Why have developers forgotten about light guns?

For as long as there have been video games to play, gamers have been shooting stuff – but if we all love shooting so much, then where have all the light guns gone?

They used to be a staple of home gaming, coming over from the arcades as far back as the 80s and I remember being blown away playing Duck Hunt for the first time at a friend’s house in the early 1990s when a NES seemed as exotic as Cherry Coke, WWF on Sky TV and The Fresh Prince’s Air Jordans.

It was Duck Huntnot Mario or Zeldathat was the game pulled out to show people the NES and with the Zapper in hand came arcade-style fun, a quick hit before any of us knew what dopamine was.

Duck Hunt
Duck Hunt. Credit: Nintendo.

There was more to shoot than ducks – and not just the dog – with the arcade port of Operation Wolf offering a chance to shoot the same vague terrorist types that Hollywood was so fond of.

Meanwhile the Master System had its Light Phaser and as home gaming went mainstream, so did light guns. When Sega v Nintendo became a lifestyle choice not seen again till Messi v Ronaldo, the SNES had the Super Scope and the Mega Drive had the Menace. Both upped the ante in size at least, the bazooka aesthetic of both probably inspired by their growing popularity in late 80s action movies.

Light guns were official peripherals and an expected part of the home gaming ecosystem. Games even started coming out with their own specific light guns. Lethal Enforcers had the Colt-Python inspired Justifier – ironically at a price that was very hard to justify – which still go for decent money on eBay.

The glory days of light guns came in the late 1990s. Once the Playstation and Saturn were out it was arcade ports galore. From Point Blank to Virtua Cop to Time Crisis to House of the Dead, gamers could play these at home – often with game-specific guns such as the Namco GunCon and the Sega Virtua Gun. Light guns remained a staple through the next generation on the Sega Dreamcast, the Nintendo Wii, the Xbox and the PS3, but then nothing.

The House of the Dead: Remake
The House of the Dead: Remake. Credit: Forever Entertainment

Now if you want to play Time Crisis 5 – the latest edition of the shooter which came out way back in 2015 – you can only do so at your local arcade, assuming you still have one, or splash out for the machine.

That’s the first Time Crisis not to come out on a console and arcades are still getting such rail shooters – House of the Dead: Scarlet Dawn came out in 2018, with the promise of three more in the future, and people are very excited about Enter the Gungeon: House of the Gundead and Monster Eye 2.

The lights went out on home gunning around a decade ago, when several factors combined to make it seem like the demand was no longer there.

The demand is clearly there. First-person shooters are dominant and most VR rooms offer several shooting games. Gamers are still shooting stuff (or people) like it’s going out of fashion and some are going all out to make home shooting happen any way they can.

A look on Amazon or eBay will show you plenty, with the Switch gun controller setups the pick of the make-do-and-mod options out there but the reviews are not great.

It’s creative but hardly the same as dedicated official support, which is sorely needed for the light gun renaissance.

There was a time when technology had moved on. Classic IR guns like the Nintendo Zapper only work on CRT TVs and not on the LED/OLED HDTVs that followed, while some TVs became too big for guns to cope.

Gun tech has caught up, as with the Indiegogo and later Kickstarter success of the Sinden Lightgun, which raised more than £2million and has had rave reviews for its internal camera set-up and 15-foot lead.

Plug and play is a way off though. The Sinden offers backwards compatibility for PS2 (via a Raspberry Pi) or plays emulators on a PC. Sinden has also worked on a gun with Polymega, who makes snazzy modern consoles to play vintage games, but you still need original copies of those games.

That’s cool but a faff. Life is meant to be easier than that in 2022 and gaming companies are shooting themselves in the foot.

COD Vanguard in-game screenshot
Call of Duty: Vanguard. Credit: Activision

There are plenty of arcade rail shooters that are waiting to be carried while there are parts of call of duty vanguard that make you think how fun it would be to play with a light gun.

Duck Hunt was cool as hell and that was on TVs that were often deeper than the screens were wide. You can only imagine the fun of shooting zombies on a PS5 or Xbox One on a massive TV set or, even better, a projector with graphics as good as that recent Matrix demo.

That’s the future, but we could be shooting stuff in the meantime. There are plenty of past classics that could be remastered or revamped. A retro pack remastered with modern hardware would do and it seems a missed opportunity that no one has tried to release a light gun with the games built-in.

the house of the dead
The House Of The Dead: Overkill. Credit: Modern Dreams

It’s not like there’s no replay value. Shooting is fun and light gun games seem ideal at a time when the gaming world has recoiled at Techland saying Dying Light 2 will take 500 hours to complete. It seems like people might even appreciate an hour-long home shooter. They are also perfect as party games or to play with non-gamers as other releases get more complicated. It’s not big, it’s certainly not clever but light guns offer mindless fun and a proper arcade experience at home.

So Sony and Microsoft, get a gun sorted ASAP and game developers get on board, it’s time for light guns – one of the pillars of gaming – to come back home, just maybe leave the weird gun names in the past.

They might be missing a light gun but if this article has got you in the mood for a shooter, here’s the best FPS games you can play in 2022.

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