Don’t be a sitting duck – tool up with the NES Zapper and get hunting

duckhunt2

Duck Hunt (1987)

I’m gonna let you in on a secret that makes me look equal parts softy and petty: I had to block someone from my social media sites because they kept presenting photos of ducks that they’d shot on hunting trips. You already know that I all but crumbled when given a gun to shoot, so there’s no way I could turn a shooter on a nice little ducky. We once had to dissect a sheep’s heart in Biology class and I couldn’t even hack the idea of putting a knife into it. So how could I give both barrels to little Huey, Dewey or Louie?

If the theory of reincarnatioon as a reward for living a charitable life holds any water (and it can’t, or I wouldn’t have come back as myself), then I’d love my next roll of the dice to be as a duck. They can fly in the air, swim through cold water, and waddle about on the ground. They’ve got bundles of nice down and feathers to keep them warm – must be as comfy as your nicest duffel coat.

And crucially you’ll be the envy of all the local mammies, because whenever you see a mother duck she’ll always have her ducklings in a perfect circle all around her. Until a tragic gust of wind blows a few duckies off course, but so long as they don’t get swept down a drain, then no harm, right?

Mind you, I’m a terrible hypocrite because duck dishes from the Chinese are delicious. Isn’t that just the duality of man? Recognising the preciousness of life, but being more concerned with how it tastes. It’s no wonder the dogs go mad for ducks either, since dogs love a good feed. This natural relationship has given rise to the name of many’s a rural pub, although The Dog and The Duck is hardly the most symbiotic relationship I can think of. A bit stacked against the poor duckies, I would think.

And maybe a dog is the man you want, if you don’t like ducks at all. But if you really must shoot them, why not do it in a virtual setting? Duck Hunt for NES doesn’t have blood, there’s no health-packs, no terrorists, no explosions. It mightn’t sound like the most compelling prospect for a shooting game nowadays, but what we’re looking at here is one of the most well-known shooters of all time, and easily the most famous light-gun game of them all. Even ahead of Time Crisis or House of the Dead, or that Revolution X game where you need to save Aerosmith from the Nazis. I know you don’t believe me, so look it up – it happened, and it was dreadful.

Any hunter needs his or her tools with them, and I don’t mean their companions. This isn’t The Deer Hunter, you won’t have Christopher Walken in the background mouthing off. Get equipped with the NES Zapper, the classic grey plastic gun that came with zillions of NES sets, alongside one of the most versatile pack-in games ever: the Super Mario Bros / Duck Hunt double cart. Almost every NES owner had this, and it was a great deal: any time you’re bored jumping and bounding through the Mushroom Kingdom, you can wind down with a bit of shooting instead.

It’s a nice piece of technology, the NES Zapper – simple but brilliant, as all tech ought to be. Pull the trigger and revel in its distinctive, clunky, spring-loaded sound. Assuming the thing still works, then your TV screen will go all dark for a moment. Only your target remains, now represented by a white shape, and if the gun lines up with this shape, it registers as a hit.

You might think that the gun fires some sort of laser or something wildly cool like that, but I believe the Zapper actually just takes this white light into a photosensitive receptor somewhere in the gun’s barrel. That’s why almost everyone quickly figured out that you could get perfect accuracy against the darn ducks if you just held the gun up against a lamp or something like that. Or, of course, you could shoot your eyes to hell by bringing the gun as close to the TV screen as possible.

It doesn’t matter anyway because you’ll have a real job trying to get your Zapper working these days. It simply won’t work on modern TVs, something to do with refresh rates or their flat-screened-ness, so that’s that. Terrible to miss out on the likes of Duck Hunt and Hogan’s Alley, but having access to HD Babestation is a decent trade-off, one supposes.

There’s always a savage bit of satisfaction when you hit the ducks onscreen, even if I hate to say it. If you bottle out, though, and miss all of the ducks, then your trusty companion dog won’t waste a second popping up and laughing at you. That’s when you really turn feral and try to turn your weapon on the beast that mocked you But try as you might, you’ll never be able to slay the dog.

Or will you? We ended up getting the Dog and the Duck together as the Duck Hunt Duo in Smash Bros. It was exactly the kind of left-field, wild selection that Smash Bros is known for, and I don’t mind telling you that their inclusion is what led to me buying the Smash Bros. Wii U game (as if I wasn’t going to already). No kidding, I simply had to have that dog. I’m not even a dog obsessive, but how can you resist a cheeky, long-eared spaniel? Even if it’s done nothing over the years to correct its terrible habit of laughing at you for doing something wrong.

Also, if you’re cursed with the burden of having a Wii U in your possession, you can download Duck Hunt onto it that’ll work with the Wii Zapper. Pretty nifty conversion actually, I’m not quite sure how they managed to map the light gun’s inputs to the Wii Remote. And the Remote doesn’t give you a satisfying click when you pull the trigger, but you always have the option. Of course, the game barely holds up anymore, you’ll get maybe ten minutes out of it. And you can’t cheat anymore and you still can’t shoot the mutt either.

I don’t particularly enjoy the idea of putting bullets in dogs anyway, to be honest. You can do it with a revolver in Metal Gear Solid 3, if you really fancy it. But if you’re on the squeamish side, you can leave the dogs and ducks aside altogether and go for the clay pigeon shooting mode instead. They don’t much look like pigeons to me, more like particularly fragile frisbees, but it makes proceedings a bit more classy.

Clay pigeon is the type of shooting you do on country estates, when you’re wearing your best tweed and you’ll be breaking for elevenses shortly after putting on a jolly good show for all the other viscounts. The only problem is that clay pigeon shooting won’t give you an opportunity to show off how good a marksman you are – if you want to be able to indulge in some proper back-slappery, you need to line up a row of dead ducks, and take a picture of them to prove you did it. But what they’ll never show is their companion dog, laughing at how bad some of the shots were. There’s my advice to you – never give your dog an opportunity to have a giggle at you.

10 July 2020

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