If you’re looking for something to apply the term “classic” to, well, here ya go. One of the first games for the NES was this little gem. It was released in 1985 as part of the “Deluxe Bundle,” sharing the package space with the quirky R.O.B. and the Zapper light gun required for play. The game was essentially a showcase for the Zapper, and as such, not very elaborate. But what history seems to have forgotten is that both were also a showcase for what home video games could really be, and the sheer novelty of playing a video version of a boardwalk trick shot game was enough to get just about anyone interested in a few rounds. I mean, the NES pulled the industry out of the Crash of ’83 for a reason.
Those of you who actually owned a physical NES and copy of Duck Hunt are probably clicking this review with glee, just to make sure I’m talking about the same Duck Hunt you remember. I sympathize, I was there blasting ducks with the Zapper just like you, and trying to shoot from the hip and pull off trick shots. In fact my grandfather was police chief of a small town at the time I had the game, and I can remember watching him wield that gun like Hendrix wielded a guitar… that man was bad-ass at Duck Hunt, and those poor digital fowl never stood a chance.
So I’m with all of you, I really am. I’m ready to relive the days of my youth and spend hours shooting the ducks and clay pigeons out of the bright cyan sky. That’s why it hurts me – literally pains me to tell you that this just isn’t the same anymore.
The game still exists in all its glory, with all modes. For those newcomers to the scene, this means you can hunt one duck or two at the same time, or go after clay pigeons in a third mode. The ducks fly horizontally across the screen, rapidly moving faster and becoming harder to hit as the game progresses. The clay pigeons fly from the bottom of the screen and out into the background, becoming smaller and harder to hit as they fly away – same concept but a slightly different challenge. There are 99 “official” levels, after which the game bugs out on level 100 and forces a “game over.” Nintendo must not have expected anyone to beat all those levels; probably still developing with an arcade mentality, so the look of level “00” wouldn’t matter.
Regardless of the level and its subsequent difficulty, you always have three bullets and a limited, though random and never displayed, time to cap a duck or ducks, after which your trusty hound will pop up out of the grass with the corpses of your fallen adversaries. If you miss with all bullets, or take too much time, the ducks will “fly away” and the dog will laugh at you. No, you can’t shoot the dog.
Most of the game’s novelty comes out of using the gun-shaped Zapper, and aiming it appropriately – or not aiming it as the case may be. I’m sure everyone tried a couple different variations like the Ash “gun over the shoulder” shot, the “quick draw” like Shane taught to the little kid, or the sideways “gansta-style” move. That was the real strength of the gun; it wasn’t trying to hide the way it mimicked shooting, thus only working in a specific, intended way, or only when level with the TV, or only in a perfect Weaver stance, etc. All it did was sense light on the screen. I’m sure there are better explanations out there, and I’m not going to look them up and parrot them to sound like Professor McSmartypants. The point is that you could create your own little challenges far after the game’s contributions wore stale, and the light gun was sharp enough to support them
It also helps that the game was fairly revolutionary when it was released, so you had no other light gun home games to compare it to or play instead. Both of these helped a lot because, looking at it now, there’s not much there. If you aren’t bored by level 50, you’ve probably at least developed carpal tunnel syndrome from the Zapper’s tight trigger.
Which brings up a whole new issue. The game hasn’t changed over the years, but the likelyhood that you’re playing it on an NES with Zapper in hand certainly has. Any emulator or online flash version will replace the gun with mouse control and a pointer. Obviously, the mouse is no light gun, and thus the challenge drops faster that a dead duck from the sky. It turns the enjoyable game into a simple point and click affair. You can miss, and these versions do an excellent job of replacing the mechanics of the gun – don’t get me wrong, it all works perfectly. However it’s just not as challenging to point the arrow on the duck, click, and win. If you ever cheated by pressing the Zapper to the screen and pulling the trigger, making it impossible to miss (and don’t lie, you know you did) then you have a good idea of how the game now plays from start to finish.
Even if you’re a collector and are playing the game as intended, the game simply can’t stay fun for that long. It’s main draws were originality and attracting “people who don’t play video games” like family members or a wary spouse, nether of which have done well when put against time. But even if it was 1984 and even if this was the first game you’ve ever played and the only one you’ve bought, you’ll still be wondering what else the console can do. I know. I did.
It’s Duck Hunt!
Game is more of a nice tech demo for the Zapper. If you don’t have the Zapper, you’re at a further disadvantage.