By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
You know Nintendo’s Zapper (the NES one, not the half-assed Wii one that isn’t worth discussing), the underused 16-bit Menacer (Genesis/Mega Drive) and Super Scope 6 (SNES), Namco’s various GunCons (PS1-3), and maybe even Saturn’s Stunner (aka Virtua Gun). But here are some light guns you may not be familiar with or have simply forgotten about.
Odyssey Shooting Gallery
The distinction of the first light gun for a home console is generally credited to the Magnavox Odyssey’s awkwardly named Shooting Gallery (yes, that was the name of the actual gun–in addition to one of the games made for it). The SG was large and rifle-like, and it was only designed to detect a light source rather than any particular objects, meaning you could literally just point it at a lamp and register hits. However, as Odyssey games never had score displays anyway, there really wasn’t much of a point to cheating the SG’s easily-fooled mechanics. While the SG “only” supported four games, the Odyssey’s entire game library consisted of less than 30 titles, meaning that light gun games actually comprised a higher overall percentage of its total software library than any other true game console in history.
(Image credit: Video Game Console Library)
Sega Light Phaser
Sega’s answer to the NES Zapper was the Light Phaser, released alongside the Master System’s U.S. launch (it made it to various other regions, but not Japan, who–like the U.S.–has had a complicated relationship with light guns). A common myth about the LP is that it was modeled after a weapon featured in the Sega-produced anime series Zillion. In actuality, the LP was released before the anime, making it more likely that the comparable weapon in Zillion was actually inspired by the LP. Further complicating the weird relationship between the “real” and fictional Light Phaser is that the eventual Zillion Master System game didn’t even end up being a light gun game at all, instead being a Metroid-inspired action game.
The Light Phaser had a pretty respectable list of compatible games, 13 in all (and only two of which could also be played with a standard game pad), including Rambo III which was one of the only home light gun games of the era to allow for fully automatic fire when the trigger is held down–something no NES Zapper game ever accomplished.
One final note: Much like the ability to use SMS and Genesis controllers on various Atari platforms due to the similarity in their plugins, it is said that Sega’s Light Phaser can be used to play XG-1-compatible (see below) light gun games. In fact, some Atari fans insist that this is the best way to play Atari light gun games, though some tinkering and patience is required to get things to work well.
Atari also had its own attempted Zapper killer in the form of the XG-1 for the XEGS–which was basically their 65XE computer put into a more console-looking shell (oh, Atari of the 1980s, you just had no clue what you were doing, did you?) Unlike the Light Phaser, the XG-1 and a compatible game were actually bundled with that console in an effort to make for a package to rival the NES’s. Though technically designed for the XEGS, the XG-1 was also compatible with the Atari 7800…which, by proxy, also makes it compatible with the 2600, giving it the record for light gun that could be used with the most different consoles. As anyone who was forced to buy GunCon 2s in order to play PS2 light gun games when they already had bought expensive GunCons for PS1, but then still had to dig out their original GunCons to play their PS1 gun games on PS2, this was actually a pretty respectable feature of the XG-1. However, that’s where much of the “respectability” ends, as the XG-1 was essentially a light pen passing as a gun, and therefore had pretty dreadful accuracy as a gun. Certain games had a noted shift in where you pointed the gun vs. where it registered, either just to the left or right, and not all games allowed for calibration.
A fair number of games supported the XG-1 across its multiple platforms, and it also has the distinction of having a noted homebrew game–Bobby Needs Food–created for it.
Peacekeeper Revolver / Gamegun
As obnoxious and unplayable as FMV games typically were, the light gun genre was probably the best use for the technology and some of the games are actually kind of entertaining (at least the first time through). That is, if you were able to play them with an actual gun. American Laser Games at least had the good sense to develop home light guns for its line-up of FMV light gun games for the Atari Jaguar (Peacekeeper) and 3DO (Gamegun). And, as compared to the sad amount of total games that were made for any one of the more well-known guns by more respected companies–the GunCons, the Super Scope 6, the Menacer, et al–you actually could feel like you were getting your money’s worth by picking up one of these guns given how many games they supported. Well, besides the exceptionally evil way the Gamegun came in two separate one-player and two-player variations. That’s right–unless you went ahead and sprang for the two-player package, you weren’t able to just use two one-player guns together to play two-player games. But don’t misunderstand…the two-player version didn’t actually come with a second gun, just the connector to plug in a second gun. Otherwise, you just had to use a controller for player 2. And people complain about the shady things video game makers try and get away with now.
Still, if you are a Jaguar and/or 3DO owner, you owe it to yourself to seek out these guns and a few compatible games. It’s definitely some of the most fun you’re going to have with those systems, especially today. You can only play Alien vs Predator, Tempest 2000, Star Control II, and Return Fire so many times…
(Image credit: Game Pilgrimage)