The Deer Hunter? Alright, the classic 1978 film about the capricious brutality of war seems like an odd choice for conversion into a Game Boy Color title, but I'll give it a go - hopefully I'll get to play as Christopher Walken. It's Morningstar Multimedia / Vatical Entertainment's 1999 horrors-of-war-em-up Deer Hunter!
Oh, I see. It's an actual deer hunting game called Deer Hunter, as you can tell from the title screen in which a deer ponders a tree with curiously fleshy pink roots. There's also rather a lot of deer butt on display there. I'm a city dweller; I don't know the proper term that you outdoorsy types would use to describe the back end of a deer. The rump? The hindquarters, oh ho ho? That's what you get here at VGJunk - laboured puns about deers' backsides. It's a wonder anyone ever visits this site.
There's one! Right, hunt over, let's all go home. Actually, that looks more like a moose, and as this isn't Moose Hunter I guess I'd better carry on. What deer hunting options do I have at my disposal?
There's a tree stand, for standing in trees, and a couple of different odours no doubt harvested from various deer glands that'll help me better sneak up on my prey. Unless I'm standing in a tree, in which case the deer will have to come to me. You also get three weapons to choose from: the traditional hunting rifle, a shotgun for when subtlety isn't an issue and a bow so you can live out your Rambo fantasies but with the Vietnamese replaced by large herbivorous mammals. You can take one gun and any combination of the other options with you on each hunt, but as a beginner I think I'll stick with the high-calibre rifle. Okay then, where to for deer?
You've got woodland in the summer, autumn and winter, but I think the first port of call should be the bottom-left option - the target range.
I'm fairly certain those are targets, but let me use my handy binoculars to get a closer view.
Ayup, three normal targets and a couple of deer-shaped ones. I know the target on the deer is supposed to be over its heart, but to me it looks more like deer are very susceptible to being shot in the armpit. Years of playing first-person shooters have left me with an overriding compulsion to aim for the head of whatever I'm trying to fill with bullets - unless it has a glowing red weak-point - so adjusting my aim away from the noggin (so that I don't ruin my trophies by filling them with holes, you see) might take some getting used to.
Okay, so I've entered the target range and used my binoculars to gain visual confirmation that yes, these are definitely targets for shooting at with my gun. The only thing left to do now is draw my weapon.
My oversized comedy weapon with sights like something from a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. I'm half expecting a BANG flag to pop out of the end when I pull the trigger.
Now it's just a matter of placing my crosshair over the target and pressing fire, a task that'd be much easier if it wasn't for two factors. Firstly, judging by the incredibly sluggish rate at which your weapon moves around the screen it must have been fashioned from the super-dense material of a neutron star, and secondly your character twitches around like someone's just poured the contents of an entire termite mound into his trousers. I'm playing as a monumentally slow, convulsing, gun-wielding dullard, and if it wasn't fun in Duke Nukem Forever then it's not going to be fun here.
After what felt like several months of gun wrangling, I managed to hit one of the targets. You can tell, because there's a black pixel on the target where there was no pixel before. Obviously you don't get a mighty set of antlers to take home after shooting the carboard targets, but you are treated to some digitised speech. Hitting a bullseye results in a voice - possibly your voice, possibly a hunting buddy or more likely the ceasless, yammering voices in your head - saying, erm, "bullseye!" Hit a deer in the highlighted area and the voice says, with a slight edge that betrays a certain lust for death, "right in the kill zone!" Ah yes, the kill zone, of course. I'm not sure I'd want to hang around with people for whom the phrase "kill zone" is a thing, but I'd never fit into the hunting lifestyle anyway. Fluorescent orange just isn't my colour.
Now that I've had a bit of practise, it's time for the real deal in the tranquil setting of a Colorado alpine meadow.
I'm guessing that deer rubbings aren't like grave rubbings, that famous staple of school trips the world over? It probably means there are deer about, so I'll set up camp here.
No deer, but some nice scenery. I'm going to make a bold claim here and say that the backgrounds are far and away the best part of Deer Hunter.
While there's nothing about for me to shoot, let's review the icons at the bottom of the screen, each of which provides a useful deer-hunting function. From left to right we've got a potato waffle, a snorkel, the busted remains of a bicycle wheel, the silhouette of a man with a cross for a face and Battersea Power Station. The waffle takes you back to the previous screen, so I guess it's supposed to be a map. The snorkel and the broken wheel are noise-making devices, which makes sense - deer are know for their strange attraction to bicycle accidents and people blowing into swimming apparatus. The cross-head is your gun, and the right-hand icon is your binoculars which, as far as I can tell, have no practical gameplay use.
Not knowing what else to do, I stood in the meadow and tried to play the riff from "Smoke on the Water" with the snorkel. Lo and behold, a deer appeared!
Deer fucking love Deep Purple. This one's love of influential British hard rock will be his undoing, as I carefully position my crosshairs over the "kill zone"...
Over. The. Kill. Zone aww come on just lift your gun up!
Goddamnit. You see, the problem here was that the height of my crosshair in the previous picture was as high as you can raise them, and the deer remained just out of range. I'm sure this is supposed to denote your rifle's maximum effective range, but it just comes across as your character having such noodly arms that he can't lift his gun any higher than waist level, hardly the kind of rugged manliness you'd expect from a game about hunting. So my first deer got away, but not to worry - I know how lure them out into the open. Here comes another one now!
Bang, scratch one deer and make room above the fireplace because we're hangin' some antlers tonight!
Eight points, huh? I have no idea if that's a stag with antlers the size of a 747's wingspan or a sickly runt, but whatever the case it's getting taxidermied as we speak. And still, I'm left with a feeling of emptiness, the dark weight of a pointless death pressing heavy upon me. I think it's because that deer looks kind of... accusatory.
Well that's a little unsettling.
So, what else is there to do in Deer Hunter? To be blunt, nothing. That's it. You have witnessed what is, as far as I can tell, the entirety of the gameplay on offer. You can change your weapon and the items you take with you, you can visit the other areas, but the gameplay remains the same: place your cursor over the deer, press fire and hope it falls down. This isn't a game, it's a "Punch the Monkey" banner ad from 2002.
For the sake of completeness, I might as well take a look at some of the other variables.
Here's some Arkansas woodland in autumn. You know, the season where all the trees turn into candy floss. I'm using the shotgun, or I'm wearing a fake shark's fin to scare away nearby swimmers, it’s hard to tell with these graphics. The shotgun works in exactly the same way as the rifle, except without the enormous crosshair blocking your view of the target. A deer lurks in the distance, waiting for me to toot my snorkel, but it's all so tedious. If only there was a sudden Mars-based teleporter accident to liven things up.
See, that's much better! Although, facing the hordes of Hell with Deer Hunter's geriatric controls would be like... well, it'd be like the SNES port of Doom.
Here's the other background. It's got snow on it. Can you tell I've rather lost interest? You can also see the bow, in case you were interested: it's that spindly thing in the middle of the screen that looks like a mobile phone mast. Hitting your target with the bow is a rather more involved process that using a gun, as you have to take into account the arc of your arrow and the wind's strength and direction and I'm sorry, I can't continue this charade any longer - the bow works exactly the same as the guns. Crosshair over the target, twang, the deer either dies or runs away. That's another thing about Deer Hunter which undermines any pretence to immersion: when you fire, the deer's either dead or has legged it. You never hit a deer but don't finish it off, forcing you to track the poor, suffering beast and put it out of its misery, its wet black eyes staring uncomprehending into yours as you do the deed. Why, that's half the fun of hunting!
That's it for Deer Hunter - if there's anything else to the gameplay then I sure as hell couldn't find it. It doesn't deserve to be galled a videogame, really. It's like a minigame from within another minigame, a loading screen doodle, or, as mentioned before, interactive advertising from the web's adolescence. I don't know what the recommended retail price of Deer Hunter was on its release, but if it was any more than "the fluff from my trouser pockets" or "seven cubic centimeters of air" then it was wildly overpriced. Still, I can't summon the same level of bile for this as I could for, say, NSYNC: Get to the Show: while that game was a cynical exercise in the fleecing of tweens, Deer Hunter is just... lame. Incredibly, fantastically, almost unbelievably lame.
Think of it like this: it's a first-person shooter where there's only one type of enemy, and it can't attack you. Without wanting to get into the moral issues, this is my problem with the "sport" of deer hunting - where's the sport? You're halfway up a tree with some of the finest killing-things-dead technology that mankind can muster, and the deer has... antlers? Sure, it's not bad at running away but it's hardly like you're hunting tigers or something, and this is where the Deer Hunter game also falls down. You could maybe get away, on consoles and PCs, with recreating the experience of deer hunting as fully as possible: give the player a wide area of woodland that they must quietly traverse while looking for signs of deer, setting up camps and fiddling with their guns. That's exactly what various developers have done with the Deer Hunter franchise and it's now up to around twenty games, mostly for Windows, but for the Game Boy Color? It just doesn't work. When deer have been genetically altered to have lightsabers instead of antlers and the aggression levels of my Nan during the January sales, then - in both the real world and in deer hunting sims for platforms that can't really handle them - I'll reconsider my position. Until then, don't play Deer Hunter for the Game Boy Color because it's really bad.