Dr. David's Indie Spotlight: Westerado is a pixel-rich vision of the Wild West
I love those rare moments when I come across a Flash game on the good ol' Internet and it's actually a worthwhile product filled with substantially great moments and gameplay. In the past, games like Time Fcuk from Edmund McMillen and Soul Brother from Jasper Byrne epitomized the sheer quality that these bite-sized endeavors could provide. That's because they felt like actual worthwhile games rather than simplistic Flash projects with no real value. Well, you can now add IGF 2014 Student Showcase finalist Westerado to that prestigious list of impressive browser-based titles.
Developed by the five-person team at Ostrich Banditos (that name just exudes awesomeness), Westerado hit Adult Swim Games on January 17, 2013. Yes, this game is about a year old, and I'm quite ashamed of myself for not playing it sooner. That said, I'm still really happy to have played it at all, even if I was a bit fashionably late.
Westerado plays out a lot like an adventure game with action-based mechanics. After your kin are slaughtered and your ranch is burnt to a crisp, it's up to you to seek revenge on the lowly scum that took everything away from you. The game takes on a “whodunit?” spin, tasking you with visiting different towns, talking to all kinds of folks, and picking up a variety of odd jobs. The more you do, the more clues you gain regarding your family's murderer.
Jobs range from locating certain characters to fending off bandits while on horseback. It's all quick, simple fun, but it comes together to create a rewarding experience across a beautifully pixelated Wild West setting. As you complete more jobs, you're fed small doses of information, learning just a bit more about how your target dresses and what he looks like. It's surprisingly rewarding slowly learning who it was that killed your loved ones, and as you get closer to figuring it all out, you can't help but get pretty excited at the sheer thought of bloody vengeance.
One thing I absolutely adored was the sense of freedom prevalent in Westerado. Aside from exploring different towns to your heart's content (once you've discovered them, that is), you can literally pull your gun out at any moment. If some young buck's giving you trouble, you can pull out your gun and make him think otherwise. Or hell, if someone's being totally nice to you, you can pull out your gun and just be a total d--k! You're not just relegated to threatening NPCs, though. If you're feeling especially bloodthirsty, you can shoot anyone you want, even important authority figures.
Of course, if you're going rogue, you should be aware that other individuals will be on the lookout for you. Once you've established yourself as a cold-blooded killer bent on revenge, the local authorities (or possibly bounty hunters — I wasn't sure) will approach you, draw their guns, and take shots at you. At that point, there's really no turning back, and you'll have to come to terms with the fact that the death of your family and your quest to find the one responsible have turned you into a bullet-crazy killing machine.
Should you choose the more civil path and only kill when necessary, things won't get out of hand that easily. It's great that Westerado gives you the freedom to be a just cowboy doing only what he needs to do to avenge his family or a deranged criminal corrupted by his heartbreaking loss. Personally, I think this design choice makes playing the game a minimum of two times a worthwhile investment of your time.
Speaking of which, you probably won't spend too much time with Westerado even if you play it a few times. You can get to the end in 15 to 30 minutes, though that time is increased considerably if you decide to talk to all of the NPCs, take on all of the side missions, and just take in the Wild West vibe. This is the kind of game that's perfect for its browser platform, but it could very easily make a seamless transition to mobile platforms. Hell, I would totally pay money to see this on something like the PlayStation Network or Wii U eShop.
As previously mentioned, Westerado sports a nice pixelated look that's drenched in bright desert colors and earthy tones. The graphics are simple, but they're aesthetically rich and create a unique, untapped vision of the Wild West. The game's music is also really good, and I found it impossible to keep from falling in love with the soundtrack. Themes range from blatantly Western and catchy to appropriately moody and memorable. The music of Westerado is a collection fitting for this stellar gun-slinging adventure.
I can't express how ecstatic I was to finally play Westerado. I realized what I had been missing out on, and I'll gladly revisit this pixel-rich vision of the Wild West repeatedly down the road. Maybe next time I'll go easy on all the killing. Westerado is accessible, it's fairly short, and it isn't demanding. Give it 30 minutes, and you'll likely come away from your Wild West adventure feeling accomplished and rewarded. Chances are you'll also hum or whistle the game's music long after you've finished playing, because it's so damn good.
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