Duck Hunt (NES): The Precursor to Modern Shooting Games

One of the original games bundled with the Nintendo Entertainment System was Duck Hunt. The main reason for the popularity of this game was the inclusion of the light gun. This alternative controller allowed for a different style of interaction between user and game. This title and its controller influenced modern shooting video games.


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Game Play

The game play was straightforward and helped define the category of shooting games. Basically the player pointed the gun at the screen and pulled the trigger to fire a shot. As the name indicates, the typical intended targets were ducks. An added element in realism was the limited ammunition one had to shoot each duck. The player was given three shots to shoot the intended target. Unlimited ammunition would have detracted from the game play and curtail the realism of the game.

Modes of Play

Three different types of game play could be selected. The difference between the three was the amount and types of targets. Clay targets were used in the “C” selection. Games “A” and “B” had ducks with the difference being one duck for the first version and two ducks on the screen at one time for version “B”. The player had to shoot so many ducks/clay pigeons in a certain level to advance. If one failed to achieve this goal, the game ended. The game had up to 99 levels before going to level 0, which cased the game to crash.

Introduction of the Light Gun in NES

Duck Hunt on the Nintendo Entertainment System helped usher in a new genre of video games. While not being the first shooting game, an innovation in game control was introduced to America. The light gun provided a new medium in game control.

How the Light Gun Works

The physics of the controller were on the higher end of video game technology at the time. A light sensitive diode was placed either inside or on the barrel of the gun. When the trigger was squeezed, the NES would blacken the screen for a split second. The only part of the screen not to darken would be a square of white around the intended targets on the screen. If the gun registered one of these light squares, a hit would be recorded and points awarded. A hack was discovered to the game. If you turned the contrast on an older television to its highest setting, the screen would be light enough when the NES ordered it dark to register a hit no matter where you pointed it on the screen.

Fetch and Taunt

The wild card factor in this game was the infuriating nameless dog. The dog’s intended role was to fetch shot ducks. He would proudly hold up the duck when you shot it. The exasperation came when you missed the duck three times. A message saying “fly away,” would be shown and then the dog would be seen laughing at you. Accompanied by 8-bit music that mocked you with a techno giggle, any jury in the land would acquit if you tried to shoot the dog.

A stylish and cutting-edge controller combined with the fact that this title was supplied with every NES allowed it to develop a cult following. The game play and nameless dog were etched in many a child’s memory. For these reasons, Duck Hunt was one of the early innovators of modern shooting games.


This article was composed by Ralph Terry, a freelance writer who focuses on tech, computer software, gaming, gadgets and other related topics. Those interested in taking the leap from the virtual world to reality should consider visiting a shooting gallery to practice their marksmanship skills; to learn more view the Gun Directory here.

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    Duck Hunt (NES): The Precursor to Modern Shooting Games

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