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CONSOLE: NES DEVELOPER: Nintendo PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): October 18, 1985 GENRE: Light Gun Shooter
// review by Jeff

25 years later, and that chortling dog still isn't dead.

If you ever owned an NES, you know darn well what Duck Hunt is. It's that bonus game that came packed into every NES ever released in the later 1980s alongside Super Mario Bros. Admit it: you bought the NES for Super Mario Bros., but it just happened to come with a Zapper and Duck Hunt as an extra digital treat. (I'm waiting to hear responses from the younger audience, asking what a Zapper or an NES is.) But Duck Hunt should not necessarily be shunned as merely a mediocre pack-in title designed as a technical demo to show off how "awesome" light gun technology is. In fact, this may be one of the most philosophically apt games on the market to date.

Okay, I'm lying.

But it's not all bad! Honest!

Okay, I'm lying again. Duck Hunt hardly qualifies as excitement galore. But it WAS pretty impressive back in the mid-1980s. Let's take the time to play some quality Duck Hunt, shall we? Let's plug in our sexy orange Zapper into the first controller port, and a regular NES controller into the second. Choose Duck Hunt (though we are all tempted to play Super Mario Bros. instead), and we're on our way to ethereal enjoyment. Of ducks. You can choose between three different modes of play, two of which are very similar. The first is "ONE DUCK", where you only have to aim and shoot down one duck at a time. "TWO DUCKS" has you going after two ducks simultaneously. Finally, there is "CLAY SHOOTING", in which clay pigeons are tossed into the distance, two at a time, and you must fire away and break them. Pretty exciting, eh? Let's play a hearty round of "ONE DUCK".

So a sniffing dog wanders into the marsh and suddenly detects a scent. Duck à l'orange, perhaps. He hops into the bushes and flushes out those pesky mallards. As it flies out, you're expected to shoot it down. You only get three shots per bird, so make them count. Fire that Zapper! Kill those ducks! If you succeed, gravity will take its toll and the dog will hold up your prey in victory. Fail... and the damn dog laughs at you. Mankind has desired to gain the ability to mutilate that canine for a quarter of a century now, only being able to do so through third-party Flash animations. And that's pretty much the object of the game. Each round has 10 ducks, and you must kill a certain amount of ducks to progress to the next round. And, of course, the ducks increase in speed as time goes by. Same goes for the "TWO DUCK" mode: two ducks, three bullets, dog will laugh. That's it. Oh, and you earn points, but who really cares about that anymore?

Then, of course, there is the beloved "CLAY SHOOTING" mode. The dog has taken a leave of absence, and instead, you get to look over a bland (but more picturesque than much of the area where I live) valley scene. Get your Zapper ready as clay pigeons are thrown into the distance, two by two. Shoot 'em down, and you win! As in the other game modes, the number of clay pigeons you must destroy increases, and their speed increases (much to the chagrin of the fellow tossing them).

So, what's the secret to the game? Put your Zapper directly at the TV screen and shoot the duck as he passes by. That's the way I used to do it when I realized I had poor aim as a child, and it's a method I will continue to use until I die (or my NES dies, which is a much more feasible scenario). Also, you can use that other controller to move the duck (in "ONE DUCK" mode only)! Just make sure you have a friend or a very well-oriented big toe handy, and you'll be able to guide ducks right into your line of fire. I also hear you can just point the Zapper directly at a light bulb and always hit, but I have yet to test out that theory.

Duck Hunt. It's not eye candy. The sounds are classic yet unimpressive. The control scheme is primitive (though it still serves as a prominent predecessor to the Super Scope and the beloved Wiimote). The excitement is relatively minimal. Still, it's a classic. It won't be remembered as fondly in the NES library as Super Mario Bros. or Legend of Zelda (partially because this game won't work on any LCD or plasma-screen TVs, so if you live in the home of a futurist, you won't be able to experience this blast from the past). But Duck Hunt was pretty cool back in the 1980s, and it offers more of a nostalgic trip to when technology was pretty tame than any real fulfilling gaming experience. It's fun for a short while, but I won't recommend it to people on any particular merits.


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