A proper Western duel needs a couple of things: blinding reflexes, pinpoint accuracy, and mesmerising narration inspired by The Big Lebowski. Okay, maybe that last one’s not vital, but Western Press’ voiceover’s deep musings about “the duel” go far in setting the tone of its offbeat, tongue-in-cheek style. Excited yet? Then jam your keyboard or controller into a thigh holster and get ready to slap some leather.
Western Press has two gameplay modes, Fastest Time and Memory. Fastest Time is more in line with the spirit of the classic duel, where two players compete to enter a ten button combination first. Each mistake costs at least 0.3 seconds, not to mention interrupting your flow, so if you’ve messed up you’d better hope they messed up harder. Learning to coordinate both hands on the WASD and arrow keys (or directional buttons and YAXB for Xbox Live) is surprisingly tricky, and too often I’d hit A when I meant Left. But mistakes are part of the fun, as long as you’re not the only one making them.
Memory is much more slow-paced, focusing entirely on accuracy. Here the players have to input an ever-increasing button combination until one of them makes a mistake. While I found Memory the easier of the two, it felt more like a mental exercise than a game, and I didn’t really want to try it a second time. The gradual adding of an extra button onto an existing button combo means that it’s also easy to cheat, without even needing to pause the game to jot down the next button (if you were so dishonourably inclined). While Memory is a worthy addition, Fastest Time is clearly the main mode, and rightly so.
Playing the AI is fun up to a point, but just like in Guitar Hero, you soon hit a skill wall. Unlike Guitar Hero, however, you don’t have the incentive of hearing great songs (or at least, the first two thirds of great songs) while you practice. While it’s true that after a few tries you get into the swing of things, I found that I only had another couple of duels in me before I was done. This is not a game to be played by one person for more than an hour; this is a party game, through and through. While both local and online multiplayer are available, Western Press is best enjoyed on a couch with your best friend, slinging 120-year-old insults back and forth between duels.
Western Press’ characters are great, many of them poking fun at tropes and stereotypes in Westerns. These are pretty much the only unlockables Western Press offers, and there’s enough variety for everyone to find their favourite. I particularly like Bass, for his fetching green scarf and stylish gun flip before firing a shot. The posh man with the cannon made me laugh out loud too. Ping Lau gets annoying quickly, however, as her shooting animation takes so much longer than everyone else’s; it’s lengthier than the time it takes to input the buttons, which just saps the fun right out of it. But given that she’s only one character, and the only time you’ll be stuck against her is in the single player Skill Tester, or against a friend who refuses to switch characters, this ends up not being much of a problem overall.
Despite its minor drawbacks, Western Press keeps pulling me back in with the strength of its atmosphere alone. Call me a sucker for Westerns, but the music, level settings, and magnificent narration breathe life into a game that might otherwise feel a bit plain. If you ever want to test your skill, get a quick taste of the Old West or settle an argument the old-fashioned way, then Western Press should have a place in your game library.
Quick on the draw, but quick to holster.
A stylish and casual Western-themed party game to jump into between bigger, meaner contests.