The good news, for those who were intensely jealous of us in the Air Rescue article when we revealed we lived near an arcade that had F-Zero AX- that machine has since gone. As has Air Rescue. In its place, however, is a little Sega-themed arcade that includes, among other things, Sega Golden Gun. Unlike last time, however, there's no emulation solutions out there for this game, so we had to ask around like the useless idiots we are for screenshots. Luckily, we have Kori-Maru and his site, The Website of the Dead to thank for supplying us with the screenshots you see adorning this page. Unlike most pages on this site where 'click to expand' is a death sentence, this shots will get better upon being embiggened!
It's rare enough that we get to talk about light gun games on this site, but to talk about a modern one? Gosh, we're spoiling ourselves! Sega Golden Gun is quite the oddity though. For a start, a light gun game released in 2011 that actually uses a pistol controller is strange enough by itself- most modern light gun games made for the arcades grant the player something a little more robust, usually in the form of a mounted joystick-gun like Deadstorm Pirates or Raw Thrills' Jurassic Park game with infinite ammo and no need to reload. Additionally, Sega Golden Gun comes to us from a developer we don't see very often, Sega of China, also known as Sega Shanghai Studio... The team that, in part, gave us Project Altered Beast. Wait, come back! They've improved since then! They don't have too many games to their name, but amongst them are some curiosities including Loving Deads: The House of the Dead EX and Transformers: Human Alliance. Critically, the studio is headed by Makoto Uchida, director of classic Sega games like Dynamite Deka and Alien Storm (although it doesn't seem he had much to do with this game). Sega Golden Gun, alongside Asian Dynamite / Dynamite Deka EX, is a game that wears its studio's home most clearly on its sleeve, seeing the unnamed Player 1 (cowardly boyfriend) and Player 2 (sassy girlfriend) fight their way through hordes of enemies very loosely inspired by Chinese culture and literature, including bosses based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Water Margin. Given the Golden Guns of the title with infinite ammo by a dying security guard at a museum they were visiting, only they can put a stop to the destruction being caused by the army of the Four Mythical Beasts. Blast 'em all away as this unlikely couple spout the best-worst dialogue in any arcade game!
Based quite heavily on The House of the Dead 4's engine and assets (several reused enemy animations and movements are present, but there's also the Ebitan model from The House of the Dead 3 who shows up as a recurring enemy!), Sega Golden Gun leaves out the gun-shaking, grenades and uzi weapon from that game and sticks strictly to a pistol beyond some purchaseable and temporary upgrades. Oddly, however, the game still has rapid fire- there's no need to fire each shot individually, as you can hold the trigger and have the game shoot automatically, even reloading as necessary (albeit with a tiny wait between reloads, something that can be fatal). Even stranger for a strictly pistol-only affair, the game has a crosshair on-screen at all time, similar to more modern light gun shooters that use mounted machine guns. This is almost certainly a concession for technical reasons, as it seems the game uses something similar to the Wii Remote's sensor as they old light gun tricks won't work on modern screens. On the one hand, having something this basic is a plus in a way, as some players may have found the shotguns from THOTD3 too cumbersome or the uzi from THOTD4 too piddly, especially with the shaking going on. However, the crosshair is definitely its biggest detriment as it feels quite sluggish at times, not quite keeping up with your movements- it's OK most of the time, but when it slows down it's very frustrating. This is not helped by the game's framerate which really seems to chug along at key points, and when combined with the slightly laggy crosshair can lead to cheap deaths. In my runs, the worst offender was the Stage 3 boss, Da Ji, who has an attack where she closes in on the player, switching positions causing the camera to swing wildly then lunges from off-screen- because she gets so close, the game starts to splutter and stutter and with the laggy cursor being even laggier it's very difficult to nail that one shot.
Beyond the control issues the game is pretty standard, especially for THOTD veterans, but has certain design choices that make it a little friendlier to players than you'd expect... Even if it does have a tendency to reach for the wallet a bit. For a start, the game makes a big deal of hitting critical enemy weak points (sick tip- it's almost always the head) and is a lot more open about when you've nailed it, bringing up a little Critical Shot confirmation and a score bonus- at first it's only 100 points, but each successive Critical Shot adds 10 points to that, so you're best to keep chaining them for... A tiny score increase, but better than nothing). As you're often attacked in mobs (never quite as many as THOD4, but still a few), getting those Critical Shots in is key! There's also the co-op shot, where both players earn 200 points per shot if they both shoot an enemy at the same time- this is the closest the game comes to any of the 'compatibility between players' stuff seen in more modern shooters. Additionally, special points items in THOTD would always be in background objects that never particularly stood out, like boxes or crates, but here they're always in very obvious treasure chests. This does take the fun away from uncovering them yourself, admittedly- they used to be deviously hidden in THOTD, encouraging you to shoot everything- but it does help clarify that you should be shooting them, again making the game feel a bit friendlier.
Another aid to the player is Item Shop that appears twice per Stage outside the intro and finale, where a merchant who absolutely is not the same one from Resident Evil 4 offers to sell you items in exchange for... Your score. Rather than use an in-game currency, your current score is used instead, but it won't affect how you fare in the rankings (just try and keep track of what your actual score is). The items range from useless (missiles tend to kill everything on screen but shoot so slowly as to be worthless) to very handy (time-limited machine gun and shotgun weapons, enemy weakeners, and extra lives, limit 1 per customer) to game-breaking (the Quick Reload glove removes the wait between reloads, so if you don't care about your accuracy you can murder everything), but by tying it to score, it does try to encourage players to go after points, whether by Critical Shots, bonus items or points awarded from your rank at the end of each Stage (get an S for 10000!)... Although that's undermined somewhat by the game offering to exchange one (1) credit for 100000 points to spend in the shop. This doesn't add to your actual score, and it seems a bit over-the-top, as it's more spending points than you'll really ever need, but... It's there, I guess? You also get the chance to start the game with a machine gun for an extra credit, and a bonus of either a missile, machine gun or extra life upon continuing, although that last one actually is a detriment- if you get the missiles, you're likely to lose a life because of how long they take to actually fire, especially if a QTE is coming up. Ignoring the missiles, these little incentives and courtesies seem to be part of Sega Golden Gun's overall philosophy of being relatively accessible.
As for the actual stages themselves, generally they're alright with a mix of enemy mobs, little QTE-style events and plenty of ridiculous action. Unlike THOTD, there's no multiple routes or hostages and while you get to pick one of three stages after the intro- BaiJiaFang, JiuQuYuan and ShiLiTan- you don't get to pick afterwards and just go through the remaining stages in order. Enemies are mostly fair, with very obvious tells before they're about to attack- if you're familiar with any kind of light gun game, you'll probably find it quite easy. The exceptions are the chameleon-like enemies who attack you with their tongue almost as soon as they show up on-screen (and joy, they mostly show up in pairs) and some of the bosses, specifically Da Ji in ShiLiTan with the aforementioned lag problems, and the final boss who has a gruelling set of QTEs that you'll even struggle with if you have a machine gun (as a note, generally the bosses are quite dull, using the same portioned-health-bar system from later THOTD games but don't have interesting attacks or patterns). The main threat to your health, honestly, is the lag from the controls, as mentioned. A real shame, as the game certainly has charm- as well as its different-from-the-norm theme, and Sega Golden Gun achieves the impossible with cheesier, hammier voice-acting than even THOTD. The game's translation, admittedly, is not very good, so when you combine the bad voice acting with lines like "You always pick such tragical places for dating", "Look! I'm attracting to beautiful girls!" and "It's the Yellow Turban... You history idiot!", it gives the game an awkward charm. The actual story itself is pretty standard, although it arguably peaks with a part where the reincarnation of the Monkey King from Journey to the West shows up on the train tracks in a convertible to chase after the Vermillion Bird (the creature that revives the final boss). Sadly, no slow walk back to the start of the game during the credits. A missed opportunity.
I hope my comparisons to The House of the Dead aren't too unfair- however, the game does set itself up for it by being so clearly based on it (they even namedrop the series in the ending!), but even on its own merits, Sega Golden Gun is just... OK. It seems like a very safe game, not going out of its way to add anything dazzlingly new or mixing things up too much, like it's trying to appeal to as wide an audience as possible with its relatively gentle learning and difficulty curves. If that was all there was to it, I'd actually be pretty OK with that, and give it a stronger recomendation to seek out, especially if you're like me and love games with so-bad-it's-good voice acting! However, the laggy controls, uneven framerate that actually affects the game and kinda dull, occasionally slightly cheap boss battles make this a pretty average game. Not a hidden arcade gem by any stretch of the imagination, but I'd sooner see this in an arcade than another Area 51 cabinet. [That joke only worked in the 90s, didn't it? - Ed] Basically, solid enough, but with little issues that don't let it elevate above that.
For being awkwardly named, Sega Golden Gun is awarded...
In a sentence, Sega Golden Gun is...
The House of the Dead Lite.
And now, it's that time, folks!
Just a few extra things here and there, starting with a few shots of the cabinet itself, on which the research for this review was conducted!
The centrepiece here is quite striking, isn't it? Sadly, while the cabinet on show at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo in 2010 had actual golden guns, this model does not- only golden triggers. Boo! Additionally, this particular machine has been placed in quite possibly the worst position in this arcade- right by a huge window- so it actually made visibility difficult on certain days. Still, I was amazed it was here at all, although funnily enough all of the machines in this particular arcade were, at the time of writing, Sega games- it was officially a Sega Prize Zone, which meant ticket machines based on Super Monkey Ball and Sonic Dash to exchange for tacky prizes, and Sonic the Hedgehog bloody everywhere. Shame I found out about the arcade at the wrong time so it was due to close up for most of the rest of the year. The typical Gaming Hell luck strikes again!
Anyway, one other thing is that there's two endings to the game... Sort of. In the last of the three normal stages, the final shopkeeper there will sell a mysterious orb for 100000 points, but with no description as to what it actually is. If you want to grab it, then try and be sensible in the shops leading up to this one so you have enough points (or, if you really want, plop in another credit to get the 100000 spending points bonus and get it then). However you choose to get it, you won't see what it does until after the credits and the little scene with the two protagonists- it'll cut to the security guard at the beginning of the game who gave the heroes their golden guns, and he reveals he was working with the bad guys! He's baffled as to how your characters beat the Four Mythical Beasts, curses the Monkey King (the guy in the hoodie who watches your progress) and makes mention of contacting his boss, as 'To be continued' appears on-screen.
Basically he assumed the player characters were so useless that giving them the Golden Guns would stop any resistance because they'd not use them properly.
Again, thanks to Kori-Maru and The Website of the Dead for the screenshots!
Hope you're not looking forward to more arcade-only light gun game reviews- this is definitely one we landed on through pure chance.
But hey, you never know, maybe someone local will get Too Spicy in.
THAT LAST SENTENCE IS PURE, UNFILTERED OPTIMISM FROM US HOW WAS EVER ALLOWED IN THE FINAL DRAFT