Set in the same universe as Johnny Kung-Fu from earlier this year, Johnny Hotshot takes things from an old-school LCD style to a newer-school shooting gallery game mixed in with some Track and Field-style button mashing. It all begins with Johnny enjoying some Western Fried Chicken, spilling his soda, and as this act is known to do, causing an interdimensional portal to appear and suck him into the old west. I would’ve preferred just having to replace some paper or at worst a game system due to some high-fructose corn syrup spillage, but poor Johnny just isn’t that fortunate. He does at least find a sheriff’s badge, and the citizens are smart enough to immediately side with the guy who just appeared out of thin air and give him the job. As the new sheriff of the old west, Johnny has to round up five banditos in three mini-games — two shooting galleries and one side-scrolling shooter/rodeo hybrid. Yes, there’s now such a thing as that.
The first of two shooting galleries gives you (usually) three targets on-screen at once and you have to shoot the bad guys. Now, due to the small screen on the original 3DS and lack of detail on the models to some some degree, it will take some trial and error to realize that you should only aim for characters with red outlines. Green outlines are for civilians, and shooting them negatively affects both your score and their lives. While you’d expect a shooting gallery game on the system to use the touch screen, this doesn’t – you can use either the analog stick or the d-pad (which works far better) and just pick the enemies you want to. In order to win the stage, you have to hit an enemy with a black-rimmed hat who appears for a split second. Hitting him requires a bit of timing and a lot of luck, so expect to retry the first stage of each boss a lot. These sections are a lot of fun, but the scarcity of the villain makes it feel like the developers are trying to pad out the experience a bit.
The second shooting game is a behind the back affair with enemies popping up from side-to-side and also going towards you – with the black-rimmed guy trying to stay in the background. The same basic gameplay principles apply here, but he’s far easier to spot in this mini-game and shows up earlier, so these takes less time and fewer replays to complete. The final part of the puzzle comes in multiple sections. First, you and the bandito shoot at each other using kiddy toys, while you avoid things like rocks, cacti, and BOMBS THROWN AT YOU. When you’ve depleted his life, you can hit A a bunch to catch up to him and wait for the meter to fill before hitting X and stopping in his tracks with your trusty lariat. The rope kind, not the Stan Hansen kind. It’s a fun and satisfying mini-game, but will lead to at least one occurrence of another annoying thing – having to replay stages to do better in order to unlock enough stars to face the next enemy.
Encouraging better performance by replaying an enjoyable game is fine, but making it mandatory to see the next stage, after having beaten every part of the preceeding stage, is annoying. It isn’t just this game — I’m against it when platformers force you to collect X amount of item Y to move on as well. It reeks of a way to make an experience that is naturally shorter artificially longer. It works against this game quite a bit since it’s nothing but bite-sized experiences anyway and it forces you to play for extended periods of time. That isn’t always a bad thing, but when you do that, you start to see flaws in the presentation, like the elements of padding put in to make this a longer experience. It may take more time to complete in its current form, but it would’ve been a more satisfying, if shorter, experience by not having star requirements and just allowing you to move from enemy to enemy freely after beating the previous stage.
Luckily, this issue doesn’t hurt the overall package too much. The gameplay for all three mini-game types is fun, the control setup is excellent, and its bite-sized nature makes it work for quick play sessions, with longer ones being reserved for attempts to make serious progress in the story. The AV side of things works well enough. The 2D cutouts in the shooting galleries look good, while the 3D models in the rodeo mini-games look fine. Nothing sticks out poorly given the cartoonish style of the game, which is good, but JH won’t blow you away visually. The audio is full of “HELP ME” sound effects and wacky old west music with some ragtime. The “help me” stuff is great since they make this seem like a modern-day light gun game, but the music didn’t do a thing for me. It’s not terrible, but if you’ve heard anything western-y ever in your life, you know what the music is here, and can just play the game muted and save some battery life.
I enjoyed Johnny Hotshot more than Johnny Kung-Fu. While forced replay was a bad descision, the three mini-game formula is a winner since they’re all done well and fun to play. It’s satisfying to rack up higher scores in the shooting galleries with “perfect” hits on all on-screen enemies, and roping up your foes is surprisingly entertaining. Sometimes, a button-mashing section works well, and that’s the case here. It helps that the game doesn’t rely on them, and offers up a couple of completely different experiences aside from it to mix things up. Johnny Hotshot is a good pickup if you’re in the mood for a light gun game on the 3DS, and as a bonus, it has a little side-scrolling shooting in there too. Almost everything about it is done well, and even though its presentation won’t floor you, it’s very easy to have a lot of fun with the game and is a great example of the kind of bite-sized gaming that can be had for very little money on the eShop.
Platform: 3DS (eShop)