Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa (Arcade Review)

I’m spending a lot of my 2023 focused on licensed games, and one that has come up a few times is Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa. It’s a slightly-before-my-time IP created by someone who worked on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that so desperately wants to be TMNT. I just watched a few episodes, and it got exactly one part right: the theme song. Catchy theme song this has. Yea, that’ll be stuck in my head for the foreseeable future, damn it. The rest of the cartoon is boring and stupid and I can’t believe it took two seasons before it got cancelled. BUT, creator Ryan Brown has one pretty good thing to show for the whole experience (besides the no doubt mountain of money he got): a really good arcade game that’s functionally a sequel/spin-off of Sunset Riders. I didn’t like Sunset Riders, but I enjoyed Moo Mesa enough to play through it twice. Well, I meant to play it once, but I didn’t grab enough pictures the first time. I’m often forgetful and dumb.

C.O.W. stands for “Code of the West.” By the way, that name is a mouthful. What DO you call this property? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is easy and versatile. Ninja Turtles? Works, and Turtles works too. Cowboys somehow doesn’t. C-O-W is just stupid. Moo Mesa sounds like a vegan milk alternative. The name sucks. The property sucks. But, the game is pretty good.

Moo Mesa (that’s the MAME file name, so that’s what I’m going with) is a single-plane, side-scrolling shooter. Sort of like Metal Slug or Contra, only with cows that.. that.. holy crap.. cows that turn into steaks when you lose a life?! Wow!! That’s shockingly dark and awesome and now Cuphead’s DLC feels slightly less shocking and dark and awesome. It actually came as a surprise to me. It’s rare that games from this era consistently nail cartoonish slapstick as consistently as Moo Mesa did. It’s usually stop and go, with the animation-like bits limited only to backgrounds or enemy death sprites. Not this time. From the character models to the enemy design to the movement to the sound effects, C.O.W.-Boys feels like a big leap forwards in the type of audio-visual style that would eventually lead to cel shading. It’s wacky. It’s exaggerated. The personality doesn’t seem forced. Most importantly: it makes you want to see what comes next. It never wears out its welcome.

I love how they wanted to have space-shmup type stages but the property sucks and has no means to fly, so they just had a bird grab you. Hell, why not?

If Moo Mesa has a flaw, it’s that it might be too simple. Okay, fine, no might about it. It’s too simple. You walk left and shoot waves of enemies until a boss appears. Sometimes there’s environmental things to utilize, like barrels, or dynamite with plungers. There’s power-ups that make your guns stronger, but not in a “wow, what an insane, unforgettable weapon!” way. There’s four characters to choose from, but since Moo Mesa is a cynical wasteland of sadness and misery, it’s not like all that satisfying to change between them. So, why does it work so well? Because, Moo Mesa is structured like a brawler with guns. Konami did this with Sunset Riders and Bucky O’Hare too, but it works better here. The levels are brisk. The bosses are better and not too spongy (oh they’re spongy, but only once or twice to the point of annoyance). It scratches the same cathartic itch that you get from punching the bony 1s out of fleshy 0s in any side-scrolling beat ’em up.

The button mashing in this section was awful. I’d call button mashing a relic of gaming’s past, but.. well.. it’s more like gaming’s appendix. Still lingering around, and while many have theories as to why, nobody is 100% certain, but it could start to hurt and ultimately kill you. I mean, it hasn’t technically killed anybody. Yet.

Ironically, that simple premise means I don’t have a ton to say about Moo Mesa. What I find most remarkable is that a franchise that comes across as desperate managed to make a completely decent arcade experience. Seriously, the whole concept of Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa is so soulless and cynical. “We need another Ninja Turtles. What’s another funny animal? Cows! It’s funny because we eat them! HEY, and I just realized something.. get this, team: if they’re cows, that means we can have the villain threaten to turn them into more than just soup, like in Ninja Turtles! There’s LOTS of food you make out of cows!” It’s pathetic. It really is. I’m sure there’s some C.O.W.-Boys fan reading this and turning beet red right now with rage, or people reaching for the comments saying “wait.. aren’t you a Power Rangers fan?” Which, hey, guilty as charged. And I suppose the funniest thing about Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa is, cynical as it is, it got one game, ever, and that game was pretty good. Well, yea. It was made by Konami at a time when Konami was smoking hot and cranking out winners one after another.

I beat the game with the one who looks stupid. I’m kidding. They all look stupid.

But, let’s face it: the Moo Mesa arcade game could have been any property. Yes, I’m aware that the creator of the series helped with the game, but come on! Konami could have turned this into a Simpsons sequel with Bart shooting his slingshot at dozens of identical Mr. Burns henchmen. Hell, had they done that, it’d been a major hit instead of being relegated to “oh yea.. I remember playing that” status. Who the hell wanted a Wild West C.O.W.-Boys game? Clearly nobody. This didn’t even come out on the SNES or Genesis. Kids aren’t stupid. They can tell when they’re being pandered to, and they don’t like it. That’s why Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills only got one season. Even the dumbest 90s kid could recognize Alien Fighters was trying to ride Power Ranger’s coattails, and it’s even worse than that. It came across like it wasn’t even trying to make sense or have fun characters. It felt like it held the Power Rangers audience in contempt. Moo Mesa comes across the same way, even going so far as to copying the personalities of the Turtles and Shredder. That’s why it wasn’t particularly successful. But hey, this game is totally fine, so I propose Konami hire an indie developer to reskin it. Make it something else. Why not? Make it an Adventure Time game, or some other property that has earned a decent game. Or, heck, just turn it into Sunset Riders 2! It pretty much already is!

Wild West C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa was developed by Konami

Wild West C.O.W. Boys is Chick-Approved!

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