By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
#10 – Crypt Killer (1995-97, Arcade/Saturn/PlayStation)
Konami was actually a fairly prolific developer of light gun games for a time, releasing this one, Evil Night, and two entries in their Lethal Enforcers franchise (plus a light gun segment in Snatcher). Crypt Killer looks charmingly old-school today, with its two-dimensional sprite-based enemies coming at you from 3D environments (which definitely took a bit of a hit in the transition to home consoles). One of the unique things about the arcade version was its three-player simultaneous support, a rarity for the genre. It’s also one of the few fantasy-focused light gun games that isn’t strictly about one subgenre of the category (vampires, zombies, etc). Keep your expectations in check for the console versions, but if you’re lucky enough to come across a Crypt Killer arcade cabinet, grab two friends and get ready for a good, cheesy time.
#9 – Hogan’s Alley (1984-87, Arcade/NES)
Most light gun games are just glorified shooting galleries, but Hogan’s Alley is literally a digital version of the mechanical shooting gallery games of decades prior. But it was also one of the first-ever light gun games, so we loved it anyway, and because of its simplicity it still remains a blast to play. There is just something about that satisfying spin animation and accompanying sound effect from a connected shot that feels as good as any head shot or barrel explosion in other games of the genre. Alley added depth by featuring innocent bystander targets that you would be penalized for shooting, a wrinkle that nearly every light gun game in the ensuing 30+ years would replicate. Hogan’s Alley is so iconic that even if you’ve somehow never played the game, seeing a screenshot or just a picture of one of the bad guys will light up just as much of the warm nostalgia part of your brain as it would for someone who has played it dozens of times.
#8 – Resident Evil “Chronicles” series (2007-12, Wii/PlayStation 3)
We decided to separate the two Resident Evil/Capcom adventure game-based series–the other being the Survivor franchise–as they don’t really feel like parts of the same overall franchise. And our readers had no love for the latter, as it didn’t come close to cracking this top 10. But Umbrella Chronicles and Darkside Chronicles–available separately for Wii and as part of the Resident Evil Chronicles HD Collection for PS3—have a lot of fans, and for good reason. Serving as side-stories that bridge the story gaps between the mainline RE games, Chronicles reduces the RE formula to pure zombie shooting without any of the obtuse puzzle solving. It is quite satisfying being able to unload a barrage of gunfire into the franchise’s undead hordes after years of having to settle for limited ammo and mostly running away from them. It would’ve been nice to take the formula to other Capcom franchises, as Survivor did with Dino Crisis, but so far that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Here’s hoping for the Onimusha and Devil May Cry spin-offs.
#7 – Terminator 2: Judgement Day [known as T2: The Arcade Game on home platforms] (1991, Arcade/Multi-console)
This classic remained an arcade staple well past the movie’s transition from theatrical juggernaut into basic cable mainstay. Grabbing that machine gun and feeling it satisfyingly shake in your hands as you unleashed a hail of gunfire into an army of terminators was among the most iconic gameplay experiences you could have in an arcade in the early 90s that didn’t involve fatalities, tiger uppercuts, boomshakalas, and rolling starts. It was also a rare bright spot in an era when movie licensed games largely only existed to dupe parents and disappoint kids on Christmas morning. Sure, the levels that weren’t just about mowing down naked T-800s were pretty standard shooting gallery fare and didn’t stand out much from the genre’s peers. But there was still something about watching your enemies break down from their human to robot form as you shot them, as well as those awesomely bad digitized one-liners from an actor who was definitely not Arnold, but was close enough. It was 1991, after all–hearing any voiced dialogue in a video game was still exciting in and of itself.
#6 – Point Blank series (1994-2006, Arcade/PlayStation/Nintendo DS)
At a time when most light gun games were trying to replicate epic shootouts from big summer blockbusters, the Point Blank series–hilariously titled Gun Bullet in Japan–went a defiantly different route, instead being a party/minigame collection of fun, cartoony shooting challenges. The challenges were vast and varied, ranging from “shoot X number of things within the time limit” to “you have 5 seconds and a single bullet to shoot this teeny-tiny target,” and many, many more. All the while, protagonists Dr. Don and Dr. Dan and their absurdly over the top reactions took the series’ charm to a whole new level. For those lucky enough to own two GunCons, there are few things that two people can do with a video game console that is more uproariously entertaining than an evening of Point Blank. How there was never a Wii version of this game–especially when Namco brought it to the DS–is one of gaming’s great mysteries. It seemed like a perfect fit. Instead, we had to settle for shooting-based party game shovelware like Carnival Games.
#5 – Area 51 series (1995-97, Arcade/PlayStation/Saturn)
Not to be confused with the franchise’s disappointing rebirth as a generic FPS in 2007, the original Area 51 and its sequel, Site 4, are classic 90s Midway–more specifically, classic Eugene Jarvis–mindless action, explosions and flying limbs everywhere, digitized actors, and a vibe that simultaneously celebrates and parodies extreme violence. Area 51 takes the lead of fully FMV light gun games like Mad Dog McCree, only smartly uses it only for transitions between set pieces instead of the enemies and actual gameplay segments, meaning its actually a game and not a movie that you kind-of interact with but mostly watch. The setting allows for both humans and aliens as enemies, and also means there is an excuse for barrels full of radioactive (read: explosive) material to be everywhere. We aren’t going to definitively say that the video game cliche of exploding barrels began with Area 51, but it definitely was one of the first games to popularize it as a gameplay device. Although it only technically had one true sequel (again, leaving out the reboot), the soul of Area 51 remained alive and well in spiritual successors Maximum Force, CarnEvil, and Target: Terror.
#4 – Time Crisis series (1995-2015, Arcade/PlayStation 1-3, iOS)
Before Time Crisis, light gun games has been an almost entirely offensive affair, with very little in the way of defending yourself other than shooting bad guys before they could shoot you. TC changed all that with its innovative cover mechanic, where you could step on a foot pedal on the arcade cabinet and jump behind an object and out of the way of gunfire. What kept players from abusing this luxury was the game’s strict time limit–hence the title–meaning that cover had to be used quickly and sparingly. No other light gun series bothered to copy this mechanic, meaning that in the ensuing 20 years, Time Crisis has remained the only game where you have actual shootouts and aren’t just constantly running around guns blazing. The home release of the original game was accompanied by Namco’s GunCon, at the time the most accurate light gun ever made for a console, and if you happened to have a PS1 steering wheel you could even plug it in and use the pedal for cover, and its PS2 follow-up put a d-pad on the back of the gun that put the cover button comfortably at your finger- well, thumb-tips.
#3 – Virtua Cop series (1994-2003, Arcade/Saturn/Dreamcast/PC)
Virtua Cop and Time Crisis were neck-and-neck throughout the two weeks that the poll was open, even fighting for first place at times. But it seems that people ultimately preferred Sega’s police simulator over Namco’s cover-based series. Though it was ultimately overshadowed by fellow Sega gun series House of the Dead, VC still has its share of fans, and was successful enough for two sequels (including the fantastic Virtua Cop 3 that unfortunately remains an arcade exclusive). It speaks to the quality of the Virtua Cop games that light guns weren’t especially prevalent on any of the home consoles the series came to, and unlike rival Time Crisis that was only available bundled with a gun, Virtua Cop was often sold sans-weapon and still sold well. Other than having the player take the role of a policeman or woman, which is surprisingly rare for the genre, the main innovation offered by Virtua Cop was its system of having a colored circle appear around enemies that would change from green to yellow to red before the enemy shot you, so you knew when a bad guy was about to shoot and had to prioritize targets accordingly. That, combined with that charming blocky aesthetic that all “Virtua” game shared make the Virtua Cop games classics despite being stuck in the shadow of most of their peers.
#2 – Duck Hunt (1984-87, Arcade/NES)
Call it blind nostalgia, call it Nintendo bias, call it whatever you want: Duck Hunt began racking up votes the moment the poll went live and was never in any danger of placing outside of the top five. Sometimes, what works best in video games is when things are boiled down to their most simplistic form, without too much unnecessary flourish. And although light gun games soon became one of the flashiest genres in all of video games, Duck Hunt, in all of its simplicity and lack of complication, remained a favorite. It’s no different than any other light gun game–shoot the targets. Does it matter if those targets are giant monstrous bosses or two pixelated ducks? What seals the deal is the satisfying sprite that accompanies a connected hit, followed by the duck’s spiraling descent into the grass, and then one of video game history’s most iconic music clips when your pet dog pops up to show you the kill. And speaking of the dog, has there ever been a character that we so loved to hate more than that damn dog, laughing at us when we failed? Despite the fact that we couldn’t shoot him (in the NES version, anyway) and we knew we couldn’t shoot him, we still took shots at him anyway, every single time.
#1 – The House of the Dead series (1996-2009, Arcade/multi-console/PC/mobile)
Back when it was still somewhat novel to base something on George A. Romero movies, Sega took the tradition of shuffling, groaning, rotting zombies and put them in the cross hairs of a light gun. Having zombies as enemies meant that there was an excuse for your targets to not go down with a single hit, and HotD‘s secret sauce was definitely in how you were forced to shoot the undead creatures multiple times, causing them to convulse and fill with holes before collapsing to the ground. The other part of the franchise’s success was in its embrace of its B-movie lineage, with laughingly awful dialogue and acting, resulting in infamous lines like, “Suffer…like G did!!!” In one of Sega’s few successful attempts to reinvent one of its classic franchises for modern audiences, House of the Dead: Overkill refocused the series on the grindhouse era of movies–with intentional film grain, gloriously shlocky set pieces, f-bombs aplenty, and not a flat-chested, fully-dressed woman in sight–all while retaining the classic feel of the earlier games and being one of the few light gun franchises that wasn’t still just going through the motions in the 2000s. And although they aren’t light gun games, a special shout out needs to be made to the spin-off series The Typing of the Dead, one of the most absurd and brilliant self-parodies in video game history (and also a legitimately useful typing teacher).
Was this list a direct hit or did it miss the mark? Fire away in the comments!