Released: October 1985
US Cartridge ID: NES-DH-USA
Supported Peripherals: Zapper, Controller
ROM Size: 192 kilobit
Mapper: NROM-128 (16k PRG, 8k CHR)
Appearing amongst the first wave of games to see release in America with the launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985, Duck Hunt was a creation of the Nintendo R&D1 development group, responsible for some of Nintendo’s heaviest hitting games (Kid Icarus, Metroid) and its influential portable gaming hardware (GameBoy, VirtualBoy) developed throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Being the direct descendant of Nintendo’s 1976 projector-based Laser Clay Shooting System game Beam Gun: Duck Hunt, the classic NES Zapper game serves as a nod of recognition to one of Nintendo’s earliest successes in the electronic gaming market.
As a game that came bundled with every NES model that included a light gun, Duck Hunt was destined to become the most well recognized and best selling game that required the attachment to ever be released on Nintendo’s 8-bit deck. Duck Hunt originally could be purchased as a stand-alone commercial title the day of the NES launch, or it could be had as a pack-in game included with the NES Deluxe Set (bundled with a gray Zapper, R.O.B., Gyromite, and two controllers). Due to the relative obscurity and high price of the Deluxe Set, most players did not become personally acquainted with Duck Hunt until the release of the sensationally popular Action Set in 1988, featuring a cartridge that hosted both Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros. together with the now iconic fluorescent orange Zapper, and the less common Power Set, which added World Class Track Meet to the double-game cartridge and included a PowerPad in addition to the gun and the controllers.
Duck Hunt features three game modes, all of which are controlled primarily by the Zapper light gun plugged into the NES’ second controller port. The modes most fans are familiar with, Games A and B, present the would-be hunter with a first-person view of a grassy field. Each round begins with the hunter’s trusty bloodhound sniffing out the ducks’ hiding places, excitedly barking as he launches himself toward them. As the ducks are sent flying from the tall grasses, the player must aim at and shoot the ill-fated targets as they scramble to get away. If successful, the wide-eyed and broken-winged bird drops to the ground with a thud, and the dog will hold it up, a look of smug satisfaction plastered across his face. If the player fails, by either using up all three provided rifle rounds before hitting the target, or by not shooting the duck before it can make its escape, the dog will pop out of the grass to laugh at the hunter for his incompetence.
Each round sends ten ducks out for the player to shoot. In Game A, only one duck will appear at a time, but the more challenging Game B sends them out in pairs. The ducks fly faster and more erratically as the game progresses, and the minimum number of ducks hit in a round to qualify for the next increases steadily until a single miss results in a game over. The difficulty, however, could be directly influenced by a player manning the controller – the flight path of the panicked birds can be manipulated with the D-pad of the controller, allowing for cooperative teamwork (where the ducks are purposely led to a corner for easy pickin’s), or competitive (where the player wielding the D-pad makes life difficult through purposely misleading flight paths).
The third game mode, Clay Shooting, is a fairly accurate representation of the real-life sport, featuring pairs of clay pigeons that must be shot as they are launched into the air, becoming smaller and harder to hit as they recede further into the distance.
Though impossibly simplistic by modern standards, Duck Hunt was an impressive piece of engineering to the average consumer in the mid/late 1980s. The Zapper’s ability to accurately pinpoint where the gun was aimed allowed the player to feel less removed from the game itself: the input method was intuitive, comfortable, and required no explanation nor complex instructions, especially when compared to the abstract controller presses required by most other games. This concept was compromised only by the sheer ingenuity demonstrated by sore losers: it didn’t take long for kids everywhere to discover that the game was much easier if the gun was put up against the television screen, or that the tech behind the light gun could be exploited by aiming the barrel directly at a light bulb, fooling the game into registering every shot as a successful hit.
Duck Hunt‘s breezy and lighthearted presentation successfully obscures the inherently violent nature of hunting while making the game a blast to play. The backdrop is a simple combination of bright colors and clean lines, and the dog’s energetic alacrity makes him an endearing yet hilariously arrogant companion. The music and sound effects are among the best of Nintendo’s early efforts, with loud gun shots and digitized barking and quacking sounds accompanying the infinitely memorable ditties played at regular intervals. While it could be argued that Duck Hunt doesn’t constitute much more than an over-glorified tech demo, the personality inherent in every element of the presentation elevates it significantly. Like most other arcade games of the era, there is no end, and the point of the game was to have fun while improving on previous high scores.
Even when removed several decades from the era in which it inspired awe, Duck Hunt‘s self-aware, charismatically tongue-in-cheek atmosphere inoffensively shapes it as a personable and inviting experience. The simple mechanics and control scheme provide enough accessibility that anyone, regardless of prior experience with games, can meaningfully participate, and the grueling challenge of the later rounds will inspire hardcore gamers to go “just one more level” in hopes of topping their previous accomplishments. Regardless of the sheer dearth of content, as a shining example of how less can be more, Duck Hunt represents simplicity at its best.
|ダックハント (Dakku Hanto)
|Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt
|Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt
|Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt / World Class Track Meet