Gotcha!: The Sport

Publisher: LJN
Year: 1987
Genre: Side-Scroll, Zapper

Gotcha!: The Sport is a paintball capture the flag game based on, apparently, the film Gotcha!, which is in turn based on a variant on live action simulated assassination games, so the departure from source is made all the more conspicuous by the source’s departure from its own source material, and I’ve already talked about the origins of this game more than it deserves. This was a different era. They were willing to make video games out of any movie. We don’t do things like that anymore.

So much punctuation, they couldn't fit it all on just one screen.
So much punctuation, they couldn’t fit it all on just one screen.

You control the game with both the d-pad on the gamepad and the Zapper gun. This isn’t especially clumsy, as it’s relatively easy to hold a Zapper in one hand and manipulate the d-pad with the other, but playing the game made me wonder why they bothered. For one thing, even on the highest difficulty, I had no difficulty simply holding the pad to the right or left (depending on whether I was on my way to get the flag or on my way back from getting it) and shoot the enemies as I went. Heck, on the beginner level I didn’t NEED to shoot them – sometimes, simply by moving continuously, I could outrun them all.

The underground urban paintball scene, as imagined in the 1980's.
The underground urban paintball scene, as imagined in the 1980’s.
 John’s Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0. It might be an interesting novelty experience, but the game doesn’t offer much in the line of variety. On top of that, there are a lot of counter-intuitive quirks, such as ammunition only being reduced by misses (or being shot) and enemy hitboxes that disappear behind soft cover. This might be the sort of game you play once or twice as a curiosity, but it’s not really good for ongoing play.


Publisher: Nintendo
Year: 1986
Genre: Platformer / Zapper

Nowadays, when games experiment with control schemes, it falls into one of three categories: a gimmick, a disaster, or a generally enjoyable novelty. And, if someone does come upon a winner, everyone and their brother wants in on the action. Back in the Nintendo days, however, employing a novel control scheme was a risk that companies – even large companies like Nintendo, were more than willing to take. Frankly, it was one of the most obvious ways to make your game stand out in the crowd – you might not be able, for instance, to make a character as memorable as Mario or even the Battletoads, but you might be able to come up with a unique gameplay element, such as the novel flight control scheme of Joust, and end up being a commercial success despite the absolute absence of any memorable characters whatsoever. Which is why I won’t be too hard on Gumshoe, a game that at least tried to be original.

They just don't make title screens like this anymore. That's a good thing.
They just don’t make title screens like this anymore. That’s a good thing.

In Gumshoe, you control a detective who is looking for the “Black Panther” diamonds, apparently to ransom his kidnapped daughter from some sort of Italian mobster. I’m too lethargic to come up with a racially insensitive joke, so you can just use your imaginations. The diamonds just seem to be lying in street when you come upon them, but that doesn’t seem so important right now. What’s important is that the game is controlled entirely by the Zapper gun, either by shooting obstacles that appear on screen, or by shooting the main character in order to make him jump. There are no other controls. As you progress through the game, you pick up balloons to replenish your ammo, but unless you spam bullets throughout the whole thing, you’ll never get anywhere near running out.

Those balloons, which you cannot shoot, contain bullets. That car and bottle, which you can shoot, contain death.
Those balloons, which you cannot shoot, contain bullets. That car and bottle, which you can shoot, contain death.

John’s Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0. Don’t get me wrong, games with simpler control schemes have been popular even as recently as a few years ago, but, the execution, in this case, is wanting, not to mention the fact that the game digs well into Nintendo Hard territory, with little poison skulls often pressed so close together that there’s no reasonable way to get between them. You might try this game for the novelty or just to have it in your collection, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to get my hands on it.

Wild Gunman

Year: 1985
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Shooting – Zapper

If a certain “certified sane” Floridian lawyer is to be understood and believed, the Nintendo Zapper was, for many children, their first taste of murder and a gateway to the immoral video-game-playing lifestyle. Thus, Wild Gunman was, without a doubt, the first TRUE Nintendo murder simulator, allowing us to finally live out our depraved fantasy of being an officer of the law and bringing violent felons to justice.

This is the end of the innocence...
This is the end of the innocence…

Also, as previously mentioned, when I was a child, the thought of actually shooting a duck was anathema to me. Outlaws and cowboys, on the other hand, were the bread and butter of the “pretending to shoot things” set. If this game had some vastly simplified caricatures of native Americans drawn almost exclusively from stereotypical depictions of the plains Indians, we’d have the triune exemplars of an entire (remarkably brief) era!

Ok, so I admit a bit of bias – as a child I never wanted to be a contemporary police officer (what with the movies depicting drug lords as unstoppable forces with machineguns and real life appearing to confirm this), I would have gladly been the sheriff of a silver mining town, because the movies showed you exactly what to expect from the outlaws: a gun identical to yours in every meaningful way. (Note: I know the “Wild West” wasn’t actually that way, but I choose to ignore this fact because it is boring.)

One of these men is considerably more murder-simulated than the other.
One of these men is considerably more
murder-simulated than the other.

Now, these days, this sort of thing is mini-game fodder: the kind of thing that gets rolled into another game because, heck, why not? Heck, Kirby’s Adventure (a review for another time) has a Wild-Gunman-esque mini game, and that was still Nintendo era. Back in the day, though, simpler crappier games than this would claim a month’s worth of a child’s allowance and entertain him for hours. Simpler times, my friends, simpler times…

The standard mode is a showdown where you are forbidden to shoot until your opponent draws. (As a child, I always wondered why you couldn’t be the one who gets to draw first, mostly because I was pretty sure the zapper worked on MAGIC and would KNOW when I pointed it at the screen, but I digress). Once you’ve mastered that, and you will (unless you have the reflexes of a sea slug) you can upgrade to two outlaws, which is probably a little more than twice as hard. Finally, when you think you’ve tackled that, you can take on a whole gang of outlaws who appear, shooting-gallery style, in the various windows and entryways of a saloon.

I think that the most important thing to note about this game is that it’s all in how you play it. Sure, you could sit there, Zapper in hand, ready to fire the moment the game indicated that it was your turn to draw, but that completely ignores the opportunity for self-imposed challenge that this game represents. As far as I’m concerned, you aren’t actually playing Wild Gunman unless you tuck the Zapper into the waistband of your pants and stand in front-facing horse stance, taunting your computerized opponent until the screen barks “DRAW!” and you whip out your sixgun to make mincemeat of the outlaws! YEAH!

John’s Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0, though I anticipate a veritable shitstorm for daring to rate this as high as both Hogan’s Alley and Duck Hunt. Frankly, this game provides more atmosphere and an opportunity for a bit of role-playing that I didn’t really find in either of those games. The only thing it lacks is some sort of two-player mode, which makes sense because, frankly, how the heck would you pull that off?

Hogan’s Alley

Year: 1985
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Shooting – Zapper

Growing up I wanted to be a great many things. I wanted to be an engineer, I wanted to own a pet shop, I wanted to be an investment banker (no, really) – a great many things. I never once, though, wanted to be an officer of the law. You know why? Because people shoot them!

We can’t all be fearless civil servants after all.

Continue reading “Hogan’s Alley”

Duck Hunt

Year: 1985
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Shooting – Zapper

Duck hunt is a classic. Let’s get that out of the way right now. The reason that Duck Hunt is a classic really doesn’t have a lot to do with how good the game is, but rather the fact that, for most of us, it was the only reason that our NES came bundled with a Zapper.

One duck or two?
Guns don’t kill people, at least not in early NES games. They kill ducks, which are actually more endearing than a lot of people.

Continue reading “Duck Hunt”