A Glance at the Past: Tin Star (SNES)

The wild west is a pretty good setting for a shooting game. Shootouts, duels at high noon, blasting bottles with your six shooter… the variety is there, but Tin Star wanted to take things even further. Tin Star isn’t just a western rail shooter, it’s mixed in robots and a cartoon art style as well to make something rather absurd, even if most elements do end up taking a back seat to delivering on the wild west aspects.

 

Tin Star tells the story of the Ol’ West, except now the old west is full of robotic cowboys with cartoon proportions. Tin Star rides into town one day and finds a town beset by the Bad Oil Gang, and as the new sheriff, Tin Star and his deputy Mo aim to keep the peace and take down the gang’s leader Black Bart. The action takes place across a single busy week, Tin Star gradually working his way through the members of the gang, but while the game does a pretty decent job of selling the wild west setting, its not quite as devoted to its cartoon qualities or the fact that everyone is a robot. There is humor present throughout the whole game, sometimes leaning a little too hard on typical jokes such as a big guy named Tiny or just putting in forced ones that aren’t too funny like Tin Star always talking about coffee breaks. It does occasionally deliver with an actually funny moment, like when Tin Star is searching for a loophole in his “Never shoot women and children” creed and declares that it’s fine to shoot them as long as he’s not shooting both at the same time… although he later has a moral crisis when a child challenges him to a duel despite having shot a bunch of cowboys that looked like babies over the course of the game. Things never get serious though, it’s all cartoon craziness throughout, it’s just not very imaginative with the humor and if a scene doesn’t have a joke, expect Tin Star to force in something about those coffee breaks as if they had to meet a humor quota. The robot angle is almost outright ignored. Tin Star himself looks properly mechanical, as do certain things like cows and horses as well as your deputy Mo, but most enemies just look like cartoon exaggerations of people, the game thinking that making their skin an unusual color means we’ll accept them as machines. If enemies didn’t explode into nuts and screws when killed, you’d hardly guess they were robotic at all, which is a shame as the mechanical old west is a much more interesting concept than just another cartoon cowboy tale.

The story is rather weak and fails to deliver on a lot of the promised humor, but the shooting manages to just about meet expectations. Surprisingly, Tin Star has quite a few options on how you want to shoot down the bad bots, with the player allowed to use the Super Scope accessory, the SNES mouse, or just a plain SNES controller. The Super Scope is the most accurate choice of course, being that it’s essentially a gun you need only point at the screen to aim with, but the SNES mouse makes for a fine substitute and even the controller seems to be accounted for as an actual alternative if you don’t have the proper peripherals. I cannot say if the gameplay changes to accommodate the sliding scale of effectiveness, but the SNES controller did seem to run into less moments requiring quick precision than the other control types, but perhaps I just knew the game better when I gave that option a try. No matter what your weapon of choice is though, the gameplay will always involve a cursor on the screen that needs to be moved around to fire at your foes. In the standard levels, most enemies will give the player enough time to see them coming before they open fire on you, but there were quite a few instances where it seemed like the game didn’t give you much time to react, allowing the game to score a free hit. Thankfully, there are plenty of canteens thrown across the screen that you can shoot to get a health refill, although if you want to see the bonus stages you have to ignore them entirely. Ultimately, the balance seems pretty fair, the game keeping the enemy count low so you can react in time and giving you the means to recover from the moments that seem to be set up to take your health.

The game takes place across the course of a week, with each day containing a small set of levels that usually follows a pretty set pattern. Days start with you firing at jugs on a fence, trying to keep them in the air to earn the cash that serves both as your score and as your means of saving. If you have enough cash, between levels a save screen appears to record your progress, and while Tin Star will only ever have three lives max, the save system will put him at the start of the level you saved before, so getting back into things isn’t too hard and very few levels are very long. However, if you want to see the true ending, you need to conserve your cash a bit so you can have 1 million bucks by the end, although the game will loop to let you earn it up if you didn’t meet that mark, letting you keep your cash from before so it’s a bit more likely you can manage it. Money is pretty easy to earn during regular play too if you’re willing to skip some save opportunities, with the middle of each day offering up a few different chances to shoot bad guys and environmental objects to rack it up. The midday events have a few different varieties, mostly consisting of levels where Tin Star moves on his own and you are asked to fire upon any foes who try to stop him. These levels can have bosses as well, usually pretty simple affairs that take a few more shots than your regular Bad Oil gunslinger. Some levels instead will have Tin Star riding out on his horse Aluminum or looking out across a place to try and keep the peace, but your involvement is still just shooting baddies with your endless revolver ammo. You do get more cash for being accurate, and sometimes the game does throw in innocents that you aren’t meant to shoot, so it’s at least not blind firing. The last stage type rounds out most days with a duel, where you are meant to draw your pistol and fire before the enemy does. You do this by firing at the right spot of the screen to draw and then firing at your enemy quickly after, although both you and your foe take multiple shots to kill so it’s not over too quickly.

 

The level set-up, while a bit formulaic, makes for some fine shooting challenges and seem about what you’d expect from a Western, and it could have lasted the in-game week well enough if the game kept coming up with new versions of the levels… but it doesn’t. Tin Star starts off giving you a sequence of new level types, but it runs out fairly quickly and starts retreading the same ground. You’ll protect Tin Star as he runs through the same town and across the same train but with more enemies, you’ll see him riding along a cattle stampede a few times, he has to protect the same bar by looking back and forward a few times, and quite a few events are just a reskin of the bar shootout, with the bank raid and prison breakout really just being the same event with a different building in the center. Only the duels manage to feel like repetition done fairly well, as they’re short experiences where the gunslinger you’re up against gets better on the draw and might have different proportions so they’re harder to shoot. Since the shooting is fairly standard, it was pretty much on the levels to bring something interesting and unique to the table, but the game runs dry of resources quick. The game starts trotting out bosses as regular enemies fairly quickly, weakening them a little… but then it starts bringing them back later in the game as bosses in the same form as you first fought them, highlighting the low enemy variety and making the repeated stages feel even more familiar.

THE VERDICT: Tin Star is a colorful western shooter that tries to be wacky, but for the most part, it just does the bare minimum of what’s required to be able to make its genre claims. While the western aspect is clearly at the core and manages to give you about what you’d expect, the cartoon side is best for wild proportions rather than actual jokes and the robotic angle only crops up at random times. Still, the shooting is responsive no matter what control type you tackle the game with and the game sets up a few interesting shooting galleries, it just whips them out a bit too often to keep things interesting.

 

And so, I give Tin Star for the Super Nintendo…

An AVERAGE rating. While it is a shame that Tin Star didn’t embrace its mechanical world or humorous nature more, ultimately, it’s got the stuff needed to work as a light gun shooter. It won’t wow anyone and it’s certainly not going to justify the purchase of a Super Scope or SNES mouse, but if you have either of those peripherals, it is at least something else to do with them and it puts in a serviceable showing despite the repetitious aspects. If you only have a standard controller though, Tin Star loses its one edge, as moving the cursor around the screen to fire is functional but not really engaging. I have to wonder if the shooting might have been so unambitious because of the attempt to accommodate all three control types, but I do feel the game could have certainly put in a lot more variety without straining what you can manage with a controller. Remembering that everyone is robotic could have made for more interesting areas and enemies as well, but as it is, this is essentially a western light gun game presented with a slight hint of its other elements.

 

Tin Star captures the simple act of shooting fairly well, but it didn’t have to settle for such a low bar. The game had the promise of being something more than a shooting gallery, but it decided to take the easy road and just give you a bunch of things to fire at.

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