If you made a list of every Commodore 64 game and stuck a pin in it, there's a good chance you'd hit a multi-event sports title. I don't know why there were so bloody many of them: what I do know is that every time I play one I feel a little less aggrieved about modern games' tendency to spell out every little gameplay mechanic in great detail. Today's offering is Magic Bytes' 1987 cowboy-Olympics-em-up Western Games. Will I be able to complete any events despite possessing neither the instruction manual nor the cybernetic wrist augmentation required to bash the buttons fast enough to make victory a reality? It's time to find out!
"Howdy, pardner! I'm Bristly Zeke Calhoun, and that there reprobate stumblin' shitfaced out of the saloon is mah brother Jebediah. Technically he's also mah daddy, on account of us Calhouns bein' a real close family, if'n you get my meanin'. Yee-haw!"
So the "western" in Western Games is the Wild West, and this game casts the player into a tournament of minigames based around all the things cowboys like to do when they're not riding the range or what have you, things like eating and spitting and putting on cabaret shows. I make no claim to understand the ways of the Old West, but I know a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, even if it's not much fun.
Desperate to avoid the mocking name "Slowgun" but without adequate space to call myself something truly in the spirit of the time, like Hollerin' Hank McGraw or Sheriff Cletus "Two-Fingers" O'Malley, I had to settle for VGJUNK. Nice gunmanship (which is like penmanship, but louder) on that sign, though.
Event 1: Arm-Wrestling
Cowboy-osity Rating: 6/10
Did I Figure It Out? No
A nice manly start to proceedings as I test my strength against my opponent, MC Slow - a terrible rap name if ever I heard one - in an arm-wrestling contest. If any event in Western Games is going to be a straight-up button masher, it'll be this one, right?
Nope: pressing fire just caused me to lose instantly, with Bristly Zeke Calhoun shouting the cryptic phrase "Hey, Left Arm!" whenever I did. MC Slow at least has the good grace to look embarrassed at my arm-wrestling faux-pas.
So how does this event work? I'm not sure, but it has something to do with those pictures of arms at the top of the screen. The one in the middle constantly flexes, and by pulling down on the stick I managed to get my arm - the one on the left - to curl ever-so-slightly in a pathetic display of sympathetic movement. However, just like in real like in real life I couldn't get my arm to show any amount of strength, no matter how and when I moved the joystick. The first victory goes to MC Slow, then.
Event 2: Gunslinging
Cowboy-osity Rating: 9/10
Did I Figure It Out? Yes
Okay, this is more like it. If there's one thing I've learnt how to do from playing videogames it's shoot at things with guns, and in this scenario I'm shooting at various beverage containers being held by two understandably nervous-looking kids. Naturally the first thing I tried to do was to shoot the kids, memories of the dog from Duck Hunt still sharp in my mind even after all these year, but you can't hurt them.
Hang on, are those kids wearing lederhosen? "Okay, boys, now that you're twelve you're finally old enough to come to Oktoberfest with your pa. Now put on these leather shorts and stand very, very still."
Even VGJUNK and MC Slow can't believe what's going on, and they exchange a brief glance that speaks volumes about the messed-up situation they've found themselves in.
The gunslinging is the most enjoyable event, and I'm not just saying that because I won it easily. It's also because I knew exactly what was going on. Sweeping the joystick to the right draws your shootin' iron and makes a wobbly crosshair appear on screen. Drag the crosshair over the target and press fire. Don't worry about MC Slow, he's as bad a marksman as I was an arm-wrestler. It's simple but it works, and the raw terror in the faces of the target-bearers only makes things that much more enjoyable.
Event 3: Spitooning
Cowboy-osity Rating: 8/10
Did I Figure It Out? Mostly
Our two competitors stand apart and spit at each other. Lovely. Those guys in the background are enjoying this way too much. I think they've managed to convince VGJUNK and MC Slow that this is part of the Western Games when really we're just putting on a show for their sick pleasure. If the internet existed in 19th century America, footage of this grim scene would no doubt have been available to anyone who subscribed to www.tobacco-drenched-hicks.com.
I'm still a little hazy on exactly how this event works, but I've got most of it down: waggle the stick left and right to chew yer 'baccy, then fill up a power meter to the correct level and hopefully you'll spit your wad into the spitoon at the foot of your opponent. MC Slow won this one, but as you can see from their expressions in the screenshot above, neither of them enjoyed the experience much. My problem was that I always under-powered my shots. After twenty-five years spent killing things, stealing and beating people up in videogames, it seems that hocking a warm, sticky lump of half-chewed tobacco at another person is where I draw the line.
Event 4: Dancing
Cowboy-osity Rating: 0/10, unless it's that bit at the end of Blazing Saddles.
Did I Figure It Out? Nope
I am indeed ready to look. If this is a looking-at-things event, you can bet your ass I'm going home with the gold medal.
Then the showgirl does a dance. That's fine, it's a nice break from waving guns at scared children or having someone spit at me. The hard part comes after that.
Just look at their faces, these guys are having the time of their lives as they climb up on stage, their heads filled with dreams of a career treading the boards instead of scraping buffalo dung off their boots and dying of syphilis. The problem is, I have no idea how to dance.
You are correct, good sir. VGJUNK mostly certainly did not get it. I think you're supposed to be copying the moves that the dancing girl made, and I did manage to get the first move right... but I could never get my character to make the second move. He just stood there, one leg limply raised into the air, until the choreographer decided he'd seen enough and drew the whole sorry affair to a close by awarding the victory, and the role of Frank N. Furter in Drybone Gulch's production of The Rocky Horror Show, to MC Slow.
Event 5: Milking a Cow
Cowboy-osity Rating: 1/10
Did I Figure It Out? Ah ha ha ha.
I know they're called cowboys, but I didn't think they did the actual milking part. I am now convinced that this whole "Western Games" thing was cooked up to humiliate these two saps and, in this case, to get them to do some chores. Now, milking a cow isn't like shooting a gun or gobbing into a pot, it's a complex procedure that takes years to master. That explains why I couldn't figure it out at all. No matter what I did, my milk pail remained empty while MC Slow extracted a gallon of rich, creamy goodness from his cow. I know what you're thinking, but female cows can have horns and this isn't something else entirely.
As I couldn't do anything, I figured I'd let MC Slow win and then move on to the next round, but nothing happened. He filled his jug and yet the milking continued, both of us sitting there doing nothing, refusing to advance until, presumably, I'd milked this goddamn cow. In frustration, I gave in and searched for Western Games' manual, and you know what? I managed to find it! It was all in German. Not super helpful, that, but it did include a diagram showing what I was supposed to be doing. Would you like to see this diagram? Yes, yes you would.
I understood the German better than this. From what I can gather, you're supposed to "rhythmically" move the joystick in this precise pattern to milk the cow. The rhythm is dictated by the pulsating udder at the top of the screen. No, really. Just make sure you don't perform this motion at any other time as it is also the Summoning Sigil of Moocifer, Dark Lord of All Dairy Products, and you don't want your house smelling of brimstone and cow shit.
The real kicker is that even with this "helpful" diagram, I still couldn't get any milk into my bucket. Instead I had to restart the game and choose to play the last event on its own.
Event 6: Eating
Cowboy-osity Rating: 3/10
Did I Figure It Out? I was past caring by this point.
Oh good, some old-fashioned racism. Thanks a fucking bunch, Western Games. I was already tired of your unfathomable game mechanics and complete lack of a jaunty banjo soundtrack before this ugly stereotype appeared, but now I can say with confidence that you shouldn't play this game. The eating event didn't do anything to change my mind, either - it's just more left-right waggling to chew your food, but there's some kind of "fullness" gauge involved that seems to fill up if you eat too fast, forcing you to wait for it to subside before continuing. You can also give your opponent a kick in the shins for no real reason that I could discern. The dismal experience of participating in the Western Games has lead to petty jabs and the drained, weary expressions on the faces of the competitors. Just look at VGJUNK's face, he's so disillusioned. For a brief, shining moment he thought he was going to be a dancer, the poor bastard.
In the end MC Slow beat me at eating, too, and so the title of Western Games Champion goes to him. He's welcome to it, frankly. Would Western Games have been more fun if I'd know how to participate in any of the events? Possibly, but not by much - they're simply not that interesting, without any of the fun that comes from the exertion you'd get in a more traditional button-mashing sports game. The graphics are quite nice, but the game rather squanders it's Wild West setting - where were the events about throwing a lasso, or robbing a train, or riding your horse across the dusty plains, spurs jangling on your heels, foetid poncho flapping in the wind? No, I can't recommend Western Games to you, but if you're desperate to play a multi-event sports title on the Commodore 64 I've got some good news for you: there are thousands of them.
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