Saturday, February 4, 2012

Nintendo Sheriff (シェリフ, 1979)

Nintendo Sheriff is a western themed arcade game from 1979, which owes more to Space Invaders than you might think after a casual glance.

Nintendo Sheriff (1979)

The Wild West is a longtime arcade favorite, starting with Taito's famous 1975 Gun Fight (called Western Gun in Japan) - the first video game to feature cowboys.

But in 1978 aliens replaced cowboys as the popular shooting target, when Taito's Tomohiro Nishikado (who was also responsible for Gun Fight) conceived Space Invaders.

As said, Sherrif's gameplay has quite some similarities to Space Invaders.

A circle of attacking cowboys replaced a fleet of space monsters. But the dodging and firing of bullets (missiles), the slowly crumbling bunkers blocking shots, the speeding-up of the movements of the enemies as their number reduces, are all taken from the Space Invaders book. At the top of the Sheriff screen, a passing bird has taken the place of the flying saucer as bonus target. Even a variation on the iconic ''dud-dud-dud-dud" sound effect is present.

Still, these elements are given a new visual twist, turning the experience into something new.

The background story of Sheriff is the familiar theme of damsel-in-distress-in-need-of-rescue-from-villain, found in many Nintendo arcade games (like Donkey Kong, to name one).

Pauline and Peach weren't the first women in need of assistance

The controls are an original setup: an eight-way joystick is used to move the player's cowboy, and a second control is used to aim and fire the bullets, by turning and pushing the eight-way dial. Operating those two controllers simultaneously required quite some practice. This was no easy game.

Sheriff contains some elements that would return in later Nintendo arcade games. These hearts would resurface in Popeye from 1982.

Sheriff was created by Shigeru Miyamoto, in one of his first arcade game assignments, together with Genyo Takeda.

Nintendo Sheriff leaflet (front and back)

In recent years, a tribute to Sheriff appeared in the Gameboy Advance game WarioWare.


  1. Nice post!! The one thing that I want more than anything else in the world is one of those table top arcade machines. This one has now moved to the top of the list, if I can ever find one, they must be insanely hard to find!

  2. @Sean: These are indeed nice cabinets, aren't they. I can imagine you wanting one, as they are great for home use.

    Their official name is "cocktail" size. I guess because they were intended to fit in bars and cocktail lounges.

    In the early days of the arcade craze, these were quite common. Nintendo produced many of them from 1975 up to 1983. I think Donkey Kong 3 is one of the last games to be shipped in this format, although there is also a sit-down cabinet version of the Nintendo "VS" game. Generic cocktail cabinets continued to be fitted with new games by operators, especially for locations outside arcades.

    It is actually not too hard to find one, but tracking one down with a particular game will be more difficult. It will also be easier to find a Donkey Kong or Popeye, for instance, than a Sheriff. Another common one is Nintendo's Space Fever, a Space Invades clone.

  3. Here is one on ebay right now...

  4. Actually, that item has been withdrawn from sale as it is no longer available, I don't think anyone purchased it though...

  5. Erik - thanks for the info, very interesting! I will keep an eye out for that! Simon, thanks for posting the link, too bad the seller took it down but its interesting to see what they are selling for at least!

  6. there us one for sale right now at a local garage sale. I'm debating buying it

  7. There are two types of the sheriff cocktail.There is the more diamond shape version which I think was more intended for the US market, and the white top.
    This also is on the top of my list of games to get.
    I know there is one in the uk but don't know who owns it.