Retro reflections by Nick H.
There has been a lot of talk lately about Nintendo's upcoming games and console. People often try to figure out what Nintendo's next innovation (or gimmick, depending on one's feelings on the matter) have been wide-ranging over the years. People are already trying to read into the Zelda trailer to see if they can discern what will come of the next rumoured console.
I started playing video games on an Atari and found my way to arcade machines and the TI99/4a next. There were differences between these platforms of course, but the one that truly seemed unique and interesting to me at the time was the Light Zapper that came with my Nintendo Entertainment System. Of course the packed in Duck Hunt was the best known game at the time.
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Games with light guns were popularised in the arcade as well - I remember sinking a lot of time into Operation Wolf at the time, plopping in quarter after quarter in what amounted to a digitised shooting gallery. When Operation Wolf came out on NES, of course the visuals and sound were scaled back from its arcade counterpart, but I still had a blast with the game. Duck Hunt was one of the few games I could get my dad to play with me other than Tetris at the time. My uncle got me the Gotcha! paintball game that I enjoyed despite the limited number of levels.
When I reflect back on the Light Zapper however, one title stands out to me not because it was amazing in and of itself, but because it was unique. Gumshoe was a simple game in its story and there was very little to its presentation outside of the gameplay - typical for games of that time period. We follow Mr. Stevenson, a detective who is attempting to rescue his daughter Jennifer from the Mafia boss-man King Dom. King Dom has given Mr. Stevenson one day to collect five Black Panther Diamonds in exchange for Jennifer. This is not the stuff of great novels, obviously.
What stuck with me was not the paper thin story, but the fact that this was a platforming game that made use of the Light Zapper. Our protagonist is continually marking from left to right, scrolling the screen with him as he goes. You can shoot him to make him jump - and this uses no ammunition. There are also enemies and obstacles on the screen that need to be shot because they will harm our protagonist - these do use bullets. There is no doubt about it - Gumshoe was actually a very difficult game. It was easy to run out of bullets and there was a lot going on that you had to account for. One of my buddies gave up on the game without ever having beaten the first level.
I had seen games with alternate controllers - using a keyboard, using a NES Advantage joystick, the direction pad of a controller, even the track balls used in golfing games or arcade classics like Centipede, but this was the first time I had played a platforming game with something as completely unique as the Light Zapper. The graphics were average at best and the game design itself was difficult to the point of being frustrating - and yet it has stuck in my mind for all of these years because it took a chance and did something unique and different.
Nintendo has had mixed results over the years with its video game innovations. For every Light Zapper we have a R.O.B. the Robot, Power Pad and Power Glove. For all of the success Nintendo found in the Wii's motion controls, it rarely (if ever) managed to make use of the Wii U in a way that enhanced the experience. The DS proved that a touch screen can be a great feature in video games, yet the tablet used in the Wii U never found widespread adoption.
Certainly the technology has to hold up its end of the bargain. Anyone who ever tried to make use out of R.O.B. or the Power Glove knows that neither peripheral delivered on its promise. However, I thought that the Wii U's tablet had potential with those few games that Nintendo achieved something with. Super Mario Maker would never have been the same game without the touchscreen interface. Convincing other developers to take the time to use the tablet in creative ways was a challenge however, and I for one will be curious to see how the next console is accepted by third parties.
Gumshoe is really not a great game. It is more of a passing curiosity, but still one worth exploring today. I fired it up on the old television upstairs my classic consoles are matrixed to and fired away at it for a couple of hours. I quickly recalled the aggravations that came with the questionable game design, but also appreciated that this one game stood out for all of the other Light Zapper games in my library because it took some chances and did something decidedly different. It was not the best Zapper game on the NES, but in many ways it was one of the most memorable nearly thirty years later.
- Nick H.