Mystic Warriors is the Second Sequel to Sunset Riders that Everyone Seems to Forget

In 1993 Konami released several arcade games on their newly designed Mystic Warriors-based hardware. We have already covered a couple of the beat’em ups with Metamorphic Force and Violent Storm, but we’ve yet to cover the game that the eponymous hardware is named after. Mystic Warriors along with the aforementioned beat’em ups make up a fun trilogy of games that are each relatively forgotten but wholly solid video games. Mystic Warriors also happens to be an unknown spiritual successor to one of Konami’s other arcade classics, Sunet Riders.  

Comparisons aside, we can dissect Mystic Warriors for what it is. At it’s core, the game is a multiplayer focused side scrolling action game. Like the aforementioned Metamorphic Force and Violent Storm, you’ll start each game by choosing a character, setting out on your quest, and beating up bad guy after bad guy as you make your way toward a beefier boss battle before the stage ends and you get to do it all again. The tried-and-true approach plays well here, which should be no surprise given the pedigree Konami has put forth at the time of release. What makes Mystic Warriors standout from its contemporaries is the gameplay refraining from the beat’em up genre and instead focuses on shooting your foes with kunai and shuriken to eliminate them. The sub-category of the beat’em up genre is not my personal favorite, but I will admit it is done well here, and has that perfect arcade “just one more try” feel to it.

Something I really enjoyed about the game was the art style and visuals. Like the other games running on the hardware, vibrant visuals accompany every stage and character design shares this flair. Sprites are large and detailed. Each stage introduces new enemies and variants to enjoy and battle, making each zone kind of fun to explore. The snow stage in particular stands out to me, as it has these skiing enemies that, if you think about it, are downright absurd but still fit the aesthetic of the game. It’s great! Konami really did know how to make quality arcade games back in the 80s/90s, and their unique style came through in each title they produced.

One other quick shoutout about the game that I don’t think I’ve seen in any other arcade game. At the start of each game, one random playable character is captured by the enemy and taken hostage. For the rest of that run, that character is unselectable for any player. So if Brad, for example, is taken, then no one can play as Brad until he’s freed or you game over and a new game begins. Even better, the remaining player characters will have unique voice callouts depending on who is abducted, which I thought was a nice touch. Speaking of characters, each of them has a marginally different play style, amounting to what type of attack they fire at enemies. I preferred Keima’s style the best, as his level 3 shurikens seemed to fit my playstyle most.

OK, let’s talk about the comparisons now. First up, Sunset Riders. Or the sequel C.O.W.boys of Moo Mesa. All three of these games have the awkward control scheme where you move in the direction you point your gun. So for example if you want to shoot upward, you have to look up with the control stick, then hit the shoot button. This becomes difficult when you want to shoot in a diagonal direction, or at an enemy behind you, as you end up moving in a way you might not intend when you just want to shoot one way and move another. I find this system a bit archaic, especially given how the modern twin-stick shooter completely alleviates this issue. When Mystic Warriors has you in an on-rails level the system works great, but in a free-roaming zone, which makes up the vast majority of the stages the game offers, it can be a bit cumbersome in my opinion. This characteristic is the direct link to Sunset Riders, as this type of gameplay is most often referenced back to that game, as it might have been the first, or at least the most popular, to do it.

Looking at Mystic Warriors and the other games on the hardware, I think they make a neat little trilogy of fun arcade experiences. Metamorphic Force is your action heavy, easily approachable by a lot of players co-op action game. Violent Storm is more of an old-school action beat’em up, catering to players from the 80s that enjoyed that cliche gang warfare plot and mechanics. And then you have Mystic Warriors, which brings back a style of gameplay not too often seen, and giving it a fresh coat of visual paint for newer players. Seeing as all three of these games released around the same time, I imagine it would have been a Konami fans dream to be in the arcade when each dropped. Imagine getting spiritual sequels to three of your favorite types of games, right at the end of the arcade era.

Worth noting, unlike the other games released on the hardware, Mystic Warriors does have a home console release. A very recent one at that: It was part of Konami’s Arcade Archives series, releasing for systems in December 2023. I do hope Konami brings more of their arcade catalog to home consoles. There are so many games that deserve to be fully loved by the fans, and without a legal way to do it, our only options would be to get incredibly lucky at an arcade, or emulation. And emulation is good and all, but nothing will beat that feeling of plopping down a quarter, choosing a character, and taking on an endless onslaught of evil ninjas with three strangers. Those were the days.


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– Jason J

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