In video games, you can be anything you want to be. And wrapping your hand around a light gun is one of the fastest ways to pull the trigger on reality.
Arcade cabinets and home consoles alike gave us an arsenal of light guns that made the experience more immersive and real. You weren’t just shooting at pixels on a screen or playing from your neighbourhood’s dingy arcade. You were a V.S.S.E agent trying to save the world, or a cyborg fighting against Skynet.
The possibilities were endless, enabled in part by wildly varying designs. Light gun makers have never been afraid to experiment and innovate, and that freedom has given us some pretty awesome–and odd–light guns. Below are just some of the most noteworthy shooters we’ve seen over the years.
Long before genre-defining titles like Duck Hunt and Time Crisis, there was Seeburg Ray-O-Lite. Created in 1934, the game worked by shooting rays of light–hence the name–at ducks which hid light-sensing tubes. The game is commonly credited to be the first one to use a light gun.
The game’s gun was shaped like a large hunting rifle. While quite plain, the technology behind it would go on to power gun peripherals for the better part of the era, although the targets at the end of the barrel quickly changed from ducks to more whimsical ones like a chicken-stealing hobo.
Due to regulations like the Federal Toy Gun Law in the US and the Violent Crime Reduction Act in the UK, manufacturers aren’t allowed to create realistic imitation guns. That’s why light guns that sell with consoles now are either cartoonishly bright, or look so convoluted no one would mistake them for a gun in the first place. No such concern existed back in 1973, when the first light gun was made for the Magnavox Odyssey’s Shooting Gallery.
The Magnavox Odyssey was released in the UK in 1973. For most, it was their first taste of home console gaming. It also introduced the world to the first ever gun peripheral for video games: a pump-action shotgun that looked almost like the real thing. You even had to cock it! The Odyssey’s gun is probably the most realistic, official light gun you’ll find, and it was a beauty, with its silver trigger and faux-wood stock.
No light gun screams “Pew!” “Pew!” quite like the NES Zapper. Designed looking like it fell right out of the Star Wars universe, the gun looked right at home in an 80s obsessed with ray guns and sci-fi movies. Duck Hunt, which is possibly the most popular Zapper game, has become an iconic title, with its characters appearing as playable characters on Super Smash Bros. Some people are still trying to bring the Zapper to LED or OLED TVs.
The Zapper’s popularity led to manufacturers making accessories for it. These add-ons range from the relatively normal for guns, like the Deluxe Sighting Scope, to ambitious and a little ridiculous, like Konami’s voice-activated LaserScope. The LaserScope was a headset with an eyepiece that would trigger every time the player yelled “Fire!”.
Nintendo looked at the success that was the sleek, small Zapper, ran the opposite direction, and made Super Scope for the SNES. This half a metre long light gun was so hardcore that it wasn’t enough to play regular Tetris, you had to play Blastris–a version of the puzzler that swapped carefully rotating blocks for blowing up tiles to make patterns fit.
The Super Scope: Part light gun, part shoulder workout (Source: Wikipedia)
The selection of titles for the SNES behemoth wasn’t great. It was only compatible with a short list of games, none of which were particularly big hits. But does it really matter? It’s a huge light gun shaped like a bazooka. You had to prop it up your shoulder and look through a scope to aim, which is as over the top and tiring as it sounds.
No light gun or shooting game best of all time list would be complete without Time Crisis and the G-Con 45. While the game arrived late to the arcade scene when it first released in 1995, it still became insanely popular and until now remains a favourite in many arcade bars.
Can you hear the clacking? (Source: Wikipedia)
The G-Con 45 is nondescript, even boring compared to the Super Scope. But due to the popularity of the Time Crisis franchise, it’s probably one of the most well-known gun peripherals today. The gun’s satisfying force feedback also made play more realistic. Unfortunately, units made for the PlayStation had to drop the recoil feature to make it more affordable.
Eager to hit bullseye again, Nintendo came out with the Wii Zapper in 2007. But whilst the original NES Zapper looks like a cool ray gun, this descendant looks more like a pesticide spray. Performance and accuracy also weren’t the best. Because the controller is actually just a Wii remote holder, players complained about the new Zapper making for shakier aim.
The Wii Zapper–a shot that missed its mark (Source: Wikipedia)
One good thing the Wii Zapper did, though, was create a demand for better gun peripherals for the Wii. And third-party manufacturers were quick on the draw, making alternatives like the no-frills Perfect Shot from Nyko and the incredibly cool Dark Ops from Cobalt Flux. The Dark Ops gun was particularly notable, as it fixed shaky aim problems by using light-bending technology to aim the gun instead of the remote.