Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Paint by Numbers - The Lightgun Game

Ah, the light gun game. One of the last bastions of UK arcade gaming. If you’re out scoring some strikes at your local Megabowl you’ll inevitably see a small cabinet next to the pool and air hockey tables, conjuring memories of those old classics such as Time Crisis, Virtua Cop, et al. Why not have a play for nostalgia’s sake? But then it hits you: £2 to go on a game I’m blatantly not going to last more than 4 minutes on?! That’s 1.2p per every second spent playing! Are you having a laugh?! Jambo spares no expense as the genre is torn apart…

1. Peripheral vision:
Okay, you’ve spotted a cabinet or picked up a game, but you’ll need to get accustomed to the controller. The most widely used home console gun is the G-Con series, created by Namco, and for the most part it’s pretty good - if a tad boring. For the real hardcore out there, you can find replica sniper rifles at all good online retailers (and some crap ones too). However, if that seems a bit too over the top for you, there are some other choices. The general consensus seems to suggest that the best way to play these games is with some wireless light guns (the Joytech Sharp Shooter series is pretty much gaming bliss in this field). If you’re feeling slightly frolicsome, you can purchase two of them and go through the two player co-op mode for some dual wielding fun. Sometimes, the gun you use to shoot with doesn’t represent the weapon you’re using in-game. It seems a common misconception that automatic handguns are capable of firing both grenades, flames and shotgun shells as well as your standard ammo. Some arcade cabinets will boast the holy grail of light guns: The recoiling assault rifle. This beaut’s got more kick than David Beckham had in the second round of the ’98 World Cup. Sometimes it’s worth the £2 just to feel the recoil against your shoulder.

2. The lead characters and the plot:
Who remembers this? Seventeen internet points if you do!
The lead characters are usually American CIA/SAS/FBI/random-abbreviation operatives who have been hired to save some kidnapped President’s daughter, fight off evil insurgents from neighbouring countries, or to kill the President’s daughter as she’s now working for the evil insurgents… or something along those lines. To be honest, you don’t play a light gun game for the stunning script, dialogue and cut scenes. Let’s be fair, the voice acting is usually a similar experience to hearing 5 year olds trying to read the long words from the Broadsheets and the characters have the charisma of a baked potato. The main protagonists are usually white males, mid to late 20s, and appear like they wouldn’t look out of place on the catwalk – certainly nothing like any special arms operatives I’ve ever seen.

3. Events in gameplay:
The scenery is pretty generic at best but when playing one of these games your attention is primarily on the enemies so you miss out on such stunning backdrops as forests, trains and the inevitable ship encounter (which predictably gets capsized making everything go awry), and your generic Hollywood-esque bridge explosion. The likelihood of fighting a boss in a helicopter or private jet (you never see a poor end of level boss, do you?) is very high and you can expect that once you dispose of them they’ll fall backwards (still shooting) and blow up their own vehicle. Silly sausages.

4. The enemies:
You’d think that a global enemy cartel would have stricter quality control when hiring goons, or that at least they’d give them a shooting range test - as they appear to be the worst shots in the world. They get less hits than Hanson's fansite, for God’s sake. For some baffling reason the ‘big boss’ decided somewhere along the line that they should colour code their thugs in order of how hard they are. A good - if slightly flawed - plan as it means you just bust a cap in the harder enemy’s head before moving on to the ones that camply leap out into the open in a ridiculously bright-coloured jumpsuit.

Shitty zombies!
5. The unexpected…
As a rule of thumb in this genre, always expect the unexpected. Characters you thought you had killed have most likely been rebuilt (I’m looking at you Time Crisis 3) and some of the characters will show moments of unforeseen strength. For example, one enemy might tear off a gun turret and proceed to hurl it around like a baseball bat (again, I refer back to the Time Crisis series here).

Sometimes, the genre strays away from its traditional roots. Ninja Assault puts the player in control of a Ninja trying to rescue the kidnapped Princess from an evil Warlord (see, I told you the stories were all the same!). Now, you’d probably expect the light gun to be used to control a rudimentary crossbow or to throw shuriken or something like that. You’d be wrong. According to Capcom, Ninja wield pistols. Seriously. The less said about that the better, I feel.


It should be pointed out that Light Gun games provide a lot of fun and are a great source of fun in co-op so they are definitely worth a look. They’re like what the Bad Boys films are to the film industry; a trashy, unrelenting demonstration of explosions and headshots that does nothing to detract from the main action and for this they should perhaps be forgiven…

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