Gather round and hear the tale of two Zappers and their sister games.
Duck Hunt is a game of humble origins. Most known for being packaged with the original Nintendo Entrainment System, Duck Hunt was regarded by many as “the other game on the Super Mario Bros. cartridge”. This was not an unfair assessment. Duck Hunt is very limited: you can shoot one duck, two ducks, or two clay pigeons. You have three bullets available for every round, and every level includes ten targets. And… that’s it. That’s the entire game. There is no “final boss”, no unlockable expert mode, nor even any more than two backgrounds. Duck Hunt is just Duck Hunt, and you can experience pretty much the entire game inside of thirty seconds.
It also seems to be one of the most highly regarded shooting videogames of all time. And if it isn’t number one universally, it’s certainly the most popular Nintendo ever had to offer.
Then there’s Link’s Crossbow Training. Putting aside the worst name conceivable (“training” is kind of a watch word with most gamers), LCT is pretty robust. Every one of Link’s nine levels consists of three separate stages with three unique challenges. While all the events feature shooting of some kind (that is rather the point), these challenges can vary wildly, from simple target practice to more diverse “Link defense” style sessions. The most interesting stages are likely the run ‘n gun stages that, basically, attempt to turn The Legend of Zelda into a First Person Shooter.
In fact, according to developer interviews, Link’s Crossbow Training started with the concept of making the FPS genre (then pretty much dominating the West with the likes of Halo) more palpable to Asian markets. I’m not certain why anyone thought Link treading the same ground as Samus Aran Prime would make that much of a difference, but I suppose the elf is a system seller. Whatever the reason, it appears that Link’s Crossbow Training started its development as a much more complicated creature, but eventually shed much of its content before becoming, essentially, a hardware demo.
Link’s Crossbow Training was packaged with the Wii Zapper, a controller peripheral that, unlike some other odd Nintendo peripherals, should have been a slam dunk. The Wii was the most popular video game system in history, and it gained much of that popularity thanks to a reliance on “real” gameplay. You know how to bowl, right? Just swing your arm like this, release about there, and, see? You use this WiiMote just like you would with a real bowling ball, and that’s the game! Grandpa loves it! Similarly, the “Wii Gun” should have sold like gangbusters, because it would work on the exact same principle. Guns are “easy” because they’re just point and shoot, which is perfect for the Wii. Except… the Wii Zapper was about as popular as the Virtual Boy, and Link’s Crossbow Training went down with it.
Now, the most immediately obvious culprit for the Neo Zapper’s failure would likely be its design. Take a look at this thing…
It doesn’t exactly scream “gun”. It has a trigger, yes, but its attempt to incorporate the Wii Nunchuk into the design absolutely destroys the typical weapon silhouette. And speaking of the ‘chuck, the Wii Zapper may have been packaged with a game, but it didn’t come with an “actual” controller, so you were dropping a Jackson on an oddly shaped hunk of plastic. The Wii Zapper was never required for anything, and, complete with the Wiimote’s natural “trigger”, you could easily make the argument that the Zapper was never necessary. I always say that people don’t buy new gaming consoles because they want something new, they buy new systems because they’re required to play new games. The same could be said of peripherals, because who wants to buy (and learn!) a new device just for the hell of it? People hate new things!
But if you really want to understand why Link’s Crossbow Training and the Wii Zapper failed, go back and play old school Duck Hunt, and see why that’s still the gold standard.
Incidentally, when I say “play old school Duck Hunt”, I mean you should trash your 70” flat screen, forsake the virtual console, and break out the old, fat cathode ray tube television of a bygone era. Assuming your spine isn’t crushed lugging out the ol’ cube, you will find a very different Duck Hunt from what is available on the WiiU. For the unaware, the NES Zapper requires an ancient television because its “light gun” technology is based entirely on that familiar screen flash seen during Zapper games, so, when there’s modern TV lag involved, the ducks become more invincible than a chain chomp. But without lag, there’s instant feedback on your duck murdering abilities, and you know how well you’re shooting practically as soon as you pull the trigger. There’s that feeling of delayed satisfaction on the WiiU, and there’s no “flash” on that version, either. Couple that with a squishy Wiimote trigger (as opposed to the NES Zapper’s resistant plastic), and you’ve got a dramatically less visceral experience.
You’re shooting a “gun” in both versions, but only the NES boasts the feeling of a gun.
And it’s a situation where the subconscious notices something is different (whether it be right or wrong), and you innately react accordingly. Take a look at the difference here…
There are ducks bearing down on you, threatening your family and eating up your bread like they own the place. Choose your weapon. The winner? It’s inevitably the pistols, and not whatever that white thing is supposed to be. And what the hell is that wannabe bazooka?
Taken on its own, Link’s Crossbow Training is a subjectively better game than Duck Hunt. It’s a video game in every sense of the word, while Duck Hunt comes off as more of a toy. Link’s Crossbow Training is a game of football, Duck Hunt is a cup tied to a ball on a string. But Duck Hunt is always going to be more remembered and revered, because it was right on target with its peripheral and gameplay. Duck Hunt may be limited, but what it does, it does absolutely flawlessly.
Link’s Crossbow Training is a flawed game. Duck Hunt is a perfect experience.
FGC #119 Link’s Crossbow Training & Duck Hunt
- System: Duck Hunt is for the NES, though it’s now been rereleased for the WiiU. Link’s Crossbow Training is exclusively for the Wii, though it would make perfect sense for it to resurface on the WiiU… if anyone liked it.
- Number of Players: Duck Hunt is obviously at its best when you’re competing against fellow hunters (and not just that stupid dog). Link’s Crossbow Training supports multiple players… but oddly, not one single human being has ever suggested doing such a thing.
- Retrocade: Partial credit for this article goes to my buddy Sean, who hosted a… what’s the proper noun here… Duck Hunt Orgy at local event Beerfest last weekend or so. He was very quick to identify why Duck Hunt still draws a crowd, even after three decades. Sean is also my (video game) dealer, so you might be able to credit him for much more of this blog.
- Speaking of Zappers: Did anyone ever try Konami’s LaserScope? You know, their NES Zapper alternative headset that required shouting to fire? That thing sounded absolutely insane, even to Kiddy Goggle Bob.
- Duck Hunt Memories: My childhood neighbors had a NES before I did, and Duck Hunt was frequently the game of choice. Due to… disagreements… there was a pillow on the floor a very measured length away from the TV, and, if you were paying Duck Hunt, you had to stay within the bounds of the pillow. Moving the pillow for any reason (even vacuuming) was grounds for expulsion from the continent.
- Number of times we tried to shoot the dog: ∞. Where’s Duck Hunt Vs. when you need it?
- Favorite Link’s Crossbow Training Stage: There’s a level where you can shoot Ooccas… but you’re penalized for shooting them. This is the secret reason LCT is a failure.
- Did you know? Supposedly Miyamoto himself suggested that, in order to justify the “gun” mechanic in a Zelda game, the game that would be Link’s Crossbow Training could feature a Link that accidently time traveled to a future epoch. This idea was, sadly, rejected immediately.
- Would I play again? Duck Hunt is a yes; Link’s Crossbow Training is a no. I probably could have said that before even playing either game, but replaying Link’s Crossbow Training really drove home how… forgettable the entire experience can be. All the parts are there, it just never… clicks. The NES Zapper, however, clicks spectacularly and often.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Lego Star Wars the Video Game! Featuring adorable minifig Darth Maul! Please look forward to it!