That Damn Dog is Still Laughing: Duck Hunt Turns 30
Many of you may have remembered that the Family Computer system, which is the Japanese original version of the NES known as the Famicom, debuted overseas two years prior to the Nintendo Entertainment System's North American debut. The NES and Famicom did extremely well in their markets, ultimately outselling all other video game competition on the scene combined well into the late '80s. Now that we remembered how Nintendo brought the dying video game market back to life with the Famicom/NES, it's time to reminiscence about the company's first game that made us want to pull our hair out, Duck Hunt, and it certainly wouldn't be the last.
One of our favorite launch titles for the Nintendo Entertainment System was Duck Hunt, which was often combined in the same Game Pak with Super Mario Bros. depending on what kind of Nintendo Entertainment System bundle you purchased during the 1980s, which would also include the NES Zapper light gun. Many of the home Pong consoles popularized throughout the 1970s usually came with a light gun and/or steering wheel accessory attached to the system itself like some kind of Frankenstein of
crappy early game ports. Those light guns were about as reliable as you'd expect, though the ones featured in arcades prior to the NES Zapper were much more accurate. At the same time, arcade light guns often had wear and tear from constant use.
The NES Zapper would function like how most other light guns did in conjunction with their games: you would fire the gun at your TV/arcade machine and the screen would go blank for a split second. During this moment, the screen would be all black except for the areas that the game had shootable targets on display during that specific frame (either in the form of bad guys or in Duck Hunt's case, ducks), which would often be represented by a white square/rectangle or some other bright color. The gun barrel actually had a sensor, called a photodiode, that would detect if you're properly aiming at one of these lightened areas as the gun was being fired. If you were, the shot registered and the game would react accordingly. Most light gun games gave you a very limited number of shots in order to avoid overloading or confusing the photodiode and trying to keep the game relatively fair. Unfortunately, most older light guns can't work with modern TVs. This would be a video game peripheral technology we would see perpetuate and slightly improve all the way from the SNES Super Scope down to the Time Crisis arcade series.
Duck Hunt featured three different game modes. Game modes A and B were comprised of duck hunting, whereas C featured clay target shooting (I remember thinking they were UFOs when I was a child). Game A would have a single duck target each round and Game B would have two at the same time. In Game A, a second player could alter the trajectory of the duck's flight path using an NES controller.
Duck Hunt was actually the first game I ever played. I remember being all psyched as a child that I had gotten an NES and I put the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt Game Pak into the console without even bothering about the Zapper. I started hitting buttons, picked Duck Hunt randomly and was completely oblivious to the point of the game — I was simply enthralled by what I was seeing and hearing. That iconic Duck Hunt melody will always be remembered as a part of my first video game experience with a home console. Unfortunately, so is that damn dog.
Every round of Duck Hunt starts off with your hound companion sniffing around and then hopping into the background's bushes, suggesting that he's found you a group of ducks to shoot. Depending on your game mode, the duck(s) would then appear and fly around on screen for about 15 seconds or so, and you only had three shots each round to take 'em down. Each time you shot a duck, it would fall to the ground and the dog would pick it up. If you took too long or if you missed all of your bullets for the round, the ducks would fly away, and your canine companion would laugh at you with one of the most annoying sound bytes in the history of gaming. It's unforgettable because the game blew my mind as a child and I kept coming back for more, regardless of the dog's taunts. It's also why I didn't feel bad about the ending of Old Yeller.
For all the modern gamers who dismiss Nintendo for trying to make "gimmicky" games, it's kind of been doing that from the beginning. The Zapper proved to be the best of its kind, inspiring Atari and Sega to add light guns to their own consoles after Nintendo's success. Regardless of the dog's mocking, Duck Hunt remains a pivotal piece of Nintendo's history. So much so, that they even brought him back as a playable character in the most recent Smash Bros. entry. I still hate him though.