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.
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.
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.
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.
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.