The Duel Abides
There are few periods of human history that capture the imagination quite like the Old West. The American Frontier has inspired countless books, movies, and television shows, all built around mythical characters and classic imagery. From dusty old saloons to speeding trains, Western Press captures the time when men’s veins ran with ice water, and disputes were settled in the most permanent way possible.
Western Press is a competitive indie game that allows players to participate in one-on-one duels, set amid the American Frontier of 1872. Duels begin when each player receives a list of ten key commands. The first player to input all of their commands wins the duel and shoots down their opponent. The game can be played with either a controller or keyboard, and can be remixed in a number of ways, restricting the types of input that will appear in a given duel. Western Press’s simple concept is enriched by wonderful presentation and a great cast of characters.
The game allows for online and local multiplayer, while also including a small single-player mode against an increasingly difficult roster of bots. This mode features ten duels, and can be beaten in minutes, depending on the player’s skill. Each bot is progressively faster in completing their string of commands, and later duels have harsher penalties for incorrect button inputs.
Players can also set up tournaments with up to 16 players or bots, who compete one-on-one in turn. This mode provides a decent means to get multiple players involved in the game, allowing plenty of people to participate locally or online. That said, it can be tedious to await other players while they take their turns; though a duel lasts mere seconds, there are loading screens and cutscenes to sit through. The game allows for some tense contests, but its simplicity shortens its lasting appeal.
Indeed, the entire game is based around pressing buttons faster than your opponent. This feels slightly different if you’re playing on a keyboard vs. a controller, and varies yet again, depending on which buttons you restrict. If you play using a keyboard, you can set the game to display either a random string of characters or actual words for you to type. Typing words is much easier to do quickly since they’re more easily processed by the brain.
There’s also a mode that tasks you with viewing a string of letters and then typing them from memory. Here, you attempt to get more correct answers than your opponent. This mode plays much like a game of Simon. Each string of letters is the same as the last, but with one additional character added to the end of each round. This mode works okay locally or against bots, but is broken against online opponents since it’s way too easy to cheat. If you have a pen and paper handy, you can play this mode indefinitely, and there’s no way to tell if your opponent is bending the rules.
As limited as it is as a concept, Western Press pushes its gameplay to the limit by wrapping it in great graphics and presentation. The game is humorously narrated by a man with a deep, rich voice straight out of The Big Lebowski. The writing is fun and witty, carrying into the taunts that the duelists use before battle.
The graphics are low-tech and pixelated, but the backgrounds are varied and colorful, with multiple layers and lots of appealing environments. Every inch is packed with the flavor of the Old West. There’s also a nice variety of duelists to unlock, and each has a different method of attack, complete with its own sound effects.
Western Press nails the little things, and for that reason, I kind of like it. I like the sound of the crowd as they gasp and laugh at the duelists’ taunts. I like the music and the sound effects, and even the way the menus are configured. I like the intro sequence, right down to the absurdly pixelated horse in the foreground that just barely looks like a horse. I like a lot of things about Western Press, but I like them as isolated elements rather than a cohesive whole. As a game, there just isn’t much here, and it’s a shame to admit that I’ll probably never play it again after today.
Western Press is fun, but only for a short while. The mechanics are every bit as simple as they sound, and no amount of customization can really change that. Some of the modes and options result in an unbalanced difficulty, which is particularly damning for a game that has so little content from the get go. The production values and presentation increase the value of Western Press, but it’s ultimately just a mini-game wrapped in a fancy package.