The Top 7… Weirdest westerns

Regular old cowboys too boring for you? Maybe you'll like the Old West's stranger side

The western: An idealistic young gunfighter fights to save his town from a gang of vicious criminals who’ve come from out east…

The weird: … the Far East, actually. As the story goes, young Johnny was a badass adventurer until the day he met a gang of ninjas, against whom his trusty six-shooter was no match. So he did what any red-blooded frontier boy would, and spent the next several years in Japan – sorry, “ZIPANG,” as the game calls it – studying to be a samurai. Somewhere along the line, he changes his name from “Johnny” to “Zan” – or, more accurately, "The Super Ultra Sexy Hero ZAN!"

If you really want to know more about that, you should really check out the game’s awesome theme song, which pretty much explains the whole backstory in excruciating detail:

Once he heads back home to the West, Zan discovers that a gang of Japanese (Zipangese?) weirdos who speak in monosyllabic gibberish have taken over his hometown and started massacring the inhabitants for what we assume are reasons.

This of course gives Zan license to slice them and their ninja henchmen apart in a gruesome display, occasionally making his sword cartoonishly large for more efficient murderfication. That’s just the tip of the weirdness iceberg, though, as he quickly goes on to fight giant fire-breathing dudes in turbans, floating straw dummies and walking bomb detonators that chant what sounds like “MAGIC! MAGIC!” And he does it for style points, years before Devil May Cry popularized the concept.

Also, this happens:

And this:

Andlate-‘90s catchphrases:

And also this, whatever the hell it is:

What were we talking about again? Westerns? Yeah, that’s pretty f**ked up for a western, huh? But is it the weirdest?

Well, there's one more entry to go, so... no. No it isn't.

1. Oddworld: Stranger%26rsquo;s Wrath

The western: A bounty hunter known only as Stranger heads out into the untamed wilderness to capture wanted thugs, but eventually becomes a fugitive himself once his terrible secret is revealed.

The weird: Well, this is an Oddworld game, so it’s pretty safe to say nobody wandered into it expecting a Roy Rogers adventure. Where to begin? Let’s start with Stranger himself, who starts out looking like a weird cross between Clint Eastwood and a llama:

His job, such as it is, is to hunt down vaguely reptilian, redneck outlaws for money. This he does with his fists, his unnatural agility and a wrist-mounted crossbow that shoots tiny, but potentially lethal, critters that roam the canyons and prairies Stranger explores.

Also, the simple, salt-of-the-earth townsfolk he’s capturing these goons for are all faintly disgusting chickeny things…

… which Stranger can punch in the head whenever he’s really strapped for cash.

So, OK, that’s only mildly weird so far, right? Definitely not as weird as Rising Zan, and certainly not as laughable as Silverload. But again, this is an Oddworld game. So once you get used to the mild strangeness of the “Wild West, but with monsters” setting, it’s got another loop it wants to throw you for.

Above: And it has nothing to do with where those guys got their hats

The following is a spoiler, but given that Stranger’s Wrath is a five-year-old bomb, we figure most of the people who were ever going to play it already have. See, the reason Stranger’s doing all this bounty hunting is because he’s saving up for a special operation. It turns out the Stranger is the last of a centaur-like species known as the Steef, which makes him the most sought-after bounty of them all. Long story short, his identity is discovered, he becomes a fugitive and is taken in by a clan of fish-like American Indian allegories who worship him as their savior.

Above: Also he gets to wear badass armor after that point

From there, it’s a bittersweet story about environmentalism, water rights, native rights and massive, D-Day-style raids against literal corporate overlords, which is a pretty far cry from the game’s more formulaic, bounty-hunter-western beginnings. Oddly, though, it never really stops being a western, in structure or in setting, and it certainly never stops being weird. Factor in that it’s one of the most criminally overlooked games of the last generation (that isn’t Okami), and we couldn’t not give it the No. 1 spot.

May 17, 2010

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After graduating from college in 2000 with a BA in journalism, I worked for five years as a copy editor, page designer and videogame-review columnist at a couple of mid-sized newspapers you've never heard of. My column eventually got me a freelancing gig with GMR magazine, which folded a few months later. I was hired on full-time by GamesRadar in late 2005, and have since been paid actual money to write silly articles about lovable blobs.
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