Nine player simultaneous top-down wild west asymmetric bullet hell party gaming. That’s pretty much all the important bits of A Fistful of Gun, but still doesn’t convey how awesome it was to get together with a large group of gamers and blast through waves of bandits and other assorted low-down no-good dirty dogs. Every player got to choose one of eleven characters that all played differently from each other, and the end result was a screen full of baddies, bullets, and chaotic top-down shooting.
A Fistful of Gun features eleven undead outlaws on a rampage against an evil railroad baron. Each gunman has a unique control scheme built around their individual weapon of choice, whether that be minigun, blunderbuss, hand cannon, or soldier phalanx. There are three styles of control, divided between single-stick, twin-stick, or mouse, each designed to work with the feel of the gun in use. The six-shooter has a fairly simple scheme, just flick the right stick in the direction you want to fire then flick six more times in quick succession when empty to reload. The double-barreled shotgun is just about as simple, with its single-stick setup- you shoot in the direction your walking with the A and B buttons, one for each barrel, and reload with the same. Shoot each barrel one at a time or both at once for double the firepower, whichever you’d prefer. For the blunderbuss you shoot with the right trigger and refill with the left, and you can choose to shoot fast and weak with a single click of the reload button or take a few seconds to reload four times for a far more powerful blast. Even the mouse-only (no keyboard) characters are completely individual, with one guy who throws knives and can teleport and a regiment that can take a few hits so long as its flag-bearer remains untouched. Each of the eleven characters is completely distinct from each other in both weapon and character design, each one mining a different western trope.
While the action runs like an arcade shooter, A Fistful of Gun can be surprisingly tactical as well. Enemies pop out from everywhere and the level is over the instant the final one is dead, but just trying to shoot everything, all at once, is a great way to get dead fast. Once you clear a few levels the firepower density gets fairly thick, and while whichever gun you choose is easily the most powerful one it doesn’t do a lot of good unless you use it and your abilities right. Picking up booze slows down time, but only if you don’t shoot it first. Running through fire starts a countdown to death that only clearing the level will stop. Enemies drop gold that, when taken in conjunction with a score multiplier that can easily top x1000, can easily send your score into the stratosphere. It’s hard to not rush into suicidal situations with all those temptations pushing you forward, but a cool head and careful shot placement is much more useful than trying to cover the screen in firepower that you doesn’t quite have. Picking the right reward perk on level’s end can help with this a bit, but for the most part it’s best to think as well as shoot. Both you and the enemies are small little sprites in a big arena, so saturating the screen with return fire is going to take some backup.
My first few games of A Fistful of Gun were with three other players, but despite being terrible and running directly into walls of firepower rather than engage in any planning or cooperation, it was still a ton of fun when we weren’t dying. Dodging bullets and explosions, grabbing a horse for a quick ride when it galloped by, and sometimes even helping each other out made for some great multiplayer arcade shooting and I like to think with a bit of familiarity we could have stomped all over the dense-packed waves of enemy cowboys and native americans. Four seemed like a comfortable number of players on screen, but I have to admit I’d love to see the ridiculous chaos nine people at once could get up to. A Fistful of Gun is perfectly playable alone, but rope a bunch of friends into filling out the posse and it turns into a great co-op party game of bullets, explosions and ridiculous deaths.