What’s more, although this game is not attractive from a technical standpoint, the levels themselves offer a great representation of the Wild West: gas-lit saloons full of barmaids and troublemakers, wagons loaded with luggage roaming through wild canyons, railway constructions and old steam trains undergoing construction, they’re all fully realised here. Of course you might not notice since you’re blasting at enemies around every corner, but Gunfighter II is a game that is enjoyable to watch as well as play.

There's some cool

Lots of flavour despite the low rent graphics.

It’s unfortunate that technical issues knock this game down a peg. The main issues are to do with a lack of reliability: the framerate takes a big knock when too many enemies are on-screen, the cover system is just a little iffy at times, and the hit detection (literally, hit detection i.e. did I hit the enemy or not) can feel a bit unpredictable. These technical problems are small but they don’t sit well in a game based almost entirely on twitch reflexes, speed and accuracy. It becomes especially apparent in later stages of the game, with the minecart level being a notable lowlight. Insta-deaths if you fail to shoot a specific target to swap track, enemies shooting at you through walls, it’s not great.

Gunfighter II has given me a newfound appreciation for the accomplishments of this game’s big budget brothers. Smoothness and reliability go a long way in a fast-paced action game like this. For all Gunfighter II does well, that occasional unreliability means it doesn’t quite satisfy my “leap out of cover and shoot the shit out of everything” urge the way the Time Crisis games do.

vampire-night-ps2-3

Introducing Vampire Night, the first game to ever make anyone ask, “can I shoot that little girl?”.

Moving on, if you happen to be familiar with Vampire Night you might think it weird that I described it earlier as feeling like a knock-off, because it’s more accurate to call Vampire Night a spiritual successor or spin-off perhaps of House of the Dead. After all, Vampire Night was a collaboration between Sega and Namco, the former being responsible for the House of the Dead series. The game also appears to run on the same engine as HOTD2.

Still what is true in theory is not always so in practice. Vampire Night is like a reverse image of Gunfighter II: technically everything is there – visually it’s a beefed up House of the Dead 2, the framerate is smooth and the shooting feels great. It really is exactly like House of the Dead 2 in terms of feel and gameplay mechanics, and that’s no bad thing. The problems lie with the bland level design, which doesn’t contain nearly enough variety or produce much excitement. Everything looks rather stylish in a sort of gothic way, and the bosses are impressive, but the levels aren’t that much fun to play through and the boss fights themselves drag on and on. It’s not a terrible game by any means, but whereas the best lightgun games (the best arcade games in general really) inspire multiple playthroughs, by my second run Vampire Night felt like a chore.

Be prepared to spend several minutes pulverising this boss

Be prepared for several slow minutes of whittling down this guy’s health.

For an arcade port, Vampire Night is also strangely easy. It’s legitimately bewildering that a game released in the arcade would be such a breeze – I’m used to playing on the easiest difficulty available on these lightgun games and rarely if ever do I dare step up beyond that. But in Vampire Night the easiest difficulty was barely a challenge and after upping the difficulty to normal I could hardly tell the difference! Frankly, it’s boring and makes the game even less memorable. Low difficulty coupled with a lack of ingenuity means this extremely competent game has hardly made any lasting impression on me at all.

Finally, perhaps the one memorable thing about Vampire Night is the tragic-comic voice acting throughout the game. Delicious. Australian voice actors putting on English accents crop up all everywhere while the main vampire hunters converse like robots.

So in conclusion: I wish these two games would merge. I wish games could have babies together, that there was some sort of natural process for that. Then we’d have Gunfighter Night: The Legend of Vampire Jones, the best damn PS2 lightgun game ever made.

Alas, we can only dream...

Alas, we can only dream…

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5 comments

  1. Aether

    I don’t know if I’d ever heard of a game only released in Europe. I knew they must be out there, but so must unicorns, and neither of those ever venture out in front of people.

    I have a strange fascination with bad voice acting. I might want to check out scenes from these games, judging from what you said.

    • veryverygaming

      Ha ha, very good way of putting it. Yep, there aren’t many Europe-only titles – and the majority that do exist are licenced titles that would make most folks cringe.

      Enough said.

      Even the kart racing game I own that was Europe exclusive was only technically exclusive – the game came out worldwide on PC, but the Saturn port was Europe only. There was a Europe-exclusive port of the Konami game Shadow of Memories too: it came out on PS2 and PC worldwide, but there’s a reportedly buggy Xbox version that was released exclusively in Europe for some completely bizarre reason.

      Anyway to your other point! As a fellow fan of bad voice acting, Vampire Night definitely hit the spot. It’s not quite up there with House of the Dead 2’s badness (then again, what is?!) but the stilted delivery and accent gymnastics here get pretty close. This video has some good examples in it:

      • Aether

        Wow, that almost sounds like a parody dub. Another time for fun with Japanese voice actors trying to speak a language they don’t really know, I guess. Did they record that in a basement somewhere?

  2. moresleepneeded

    I have not played either of these games. I find it interesting that the two games are such opposites, with one having a good gameplay and the other being well-designed. I think I would prefer a well-designed game with a few technical problems rather than a boring game that has good gameplay as I can usually adjust my way of playing to reduce the effects of bad gameplay (unless the gameplay is so bad it severely inhibits progressing through the game or limiting enjoyment). I have always thought the a cover and shoot action would improve some lightgun games I have played, rather than leave the character out in the open being shot.
    How does the on-foot gameplay work? Can the played control where the character walks? Or do does the character follow a route and stop to fight enemies? How are the locations in Vampire Night boring? Are they repetitive with little colour? Do the bosses have weak points that allow them to be defeated quickly?

    • veryverygaming

      I agree with you, good design wins over good technology. I’ve also often thought that the cover mechanic could benefit other games in this genre. Then again the Time Crisis games do it so well. Gunfighter II is an example where, frankly, it might’ve been better not to include it because it regularly feels inconsistent, which can throw you off your game.

      As for your questions, the on foot stuff in both games is completely on-rails: the game moves you, it stops you, you shoot the enemies, the game moves you again. Vampire Night has a few points where you can choose which path to go, but there’s no major differences either way. Yeah, Vampire Night could’ve done more with the environments. There’s some decent variety but not a lot of it is memorable. One thing that stands out is when you briefly go into a properly psychedelic alternate dimension. Cool idea except that it doesn’t last long. The bosses have weak spots you have to shoot to kill them – as far as I know there aren’t any shortcuts or anything like that.

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