Duck Hunt (NES)
Developer: Nintendo R&D 1
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Played as a child? Yes
Price: $1.74 (used)
Famicom Version? Yes, as Dakku Hanto
Digital Release? No
Duck Hunt is one of those games that should need no introduction. On the other hand I speak with eager retro gamers every day that didn’t get started until the Playstation or N64 era and especially with modern HDTVs being incompatible with light guns, Duck Hunt is yet again just another classic title lost in the shuffle. Back when the NES released there wasn’t a console out that didn’t have a copy of Duck Hunt, usually in a hybrid cart with Super Mario Bros. This game is a light gun shooter that has you hunting for ducks, just as the name suggests. Additionally there was a skeet shooting alternative to blasting live ducks, which had increased difficulty and was PETA approved. Unfortunately there’s no getting around the fact that this title gets repetitive, and boring, fast.
Duck Hunt was designed as a launch title for the NES that would release concurrently with a light gun peripheral, the Zapper. While it had different goals and release schedules in Japan, making a light gun peripheral and game for the NES was crucial along with R.O.B. the Robot in convincing the United States that the NES was not a video game, but a toy. This is why Duck Hunt isn’t all that fun, nor is it all that complex, because everyone had it as a pack-in to convince Americans the NES wasn’t a video game. Duck Hunt was developed by Nintendo Research and Development (R&D) 1, a mostly hardware based department responsible for the Zapper as well. The producer on the project was Gunpei Yokoi, notable as the creator of the Game & Watch series and later the Gameboy, which helps to explain Duck Hunt‘s simple but addictive design. Duck Hunt released in 1985 but by 1986 it was packaged with Super Mario Bros. and offered in the holiday release “Action Set” as a staple for almost all NES console sales. It would later be included on the triple game cart Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt/World Class Track Meet when both the Zapper and Power Pad became standard pack-ins for the NES.
More iconic than the game itself is the colorful hunting dog that accompanies you. He has no true name but is often referred to as “hunting dog” or “laughing dog” and he appears in both Game A and Game B mode – Game A has you shooting one duck at a time, Game B you shoot two ducks at a time, and the final mode, Game C has you shooting two skeet at a time. The hunting dog appears at the beginning of every level, sniffing the ground, and jumps into the grass to weed out the ducks. As you shoot down each duck he appears with the dead duck in hand. His nickname of “laughing dog” stems from the annoying laugh and snicker on his face that happens anytime you let a duck get by. I don’t find him that bad, nor do I find doing poorly at Duck Hunt annoying in the least, but large games media outlets have labeled the dog as one of the most annoying game characters of all time. While many claim his annoyance spawns the desire to shoot the dog, I think it’s more about any gamer’s desire to shoot any and everything on screen when playing a light gun shooter. In the NES version you cannot shoot the dog, but it was possible to do in the arcade port, Vs. Duck Hunt, that featured a singed dog as the result of pulling the trigger on him. Additionally this very same dog could be shot in the obscure NES light gun game Barker Bill’s Trick Shooting, named after a 50s television show, where the point of a game is ironically not to shoot the dog. Love him or hate him, the Duck Hunt dog is easily the most memorable part of the game.
Duck Hunt was many gamers’ first experience with a light gun and despite its simple nature and annoying co-star, it holds a special place in the hearts of most retro gamers. While I’m not all that fond of the game, and I have yet to pull off the daunting task of completing Round 99 to see the built-in kill screen, it was the catalyst for my love of light gun games. Although it’s possible, you will have a hard time acquiring a copy of Super Mario Bros. on the NES without a copy of Duck Hunt pre-built into the cartridge, making it a staple of most collections. Sadly with the incompatibility of light guns and Nintendo claiming these titles cannot be brought to Virtual Console (even though custom firmware and emulators allow just that on the Wii), we will probably never see a re-release of this game.