Gotcha! is another name for the “Assassins” game of college dorm fame. The major difference is that, instead of using wadded balls of paper to take out your mark, you use paintball guns. This concept alone was apparently enough for Universal to make a movie entitled Gotcha! starring Anthony Edwards and some bullshit international intrigue. Meanwhile, this film’s existence was apparently enough to attract LJN to license the name for Gotcha! The Sport! – a game where you play paintball against the computer. The game has little to do with the movie of its title. Welcome to the late 80s.
Gotcha! has you playing capture the flag against a computer army of paintball vets. It’s one of the few Zapper titles, which as such, immediately reduces the criticism you can level against it- beggars and choosers and all that. You scroll horizontally from one end of a battlefield to another, shooting paintballs at enemies along the way, then scroll back to return the enemy’s flag to your base. Pretty simple in concept, but slightly more elaborate than basic target practice games like Duck Hunt.
The game cycles through three battlefields. The first has you crawling through the woods, with plenty of trees to hide enemy snipers. The second has you playing in the city against the local street gang. The third puts you in a snowfield with fewer trees, but enemies in white snow suits that are slightly harder to spot. You have a limited supply of paintballs which can be increased by shooting boxes of ammo, or tagging ammo bearers lugging said boxes in the background.
Your enemies follow the standard shooter routine of popping out and taking excessive time to line up their shots while leaving themselves exposed. Shoot them first, and you’ll see a little puff of paint appear on their shirts (now you see the appeal of “paintball” on a Nintendo console; looks like blood, isn’t blood). The tagged enemy will then raise his hands and walk off the field. Enemies won’t always be obvious however, as some will stay low to the ground or peek out of the foliage. A visual and auditory indicator both cue that someone is targeting you, prompting you to search frantically for your about-to-be assassin. As you progress through the levels, the time you have to react shrinks while the number of appearing baddies steadily increases.
Gotcha! utilizes a curious control system. Instead of passively letting the camera scroll down the field, as in a typical rail-shooter, you actively control its movement with the D-Pad. You can stop and aim if needed, back up and shoot the ammo bearer you missed, or try to book back home with the flag rather than cautiously pick off everyone on the way. The enemy can also steal your flag and return it to their base, making this control system helpful in tracking down and dispatching their flag carrier before he makes it home with the prize.
But to make this possible, you’re faced with the awkward system of aiming and shooting the Zapper with one hand, and scrolling with the regular controller in the other. If you naturally shoot the Zapper one-handed, I guess this isn’t too much of a problem. I still think it asks you to sacrifice accuracy no matter what, and calls upon unusual coordination. When I rented the game way back when, I remember setting the pad on the floor and trying to use my toe to work the D-Pad, without much success. I suppose you could enlist a second player to be your “movement bitch,” but that seems like a weak solution as well.
Ultimately, this is more of a notation than a warning – the system is functional, but it’s awkward, and may not offer enough of a benefit to make it worthwhile. If your aim is true, you won’t need to go back and tag enemies you missed. You’re always going to be moving right to get the enemy flag, and then left to return it, so it’s not like you get much freedom by controlling when the camera shifts.
You have a standard set of 3 lives. Getting shot merely removes one and you continue on uninterrupted. If you have the flag, you’ll even keep it, and can keep pressing on toward your base. And though the enemy can steal your flag, it will only happen because you allowed it. You can casually pick off their carrier as you pass him while returning to your base, and should you miss, being able to control the scroll lets you chase him down with little inconvenience. About the only chance you have for a real challenge is as you progress further, or jump ahead by picking the Advanced difficulty. Reaction times are so slim here that you really have something to work toward if the game grabs your interest.
Graphics are fairly standard NES, with nice depth and decent detail. Enemies present reasonably-sized targets. Camouflage can sometimes be hard to spot, but is always fair. The three battlefields can get tiring after a while, especially since there are only a few places for bad guys to hide. In the later difficulties, this results in one enemy immediately appearing in the same window or tree after the first, which can lead to some obvious frustration.
Each level has its own musical theme, which changes to the same “danger theme” when the enemy has your flag, or a warning riff if someone’s aiming at you. Cracks of shots sound like the default Zapper effect, and that rounds out what you can expect out of the A/V side.
If you owned a Zapper and enjoyed the games, there’d be no reason not to check this one out. It’s got enough of that boardwalk gallery charm to keep Zapper enthusiasts entertained. Unfortunately, that’s where the appeal ends. It’s too repetitive to be generally enjoyable, or keep anyone’s interest for too long. Advanced mode gives you a goal that will require skill to best, but even then, you’ll just be furiously working the same high score challenge.
Unique Zapper title. Capture the flag is a neat hook.
Controlling the camera sometimes helps, frequently doesn’t. Three recycled battlefields and one game type get old quickly.