Duck Hunt to Deadstorm Pirates: A Brief History of the Light Gun

When I first played Duck Hunt on the NES with a Light gun I was enraptured. Nintendo called it the Zapper. You could call it Witchcraft. Duck Hunt wasn’t the greatest game but the core mechanic was so compelling that it never became tiresome. Most of all I simply couldn’t understand how it worked. If you looked down the barrel it gave little away. It felt magical. For many years I would play any arcade game with a Light gun, spending hours on Time Crisis, Operation Wolf, Area 51, Point Blank, Virtua Cop and Silent Scope. Silent Scope was probably my favourite. In the arcade the experience was brash more visceral and much much louder; the games rumbling and buzzing with haptic feedback usually surrounded by a small crowd.

Light gun cabinets were the Rockstars of the arcades.

House of the Dead 2 on Dreamcast was the pinnacle of the home light gun experience. The gun housed a rumble pack and VMU and featured a D-Pad by the thumb. The current Sony Sharpshooter delivers the same experience. HOTD2 was a rattling creaky on rails shooter devoid of plot (apart from Zombie infestation of course!), terribly scripted and bordering on non-sensical. It didn’t matter. The fatigue endured in your right shoulder was forgotten and there was always an aching desire to play one more time.

Most home console experiences are utterly divorced from their arcade cousins. A vanilla representation of the Arcade experience, few games deliver a raw thrill. Light gun games come closest (closely followed by fighting games: for a recent example play Marvel vs Capcom 3). A kid growing up without the Arcade experience, is like never seeing a live band.

When Sony announced Move the light gun junkie inside me screamed. It looked like the logical next step. Sure, the guns aren’t allowed to look like guns anymore but it looked like it would deliver an amazing light gun experience. It does, the tracking is sublime, the response times like nothing else. Move delivers with The Shoot and Time Crisis: Razing Storm. Time Crisis: RS features a gem: Deadstorm Pirates. The two-seater arcade cabinet features a ship’s wheel and guns that are part cannon, part gatling gun. Deadstorm Pirates follows the tested Light Gun formula of terrible plot, awful voice acting and over prescriptive prompts. On Move these are painfully apparent. Very quickly Move reveals something. Gun games are shallow, they’ve always been shallow but at home in HD with a million other possible diversions, they’ve lost the crowd. The FPS made them obsolete.

In the post-Kinect era Move feels old, holding a controller pretending to fire a gun doesn’t hold the same thrill it had over a decade ago.

Wielding plastic no longer empowers: it restricts and inhibits.

Killzone 3 and the Sharpshooter are trying to advance the FPS by bolting a light gun mechanic into the game. All that seems to do is induce fatigue and decrease accuracy. Years from now sports therapists will be dealing with SharpShooter shoulder like they deal with RSI now. By plundering the historical back catalogue of Video Games platform holders are trying to make something old feel new again. The continuous iterations of bowling and tennis are enough to clearly illustrate that point. The mainstream aren’t going to fall for the ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ of Third Generation consoles. Time has marched on.

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