I used to have an NES Zapper, but my younger brother decided it would make a good bath toy. It's okay, it was years ago, I'm over it now. There are two consequences to this: one is that my Duck Hunt high-scores will remain forever unbeaten, and the other is that I never got to play TOSE and Bandai's 1989 NES marksmanship-em-up Shooting Range. Oh, cruel fate! Well, I'm going to put that right today, and judging by the sheer amount of creative effort that went into coming up with the game's title, I'm sure it will be fantastic.
Seriously though, Shooting Range? You couldn't come up with anything more enticing than that? Here's a couple of better titles, for free from me to you. Bullseye Fun-Pack. Crazy Carl's Circus of Bullets. Target Shooting X-Treme: Ultimate Annihilation Edition. He Who Zaps First Zaps Longest. See? It's not difficult. I can only assume the only other candidate for the title of this game was NES Lightgun Game 001, and that was shouted down for being too interesting.
You get to choose between a Normal Game and a Party Game. The party game is not "shoot the tail off the donkey," nor is it a harrowing combination of Russian roulette and pass-the-parcel. We'll get to it later, but first we'll be exploring the normal game, which makes up the bulk of the action.
Shooting Range is not exactly packed with content: aside from the party game, there are three stages and a bonus round. The first stage is obviously Wild West-themed, because I'm not lucky enough for it to be about the deadly onslaught of the sentient mutant cactus folk, and stage three is set in space. As for stage two, it's a house? I'm going to kill that house. Okay, got it. Stage two, murder a house. But first, cowboys.
Here we are, then. The Old West, where the natives balance oversized peppermint candies on their heads. Those are the targets you need to shoot, not the native Americans. In fact they're the only targets you need to shoot in Shooting Range, and every stage has you shooting these circular Umbrella Corp logos rather than the people and animals that litter the stage. Why did TOSE and Bandai go for this division between the recognisable people / creatures and abstract targets? I have no idea. Maybe they didn't want to be accused of promoting violence. Maybe they couldn't be bothered to draw a different set of sprites showing a native warrior bleeding to death from a gut-shot, his life fading away as his blood soaks into the desert sand? The only semi-convincing reason I can come up with is that it makes it very clear what you're supposed to be shooting at at any given time, but that would still be true if you just had to shoot the characters. They stand out pretty well when they're moving around the screen, it's not like they're particularly camouflaged.
A cowboy ran by. He wasn't carrying a target, so I couldn't shoot him. I mean, I could shoot at him, and naturally I did, but because he wasn't carrying a red-and-white pinwheel he remained unaffected by my gunfire. Now that I see him in a still picture and not dashing across my screen in the manner of someone running for the bus while trying not to look like they're running for the bus, I've noticed a couple of things. One is that he's got a badge, so he must be the sheriff. The other that he appears to be smoking, in an NES game that (as far as I can tell) was only released in the US. I guess that one snuck past Nintendo of America's censors, just like this cowboy snuck past my gunfire.
A lone white dove flies by with a target in its mouth, a sign that the flood waters have receded and Noah's Ark has come to rest on top of a factory making Christmas sweets.
The problem is that the odd bird and unshootable cowboy just aren't cutting it. To progress in Shooting Range, you have to reach a target score before the time runs out, and there simply weren't enough enemies appearing on screen for me to collect the points I needed. Thus condemned to failure, I sat and waited for the inevitable while staring at the desert scenery, which was sort of relaxing in its own way.
Then I realised you can use the D-Pad on a connected controller to move your viewpoint left and right, allowing you to track down other enemies and targets that may have eluded you. I even got to see the cowboy doing something! He was trying to shoot me, or at least trying to scare me by pointing his target at me. He can't hurt you or anything. Shoot him without worrying about the consequences! Except make sure you actually hit the target, because every shot you fire results in your energy meter decreasing, and if it empties completely then it's game over. You can refill it occasionally with power-ups dropped by defeated targets, as well as finding the odd hourglass to give you extra time, but on the whole it does not pay to be wildly shooting your gun even if this is the Wild West.
Once I'd figured out you can move the screen with the pad - a clumsy, inelegant solution to a problem that need not exist - clearing the first stage was not much of a challenge. That's not meant as a boast, it's the first stage and I'm playing on the easiest difficulty (although all the difficulty level changes is how much time you start with to complete each stage). I'm looking forward to the next stage, though, because now I know it's a ghost house.
We've got a house, we've got a ghost, so now I know that "ghost house" wasn't just a clever name intended to lure me in.
It's not just ghosts, either: all manner of horror movie monsters are roaming around, from werewolves to vampires to mummies. I am now fully on board with the whole "shoot only the targets" mechanic, because all these monsters are so adorable and precious that I wouldn't want to shoot them anyway. Forget Shooting Range, Bandai should have called it Look at That Mummy, Sinking to His Bandaged Knees in Abject Despair Because I Shot His Target: The Lightgun Game.
I think my favourite are these Frankensteins, though. They look more robotic than usual, as though the Mad Doctor who built them was running low on cadavers and had to make do with odds and ends from his garage. And look, they're holding their targets like lollipops! Aww. I can't help but imagine that the original Creature wouldn't have been quite so bent on destroying his creator if Frankenstein had given him a big lollipop.
If you shoot their targets, the Frankensteins look at the now-empty space with an air of calm puzzlement. It's pretty great, and it makes me wish the whole game has been based around this monster theme. I like puzzled Frankensteins, but now I want to see confused witches, baffled warlocks, uncomprehending elder gods from beyond the stars, that kind of thing. Oh well, I can enjoy it for what it is - decent if uninspired target-shooting action that does at least try to mix the movement patterns of your targets up. Some stand still, some move horizontally and the werewolves frantically jitter around the stage with their targets balanced on their snouts in a manner that suggest the brand of flea powder they're using is not very effective.
The previous paragraph may have implied that there are no witches in Shooting Range, but there are. They're just not confused. They know exactly what they're doing, be it carrying targets for you to shoot or engaging in terrifying bacchanalian rituals that let them commune with the dark lord Satan.
After the ghost house, there's a brief bonus stage interlude in the form of this bottle-blasting minigame. Simply shoot all the bottles to win, although things are complicated by the fact the bottles remain resolutely bullet-proof aside from the second or so when they're flashing white. Presumably this element of timing was designed to stop the player from going hog wild and getting through the bottles faster than Oliver Reed, but as the rest of the game is all about precision shooting I think it would have made a nice change to include a stage where the only thing being tested is how fast you can pull the trigger.
The final stage has an outer space theme and is heavily influenced, in terms of monster design at least, by the Alien movies. These pink things are very facehugger-esque. "Maybe you just want them to be facehuggers, VGJunk," I hear you say, "because you love the Aliens franchise so much." Well, fair enough. These things could quite easily be generic space insects, your common-or-garden Astro-Spiders.
I mean, these pop-eyed blue things definitely aren't related to the Aliens series, unless they were planned to appear in the ill-fated kid's cartoon spin-off. Speaking of cartoons, they look like something from The Real Ghostbusters. Nothing Alien related here, then, until you shoot their targets...
...at which point they turn into an eggs from which the facehugger-type enemies hatch and jump at your face.
Also there are monsters that are clearly xenomorphs, albeit orange ones. There's one now, lurking at the right-hand side of the screen and pondering how it's going to get an parasitic embryo into the target it's carrying given that it has no face to hug. So, there you are. Aliens. It's hardly surprising, Aliens has been more of an influence on videogames than probably any movie ever, from Contra to Doom. They're not usually quite so tangerine, mind you, aside from the dog aliens in Alien Trilogy.
The final stage even has a boss of sorts: the happy union of tentacles, eyeball and brain, all coming together with the sole purpose of making you lose the game by running out of time. The boss doesn't attack in any way, so it's down to you to take it out by shooting it right in the eyeball several times. This task is made more challenging by the boss possessing bullet-proof eyelids and a sleepy expression that tends towards Droopy levels of drowsiness, making it surprisingly difficult to hit the boss who is fifty percent eyeball in the eyeball. Still, I got there in the end, once I'd figured out it was easier to wait for the boss to fly in front of my sights rather than chasing it around the screen.
For my troubles, I received... a bronze medal? Oh, come on, I shot everything you asked me to and even some things you didn't! "You need to work a little harder," it says. You know, I'm not sure I do. There are many things in my life I need to work at - my personality, my potential employability, cleaning the grout on my bathroom tiles - which are much more important than Shooting Range.
However, those things are difficult so I pretended they didn't exist and went for the gold. Hooray for solid life choices! It turns out the key to being the best is the bottle-shooting minigame, as destroying all the bottles within the time limit nets you a very large points bonus. Is it worth it? No, not really. I already knew my play is wonderful. It's a modern re-imagining of Macbeth, it's going to blow the critics away with its fresh new take on the Bard!
Oh, right, and there's also the Party Game mode. It's whack-a-mole, except it's shoot-a-mole. Shoot-a-target, anyway. The targets pop up from the holes, and you shoot them. Sometimes the orbs at the back light up, and you have to shoot them to activate a new wave of targets. This is easily in my bottom twenty worst parties I have ever attended. It doesn't get into the bottom five, because there were no drunken arguments or embarrassing lapses of intestinal integrity.
I'm happy with being average. I'm certainly not going to play the party game again. If you really want to see the other endings, do it yourself. What am I, your mother?
And there you have it, Shooting Range is over; almost before it started, such is the brevity of the included content. What is there is diverting enough in a very basic way, and aside from having to hold the Zapper and the pad to play the game - which adds nothing and is merely awkward - I can't think of anything that you could change to make it better without making it an entirely different game. Apart from more stages, I mean. What is available is fun and cute, so if you're after a very basic NES lightgun game then you'll probably have at least some fun with Shooting Range. If you're after a deeper, more involved NES lightgun game then, erm, tough. I don't think there are any.