What do you think of when we say the words ‘Wild West’? Bonus points if you thought of wicky-wicky-wah-wah Will Smith and mechanical spiders. But what you probably thought of was last stands, duels, gunfights on horseback, panning for gold, claiming bounties on outlaws, drinking moonshine in the local saloon and large, open desert expanses.
Credit to Gunman Tales for being a £6.99 indie game from Ratalaika Games, but somehow crowbarring in every one last one of those things. We thought Gunman Tales would be a simple Wild Gunman update: a lightgun game dragged into the 21st Century. But it’s actually far more ambitious, packing all of that and more into its tiny knapsack.
It takes some work to explain. Try to imagine the Wild West on a game board, with your cowboy hat as one of four pieces on that board. You and your opponents (CPU or human, taking turns online or locally) take turns to move those pieces to a location upon which – essentially – one of three things happen. You enter a location and trigger whatever that location has to offer; you take part in a large-scale gunfight; or you compete in a duel with one of the three other players on the board.
Your aim with all this wandering about is to collect four map pieces, gained randomly from the gunfights or stolen from other players in duels. With all four map pieces in hand, you can head to the golden canyon in the centre of the map and enter the endgame: a three-staged boss battle with a kind of hulking totem pole. Complete that and you’re the winner, able to raid a trinket from the totem pole’s horde.
That’s an overview of the zoomed-out parts of the game, but we could spend the whole review talking about its various nooks and crannies. Because so much can happen on that game board, it’s ridiculous. In your turn you can drop into various towns, Native American camps, mines and watering holes and trigger minigames and amenities. Take the towns, for example: within them, you can play a horse-riding minigame where you try to take out a bounty; you can play higher-or-lower for hard cash in the saloon; you can spend cash on guns; and you can buy up some health boosts. But that’s just one of the many locations. You can fight werewolves, trade with the Native Americans, dig for gold and more, depending on the items you won from gunfights.
We kept finding new stuff to do within Gunman Tales, right until the time we put down the pad and started reviewing. While a lot of that’s to do with the depth of options here, it’s also down to one of the worst tutorials we’ve encountered in living memory. We’re tempted to write a second article which actually outlines what you have to do in Gunman Tales. The two tutorial screens are about a million miles from useful.
The real meat of the game is in the gunfights. These are little red nodes on the map, and they’ll be what you hunt around for in the opening moments. They’re probably best described as a light-gun game where your main character also happens to be onscreen. So, you’re sliding the reticule around the screen, popping cowboys and Native Americans, while also managing the safety of your character in the foreground of the screen. It’s a bit of multi-tasking: can you pull off headshots while dodging sticks of dynamite?
Obvious criticism is obvious: a lightgun game without a lightgun is always going to feel janky. We don’t want to be sitting down at Time Crisis with a controller, we want to be popping our head up from the sofa with a plastic gun peripheral. And that’s the abiding feedback for Gunman Tales’ gunplay sections: it can feel like you’re dragging a heavy reticule around the screen. We would certainly recommend that you increase the sensitivity of the cursor in the game’s menus.
By giving you control of your own character, you are at least doing something that’s made for the pad. Dodging, while you are also firing, is initially a challenge, mainly because the game does such a poor job of explaining the controls. But once you learn that the barrel-roll, pulled off with a LT and directional button, is basically a win-button, then it becomes less of an issue. It not only gets you out of the way, but swallows up the projectiles like you were a gelatinous blob.
It’s the power-ups that make the combat more palatable. Shoot the chickens and they explode in a puff of feathers and a power-up rolls down the screen. These are great fun, causing stampedes across the screen, converting all the enemies into chickens, or handing you a chaingun. They often make short work of your opponents, and liven up gameplay that could have been deathly in its repetitiveness.
The less said about the duels, though, the better. These trigger whenever you encounter an opponent on the board, and against CPUs they are an utter enigma. We’re yet to win a single one of them, since the computer has near instantaneous reflexes. So, we treated other players as hazards to avoid: let them kill each other, rather than you, and then pick up the loot from their corpses, like the true cowards that we are.
We found Gunman Tales to be utterly fascinating. It was nothing like the game that we expected. We prepared ourselves to review a Duck Hunt-like lightgun game, ported to a console that didn’t have a lightgun. Don’t get us wrong, that is in there, but it’s supported by so much more: plenty of minigames, duelling, horse-fights, a roguelike structure and all played on a Wild West game board. There’s not much like it, and it rolled in like a fresh breeze. A lot of the fun in Gunman Tales is heading in a direction and seeing what’s there.
But while Gunman Tales is overflowing with ideas, there’s no denying that the central one is creaky. The lightgun stuff is neither fun nor particularly varied, and adding in some character movement isn’t enough. Once we’d found the Golden Canyon and claimed our treasure, we didn’t have the impulse to return. We just rode off into the sunset.
You can buy Gunman Tales from the Xbox Store
- Roguelike, board game structure was unexpected
- Lots of fun strategies and minigames
- Power-ups spice up the shooting well
- Terrible tutorials
- Feels too slow to play
- Lightgun sequences don’t feel great on a pad
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Ratalaika Games
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch
- Version reviewed - Xbox Series X
- Release date - 3 March 2023
- Launch price from - £6.99
Sounds interesting. I try and find a video of it so i can put visuals to what Dave said in the review