Cartoons were popular subjects for the arcade and Konami gobbled up its share during the late 80s and early 90s hitting a variety of series from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to The Simpsons and even one or two series no one had ever expected from ’92’s Bucky O’ Hare and Wild West C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa.
I barely remember the Saturday Morning cartoon series, but Moo Mesa had an interesting pedigree. Creator, Ryan Brown, began his comics career inking the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics in ’85 and continued to have a long association with the series. He even had a hand in designing the Playmates action figures for the series, inventing new characters and using the ones that ended up on the cutting room floor in his own comic series.
Because of his history with TMNT, and the series’ continuing popularity in the early 90s, it seemed like a no brainer to create another mutant-themed ‘toon to join the long running series on Saturdays. Instead of turtles, it would be cows. Mutant cows in the Wild West.
Thus was born Wild West C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa. A meteor landed in the 19th century West, creating a titanic mesa. On top of it, creatures were “cow-metized” into anthropomorphic bovines reared on stories of the Wild West around which they developed their isolated community. Of course, there are the typical corrupt sheriffs and mayors, and a quartet of heroes have taken it upon themselves to maintain order. “C.O.W.” stood for the “Code of the West” which, led by Marshall Moo Montana, use to battle outlaws and other undesirables while defending their small town.
Montana’s joined by series staples The Dakota Dude and The Cowlorado Kid to uphold the law. For the arcade game, Buffalo Bull was created to fill out the four-way roster and two, or four, simultaneous players could hop into the arcade action.
The game, created with Ryan Brown’s close cooperation, revolved around ye olde damsel in distress when Lily Bovine is kidnapped by the nefarious Masked Bull. Seven stages filled with Wild West tropes, challenges, bosses from the series, and plenty of shooting stand between our four heroes and her freedom.
It also ran on a variation of the basic hardware that powered Bucky O’ Hare in the same year built around Motorola’s 16-bit 68000 CPU. Unlike a few of its peers, Konami didn’t adopt that much of a push to standardize its arcade muscle in the same way that Capcom did with its CPS series or what SNK would introduce with the Neo Geo AVS. According to arcade museum, System 16, Konami’s philosophy seems to have been “what CPU have we got a lot of today”.
The game also had a few veterans on its staff. Helping manage the project was Masahiro Inoue who also helped design ’89’s Crime Fighters and worked on both Gyruss and Time Pilot. Handling the cowboy tunes behind the cartoon pixels was Michiru Yamane whose long history with Konami includes work on the Castlevania series such as Curse of Darkness, Dracula X, and Circle of the Moon. An individual credited only as K. Kinugasa handled the screenplay for the game and was also did the same with Bucky O’ Hare.
Gameplay-wise, Konami seems to have reached into their grab bag of design tricks by following the trail blazed by Sunset Riders which came out a year before in ’91. This wasn’t a beat ’em up — this was a run ‘n gun done in the same 2D, linear style as Konami’s Western shooter was. Instead of being able to move in eight directions as you could in a beat ’em up, players were restricted to a single plane, moving right and left and jumping up or down to other “levels” like rooftops or ledges.
Unlike Sunset Riders, players now had a three-bar health gauge making them a lot more durable. Each of the four heroes were also similar to each other, differing only in how each one looked, leaving it up to players to decide whether they wanted to roll in as the heroic Moo Montana shooting stars from his pistols or as the Cowlorado’s spotted self. The only “desperation” attack all four had was a charging stampede which was handy for plowing through enemies or the titanic surplus of wooden barrels that had apparently found their way to Moo Mesa.
As for continues, they picked right up where you died and the score would also reset itself. Finishing the game didn’t end it, either, and players could keep on moo-ing down as many enemies as they had tokens or quarters.
Konami’s penchant for creative bosses had also captured the look of the series’ villains and then translated their personalities into animated battles. Five Card Cud (misnamed “Five Card Stud” in the arcade game), for example, fights by throwing streams of deadly playing cards at the players in a saloon setting. In another area that took place on mining tracks, an enemy mini-boss took the form of a steampunk battle engine made of wood with all sorts of little attachments.
Like Bucky O’ Hare, Moo Mesa was another arcade game from Konami that never found itself resurrected as part of a modern collection. In this case, as with some other titles relying so much on licenses, it might have been the headache of sorting out the rights that Konami simply didn’t want to deal with. And so, it was shelved like so many others as just another part of arcade history long past.
Another unusual thing about this is how eager Konami’s licensing jumped on a relatively new series that still had to compete against the shadow of the much larger-than-life TMNT empire. Moo Mesa wasn’t terrible as cartoons went in the 90s. It even had its own toy line and lived off and on in the comic world, eventually crossing over to TMNT in issue #21 of Mirage Studios’ “Tales of the TMNT” and would do so again years later. But it wasn’t a break out smash as some of its peers were viewed.
But at the same time, it had the elements that spoke the language of a potential arcade experience — it had a setting that was a lot like Sunset Riders which was a hit in the arcades and on home consoles. It also had plenty of excuses to go blasting in as heroes, co-op possibilities, and boss templates. The only thing it needed was a team to build a game around it, and at the time, it might have been seen as a worthy rival to TMNT with so many other bets riding on it from toys to comics.
In the end, things didn’t quite turn out that way for these bold bovines with only two seasons’ worth of episodes. The game didn’t make it home, either, and while it added a few neat twists to Sunset Riders’ popular formula, Bucky O’ Hare did relatively the same thing while adding quite a bit more. Still, it wasn’t a bad run ‘n gun with its lengthy stages, creative boss battles, voiced sound bites, and straightforward action making it one of the strangest tales to come out of the Wild West.