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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Duck Hunt - And The Dog That Won't Quit Laughing

This week on the Saturday Smorgasbord, I thought that I would go old-school.  

These days, most of you are playing your Nintendo Wii U consoles, or still calling video game stores wanting to know when the next shipment of PlayStation 4 or XBOX One consoles will be arriving.

(Note to anybody who lives fairly close to where I work.  I don't know when we are getting any more in, and we do not have a waiting list for said consoles.  It is first come, first serve.  And, do not tell me a sob story about how you waited six hours in line for one of the consoles the very first day we offered them for sale because you would be a liar, as the first day we sold them, everybody who was in line walked away with a game console.)

Ahem...sorry.  Just doing a little bit of a rant.  Actually, the above situation spawned my January 9 blog entry, in case you were wondering, or if you cared...but I see that you're probably just wanting me to stop rambling on and just get to the point.

Anyway, in 2014, we all know what the top consoles are.  Thirty years ago, it was an entirely different ball game.  Truth be told, 1984 was a really horrible year for video games in general, as lack of interest and a string of horrible video games (remember Atari's attempt at bringing E.T. to life in a video game?) caused the video game industry to almost go kaput.  

Of course, we all know that this certainly wasn't the case.  By 1985, a company that had initially gone into business manufacturing card games switched their focus to electronics and video gaming.  And by the time the 1980s were over, the company known as Nintendo had successfully turned things around, with millions of players snatching up the Nintendo Entertainment System, the dozens of game cartridges, and the various accessories that came with it.

Of course, by the time the 1980s ended, Nintendo was joined by the Sega Master System and Turbo Grafx 16 in the once again competitive video game market, but Nintendo always seemed to generate the most revenue, and had the most success.  Of course, these days, Nintendo isn't doing quite so well, but they're still holding their own, and I certainly recommend the Nintendo Wii U or Nintendo 3DS as a good introduction for younger players just getting into video games.

And, you know what?  I still remember when I got my very first Nintendo.  I probably told this story already, but it was one of the first things that I saved up for.  Throughout the first few months of 1990, I scrimped and saved up every penny that I found on the ground, every dollar that I got from the tooth fairy, and deposited every single dollar that I got from birthday cards, getting more excited as I saw the total bank balance rise.

Finally, when I had the amount required, I went to the Woolco store, and purchased my Nintendo with my own money!  And, considering that I bought the Nintendo in September 1990, my parents soon regretted the timing of the whole thing, as I would sometimes blow off homework assignments to play Nintendo.

What the hell...I'm out of school now.  I can admit it.  I still ended up getting excellent grades that year anyway.

Now, the Nintendo system that I purchased looked a lot like this one pictured above.  It was the "Action Set", and it came with everything that you saw pictured.  It had the console, the two controllers, a game cartridge, and a funny looking orange thing that kind of looked like a water pistol.  Here, have a closer look.

Apparently, this gun had a name.  The Nintendo Zapper.  And, there were a handful of games that required you to use the Nintendo Zapper.  You'd aim the zapper at your television screen, and with one press of the trigger, you could shoot things that appeared on the screen without actually damaging your television.  It seems corny now, but thirty years ago, this was the height of technology!

But what sort of game could you use the Zapper with?  As easy as it might seem to use the Zapper to blow Bowser away at the end of world 8-4 in Super Mario Brothers to make rescuing that shrieking harpy klutz of a princess easier, alas, it could not be used for that purpose.

Oh, but wait...what is this "Duck Hunt" thing that happens to be written on the cartridge too?  Hmmm...let's find out.

Ohhhhh...yes, it's the game where you use the Zapper to shoot ducks that fly across the screen.  And, as luck would have it, the game is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this April!

Released in Japan on April 21, 1984 (and in North America eighteen months later in October 1985), "Duck Hunt" is probably one of the easiest Nintendo games you could ever play...and surprisingly enough, also one that I had a lot of fun playing.  And, as a special treat, I've found an online version of the game that you can play absolutely free just by clicking HERE.  So, I'll leave you to play a couple of rounds of the game before we continue.

So, the object of the game is pretty straight forward.  You're in a swamp or marshy area of sorts, and you're armed with a gun.  You see those purple coloured ducks that fly up and travel around the screen (and, really, in nature, when are you ever going to see a purrple duck)?  Your job is to shoot as many of those ducks as you can.  But be careful though...there are ways in which your game can end as quickly as it started.

For one, you have to shoot at least the number of ducks necessary to clear the level.  In the first few rounds of the game, the number is low - meaning that you could literally shoot the screen with your eyes closed and still have a fair shot of making it to the next round.  Once you complete ten rounds of the game, though, the difficulty increases, and you soon have to shoot more ducks in order to proceed.  If you go below the minimum number of ducks that you need to shoot to qualify for the next round, your game is over.

And keep in mind that the ducks also start to behave more erratically in later levels, with them flying faster, and without any sort of pattern in their flight paths at all.

Did I mention that you only have three chances to shoot one duck before they fly away and the next duck appears?  So, take your shots carefully.

I only say this because I know how frustrating it can be to get a Game Over on this game...particularly due to one element that many gamers (myself included) found incredibly annoying.  I bet some of you know what that element is, but just in case you don't, here's a clue.

How many times have you just wanted to say "screw the ducks, I want to shoot the damn dog?"  For some of you, it would be many!  For me, I have to say that I've tried doing it when the dog showed up and started to laugh at me.  It doesn't work though.

(Surprisingly enough though, you CAN shoot the dog on the arcade version of the game.  Who knew?)

It's not as if the dog doesn't give you a reason not to.  Whenever you miss a duck, he pops up laughing.  When you get a Game Over screen, he's laughing.  Every time you screw up, he pops up and laughs.  I half expect the dog to pop up from behind the counter of the electronics department whenever I have a mishap on the cash register!  

I mean, wouldn't you have homicidal tendencies towards someone who was not supportive of you and made you a walking punchline if you had a bad day?  No wonder the Duck Hunt dog has made it onto several "Worst Video Game Character Ever" lists!

However, there is one option on the game cartridge that allows you to not see the Duck Hunt dog ever again.  Though, to be fair, you won't be shooting ducks either.  There's also a bonus game on the Duck Hunt cartridge that allows you to shoot clay pigeons instead.  But be warned, the difficulty level on the clay pigeon level is much higher, and the targets are much smaller.  I still managed to make it to the double digits in rounds on the clay pigeon level, but it wasn't easy.

(And, when I say double digits, I mean like round eleven.)

Oh, one last thing before I end this blog off.  On Duck Hunt, there are supposedly 99 levels to the game.  I myself have never made it to Round 99 (I usually lost interest somewhere around Round 15 or so), but apparently Round 99 is the hardest level in the game.  If gamers are to beat Round 99, they are rewarded with a glitch that effectively ends your game.  Because only two digits of memory were programmed into the Duck Hunt cartridge, the game will reset itself to Round 0, which is effectively a kill-screen for Duck Hunt.

(I'll bet the Duck Hunt dog was responsible for that one too.)

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