Review: Mad Dog McCree Gunslinger Pack (Nintendo Wii)

Mad Dog McCree Gunslinger Pack
Publisher: Majesco Entertainment
Developer: American Laser Games/Digital Leisure
Genre: Full Motion Video Rail Shooter
Release Date: 06/16/2009

Wow. Now here’s a set of games I NEVER thought would get re-released. I remember playing this a few times in the Arcade and eventually getting the first game in the series for both my Sega CD and the 3DO. Yes I owned both and am proud of it. I also had found memories of MDM II, but I never had the opportunity to play the third game in this set, The Last Bounty Hunter. As such I emailed Digital Leisure for a review copy, they emailed Majesco and a few weeks later it finally arrived.

I’ll say this: I am a light gun junkie. Fellow DHGF staff Matt Yaeger is as well. I remember the two of us going to an arcade at the Mall of America and just playing light gun games. There was this one with Freddy, Pinhead and Jason rip-offs that I can’t remember the name off that we sunk many a quarter into. I’m such a fan of the genre that on many occasions I have nearly purchased a CarnEvil arcade cabinet to go with my Captain America & the Avengers and Dungeons and Dragons II expensive heavy space takers. CarnEvil is, of course, the holy grail of light gun games in the same way Addams Family Pinball is almost universally considered the best pinball game ever made by hardcore fans and historians. It’s a crime against humanity that CarnEvil has never been released on a home system.

My earliest memories of this genre though were Hogan’s Alley, Duck Hunt, Lethal Warriors and of course Mad Dog McCree. Mad Dog stuck out most of all because it was a game that used actual video footage and actors. Remember the first game is twenty years old, so for 1990, this was huge. So how have the games stood up over one and a half to two decades? Will this pave the way for the release of other ALG classics like Who Shot Johnny Rock? and Crime Patrol, or were these games better left in the past with grainy pixilated footage and actual light guns?

Let’s Review

1. Story

All three games feature live action video footage. That means everything in the game is real. Real location. Real sets. Real horses. Real bullets. Okay, not the last one. All three games basically use Wild West stunt men/recreationists to act out the parts of various good guys and bad guys throughout your adventures. Each game is roughly thirty minutes to an hour long, if you’re a quality shot, but that’s par for the course for this genre.

In Mad Dog McCree, you play as The Stranger, a newcomer into this small western town of less than 100 people. Mad Dog and his gang have taken over the town and it’s your job to take them out. You start with a set of four locations you can go through in any order, followed by another three stages that you can do in any order but should do in a specific one for best results. Then you have to go through a maze, get to the bad guys hideout and then finally have a shootout with Ol’ Mad Dog himself. You die from getting shot or when you kill an innocent bystander. You have unlimited continues but in order to use one, you have to win a duel with one of three random bad guys.

In Mad Dog McCree II, you actually get three games in one. You start off with a practice course followed by choosing one of three storylines with an accompanying sidekick. Your choices are Buckskin Bonnie who is a bit of a bad girl whose storyline gives you some (by today’s standards) hilarious borderline racist Mexican stereotype banditos, The British Professor with a gambling problem who has mostly typical outlaws from the Wild West era, and Shooting Beaver a name that I can’t say with a straight face. Shooting Beaver and his storyline are well, let’s just say a little bit racially insensitive and hilariously so. It just shows you how far we have changed as a society in regards to these sorts of things in two decades.

The Last Bounty Hunter goes back to the MDM1 formula, where you have four different paths you can do in any order. This time however, each path has their own boss waiting for you at the end.

In all you are essentially getting eight different storylines, each with real actors camping it up to the nth degree. The games have their tongues firmly in their cheeks and the end result are games that are as funny as they are fun. You do have to have a sense of humour about these things and realize this games are not serious fare or “So bad they are good” like other light gun games ala Vampire Night or House of the Dead 2. The MDM was basically House of the Dead Overkill before HOTD:O exists. They were taking the piss and weren’t afraid to show it. The OTT characters and Adam West-esque acting are what helped to make the MDM series so memorable in a lot of light gun fans’ memories. It’s worth playing through them just worth the plot and actors.

Story Rating: Classic

2. Graphics

Wow. I was actually shocked at how good these games looked. I mean, for 15-20 year old games. On the Sega CD and 3DO, these games were pretty pixilated. Hell, even the PC versions looked less “real life” than Mortal Kombat. Here in 2009 however, the Wii gives us the games with such video quality that you would think these games are brand new to this generation or even a movie. I mean, this is flawless. It is B-Movie DVD quality and these games have NEVER looked better.

It’s hard to grade the graphics because really, this game doesn’t have graphics. It’s all Full Motion Video, or FMV as we used to call it back with games like Night Trap and Dracula Unleashed. As such, it’s trying to grade video quality, and as this game has never looked better and the footage looks just as good as a movie I’d pop in to my DVD player, it’s hard not to give this top marks here, although the score is misleading because of it.

One thing you will notice is that the game flickers or twitches at times when it loads a branch option regardless of whether you killed a bad guy or it got you. That’s about the only time you ever even notice it is a game aside from the blue gun sight that shows up on the screen.

It’s hard NOT to say this version of MDM is the best looking FMV game ever. Of course, it’s been what, three generations since we’ve had one? Still, in that regard, and compared to the earlier versions of MDM, it’s amazing how good this game looks on the Wii from corny actors in dinner theatre quality costumes on down.

Graphics Rating: Classic

3. Sound

This is a hard one to judge. The audio quality of the actors is great, but the delivery is…not so much. There is some bad acting afoot in this triad of games. This is especially true in The Last Bounty Hunter where you almost want a small Joel, Crow and Tom Servo in the corner. Not Mike though. He sucks.

The games are supposed to be corny and the low quality of the acting actually helps make the game as entertaining as it can be. Besides, back in 1990, this was high quality voice acting. I mean, have you seen what passed for voice acting back then? Not good my friends, not good.

Sound effects on the other hand, are almost nonexistent. Every gun makes the same type of noise when it shoots and that’s the only sound effect you get aside from things in the video footage like a horse whinny or key jangling in a door. In fact, you really can’t count any of those as “effects” simply because it is so mixed in with the footage itself.

The voice acting, while comical, is really what helped to make these games so popular when they were first released. Voice acting was a rarity and to have an entire game full voiced and acted out by real actors (although that’s like calling your local improv group that performs as the bowling alley actors) was innovative and a real treat. The voice work still holds up, especially the prospector in the first two games, but the sound effects are sparse and some people may not like that the game is camp.

Sound Rating: Good

4. Control and Gameplay

For those of you looking for a more digitized gaming experience, you may find the control scheme of the Gunslinger Pack to be both simple and yet difficult to master. This is because the game has more akin to the Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace games. You not only have to shoot the bad guy in question, but you have to shoot them at the right time. Too early and it won’t register. Too late and you’re dead. You also can’t accidentally shoot innocent bystanders or you lose and life and have to attend their funeral (Well, in TLBH you just get scolded by attractive women, which really isn’t a detriment to murder…) As such the game is all about intricate timing which basically means you’re trying to memorize the footage in order to proceed. HOWEVER, some of the stages are randomized as to who pops out at you and when. This means you also have to have some excellent reflexes in addition to your memorization talents. This can be very tricky and almost cruel. For example, the only way to get the “Good” ending to MDM2 is to beat the game without using a continue. I have never encountered anyone able to do this. I’ve never even seen the footage. At times, I’ve even contemplated as to whether or not the good ending is an Urban Legend.

Like most light gun games, you have to reload by pointing your wiimote away from the screen and shooting. It’s pretty standard fare but due to the combination of rail shooter and Don Bluth gameplay, it’s going to frustrate the hell out of most gamers, especially younger ones who aren’t used to this degree of difficulty.

It gets even worse with the retooled “Shootouts.” Now just to make absolutely sure I didn’t have rose tinted glasses on when reminiscing about the original, I booted up my old Sega CD (Well, one of them) and decided to give it a go. I was right. In the old Sega CD version a shoo out was far easier. Part of this seems to be because the video is faster on the Wii due to it being able to handle the game with the original mastered video. So this is one case where improved technology doesn’t always equate to a better game.

See, a shootout is a typical quick draw event straight out of Old West comics, cartoons and films. It’s seeing who is the fastest draw. It also drains you of your bullets so you can’t fire ahead of time. This is exceptionally stupid considering you can’t fire before a certain time anyway and you also have to do a shootout in order to continue the game. Oy. It hits rock bottom with the fact that sometimes the game doesn’t register your reloading with a shootout so you aim without any bullets. The game also takes a bit of time to reload meaning you’re screwed if you don’t time the reload and the shooting perfectly. This is by far the hardest part of the games and the hardest moment of all is Mad Dog himself in the first game where you have to get not one, but two perfect headshots in quick succession in order to with.

Here’s the trick to quick draws – You need to treat it exactly like a real life one in order to pull it off with constant success. Aim your wiimote at the ground, click it as the enemy nods his head and then pull up and shoot as you see him go for his gun. Trust me. It’s a lot faster aine reliable than just aiming a bit off screen.

This is pretty much the gameplay for all three games. It’s unforgiving, requires amazing timing and there are several times where you will swear you shot in time or that you reloaded. In fact, you will KNOW you did. Detection certainly seems more than a bit off at times, but I managed to make my way through all three games in a single night, even if I still have yet to see the would be “Good” ending to MDM2.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Mediocre

5. Replayability

If you like light gun games, then there is an amazing amount of replay value here. You have three games, all of which have branching paths ala the Mega Man series, multiple difficulty levels and best of all, two different multiplayer modes! One mode has you work as a team, while the other is all for themselves. Trust me when I say Multiplayer makes life a hell of a lot easier. It’s night and day for some of the events.

There is a lot of cheesy retro-stalgia going on here for people that remember these games from the Arcade or the 16-Bit era. You can play each game several times in a row and still get a wildly different experience. See what happens if you try to go to the Jail before the Saloon in the first game for example. See what happens if you choose Buckskin Bonnie instead of Shooting Beaver (I always want to call him Chasing Beaver…). If you can get by the gameplay issues and the sometimes merciless difficulty or really enjoy the cheesiness of the storytelling, you’ll have plenty of reasons to go back to…wherever the hell these games take place.

Replayability Rating: Good

6. Balance

Now, I’m always up for a challenge. I beat Street Fighter Alpha the day it came out in the arcades with a single quarter using Sagat. I can beat Ikaruga without losing a life. But the three games contained in the Gunslinger Pack? These things are utterly cruel. Part of it is because the game is mostly rote memorization. The other part is because sometimes things are unclear. For example in MDM1 there is a bit where you have to shoot a chimney, but the game doesn’t tell you to. If you don’t, you die. There’s also a scene in the Corral where you have to shoot an invisible gunslinger who is lurking behind a wall. You just have to shoot and hope for the best. There are also times where you are supposed to shoot several bad guys in a specific order and you only have trial and error to help you out.

Worst of all are those shootouts. With reloading issues and strange detection problems during these scenes, you are in more a world of hurt more often than not.

It’s not just that the game is hard due to design issues, but it’s also hard by choice. There are several times when you’ll be playing where there are unwinnable battles. You don’t even get a chance. It’s just one life down. This is why you need to make sure you read the map correctly. It might even help to write the path down. Remember how I said MDM2 requires you to beat the game without a continue to get the good ending? This is up there with Wizardry IV as harder than hard. It is CRUEL. Most gamers will go into this thinking of it as a normal light gun game like Time Crisis and walk away with their asses handed to them. It is not. It is a FMV game like Brain Dead 13. Do not be fooled.

MDM1 and 2 are short games, clocking in at only thirty minutes or so if you can beat the game straight through. Trust me though, You WON’T. It’s a lot of memorization and sometimes blind luck to get past these. Yet somehow, the fact these games are a bit shoddy doesn’t make me like them any less.

Balance Rating: Dreadful

7. Originality

The original release of Mad Dog McCree was considered one of the most innovative ideas in gaming history. It was the first ever FMV light gun game. It was the first game to use 100% footage of real actors with sets, props and costumes. It was well known for being a cheesy, somewhat oddly designed game that people either loved or despised. It’s really great to see these games re-released because, even if you despise them, there a classic piece of gaming history from the late 16-bit era and it’s great to see them better than they have ever looked before.

Now American Laser Games and Digital Leisure have released these games several times after the arcade versions of these games, but this is the first time I can remember The Last Bounty Hunter ever being released on a console and it’s been more than two generations for the others. Yes they are hilarious cheesy and the games have a pretty steep learning curve, but these games are well remembered by older gamers for a reason. Not necessarily because they were great games, but because they were so different from anything else available at the time and many years ahead of their time in terms of ideas…if not follow through.

Originality Rating: Good

8. Addictiveness

Because these games are so unique and so exact in their timing, you’ll either love the games or hate them. There is no in-between. That first night I played MDM1 all the way through while dying countless times, especially against Ol’ Mad Dog himself. With MDM2 and TLBH I had to take breaks by pausing my Wii because honestly, my wrist was killing me and I was sick of memorizing a game entirely. This doesn’t mean the games aren’t fun; you just have to be both patient and used to old school games where easy is the equivalent of today’s “Super F’N hard.”

The Mad Dog McCree Gu8nSlinger Pack is an amazing wake up call to the differences between yesteryear and today’s gaming experience. There’s a lot more heart and soul in this port than I’ve seen in most games this year. It also manages to make you laugh with how OTT hokey it is at times. HOWEVER, it also highlights how some games involved split millisecond timing akin to those old platformers where if you were off on a jump by a single pixel, you were dead.

If you can get into these games at all, then you’ll be sucked in completely. Otherwise you’ll just be ranting and swearing and complaining about it. Multiplayer goes a long way though, much like how The Umbrella Chronicles was more fun as a tandem.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor

With a small print run, almost no marketing and places like Gamestop and Amazon not carrying this, it’s pretty much dead right out of the gate. It’s only word of mouth, the occasional review and a Google search that will net you a copy.

Even if you do find it, the audience that will appreciate this games is amazingly miniscule. I grew up with these games, and knew what to expect going into it, so for me, this was Nostalgia with the happy surprise of these games looking and sounded better than they ever have before due to today’s technology. I loved the experience, even while I swore at how fucking cheap the shootouts could be or couldn’t remember what order to go on the map.

People completely new to these types of games will be thrown by the precision and the timing needed to advance. No doubt they will encounter that annoying Undertaker (Oh, yeeeeee-ss-s-s-s-s!) more often than the actual time put into the game itself. That’s fine. It’s one of those experiences that is decidedly not for everyone due to the combination of light gun and FMV controls. There’s a reason only American Laser Games every tried this and why the fanbase for them is amazingly small…and yet amazingly loyal.

Appeal Factor Rating: Bad

10. Miscellaneous

Three classic Full Motion Video games for $19.99? How awesome is that. Getting to have a remastered version of the MDM series? Another check in the awesome column. Yes these games are hard and so anally precise it’s going to take the average gamer a great deal of time to beat them all, but older gamers should be used to that, right? RIGHT? You haven’t pussed out over the years, have you? New gamers? Guess what. This is your chance to see what we grew up with. Quit your whining about Seth. We had to deal with Nightmare Geese and Cyber Rugal. Have your Ninja Gaiden relaunch titles. This makes those look easy.

For those of you with fond memories of this genre. For those of you who miss games like Double Switch, Sherlock Holmers Consulting Detective, Dracula Unleashed, Night Trap, The 7th Guest, Phantasmagoria, and others, this is your hope that we’ll get some of those re-released for the first time since…well, ever! Honestly, I would buy a dozen copies of this game is I thought I could get a re-release of either The 7th Guest or Phantasmagoria, wouldn’t you? If you say no, that you have no soul and must be put to death at once. Sure the ALG light gun games are the best example of this genre in its finest moment, but it’s still a great bit of history brought back to us after nearly two decades and at a price that can’t be beat. As a person who appreciates both retrogaming and the current consoles open to us, I am pleased with the end result in this little package and although this DECIDEDLY not for everyone, especially gamers under 25 or under(as they won’t be able to appreciate it or have the FMV nostalgia) for those that grew up with these type of games for the short while they were around, this is a re-release you won’t want to miss, simply because no one ever thought it was going to happen.

Seriously though, re-release Phantasmagoria and The 7th Guest. That’s money in the freakin’ bank!

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores
Story: Classic
Graphics: Classic
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Good
Balance: Dreadful
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Good
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary
The Mad Dog McCree Gunslinger Pack is a nice return to FMV gaming when it was erroneously considered “The next big thing” (apologies to UFC champ Brock Lesnar). Although these light gun games require some of the most meticulous timing you’ll ever encounter, along with a decent amount of luck and patience, there’s still a blast to play if you are a fan of camp or purposely cheesy things. I grew up with FMV gaming on my Sega CD and 3DO, and as such, I knew what I was in for coming into these games. FMV gaming is one of those things where there is an obvious generational gap that will determine if you can enjoy this or not. If you never had a 16 bit or older system, you’re probably better off avoiding this due to a lack of dealing with these type of games. However, if you did indeed grow up with FMV gaming ala the Don Bluth Dragon’s Lair games, The 7th Guest or even the MDM games themselves, you’ll be in a better mindset for dealing with the controls.. $19.99 for three FMV games? That’s an easily affordable piece of retro-stalgia that’s guaranteed to make you laugh from the cornball antics even if you hate the rest of the game.

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