Colt Canyon is a sepia-toned masterpiece of pixel art, chaotic combat, and well-crafted character and weapon designs that deepen its simple but refined gameplay. All the same, its difficulty wall has me throwing my hands up in defeat.
It begins with the kidnapping of your partner, establishing a classic western revenge 'n' rescue scenario. Head east through short, random sections of canyon and blast through bandits in search of your love. The animation blends fine background detail with glowing silhouettes. It reminds me a lot of Boot Hill, the 1977 godfather of cowboy shootout games, but creator Jonathan Mannshoven cites Daniel Linssen's Sandstorm as the key inspiration.
Twin-stick function, roguelite form. Bullets, arrows, shot and improvised weapons (broken bottles, scythes, kitchen pans!) streak across the screen in an orgy of violence. Or, if you prefer, corpses silently mount in the shadows as you leap from one stealthy kill to the next. The enemy AI is smart and convincing. Traveling salesmen offer upgrades and ammo, also to be found in camps and stores scattered throughout the environment, or dropped by dead enemies. Freed captives can join you on your quest, or offer bonuses that let you focus on a favored playing style. The many weapons are hard to distinguish, but learning the difference between superficially similar tools is all part of the fun.
There's a precision to Colt Canyon that's missing in a lot of games that adopt a similar low-res aesthetic. Within the constraints it sets itself, there isn't a pixel out of place. Barns and churches loom over the plain. Wheatfields shimmer in the wind. Bracken, fence and forest create cover for brief and brutal firefights. All of it ends up smeared in yards of blood, like a gloriously nasty cross-stitch. With Luigi-Maria Rapisarda's lovely western soundtrack, Colt Canyon completes itself.
Thing is, every run, I saunter through the first three areas only to get killed by the first boss. Takes about 16 minutes to get there. Starting from scratch every time. I could get there in my sleep, so familiar are the game's rhythms after a few hours of play: sniping with Fox, stealthing with Eagle, or barrelling in with Buck. But then comes the Slaver, and that's game over for me. The time I managed to get past him, almost by accident, I was quickly killed by running into a thornbush, a fresh hazard in the next region.
So who is Colt Canyon for? It's presented in an evocative style that tells a story, but it's not for casuals. Perhaps you've exhausted Gungeon and all the others? Perhaps you're dead center in the Venn diagram of "permadeath with no saves", "hours-long runs from square one", and "execute boss-killing knacks with the coordination and persistence of a surgeon"?
I know many you are exactly like this; this one is for you.
Colt Canyon is available for PC at Steam, and for the Switch, PlayStation and XBox One.