It's lightgun time again, as Nintendo begin the Super Scope's dismal life by offering the player six games on a single cartridge: the 1992 SNES collection Super Scope 6! Because there are six games, and you use the Super Scope to play them, you see.
Nice to know Nintendo expended as much effort designing the title screen as they did coming up with that title.
So, the Super Scope. Everyone's favourite electronic drainpipe. A lightgun that's not shaped like a gun but like plumbing supplies, with a little rest bolted on so you can balance it on your shoulder. I've written about the Super Scope before, and though years have passed I still have no earthly idea why someone would get to designing a fake gun attachment for a videogame console and pattern it after a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher instead of, you know, a gun. Had Nintendo forged a shadowy deal with the world's PVC pipe manufacturers? We may never know. But yes, that's definitely it.
Exciting calibration action! This is all consigned to the dustbin of history now, of course, what with the advent of LCD TVs. If I suddenly had an uncontrollable craving to play Duck Hunt these days I'd have to lug a CRT telly out from the storage space under the house, so it's a bloody good job that scenario is extremely unlikely to happen. I played enough Duck Hunt as a kid, and I don't think it's gotten any better with age.
The six games are are grouped into two categories: Blastris and LazerBlazer. I know you'd all prefer to see some blazing lazers - not the TurboGrafx game - but I'm going to start with Blastris because it's at the top of the screen. Nintendo obviously felt it was the more important of the two, otherwise they wouldn't have put it at the top. I'm not about to argue with the Big N on this one.
If you're thinking that "Blastris" sure sounds like it's going to be Tetris with the addition of some blasting, then congratulations, have yourself a biscuit or something because that's exactly what it is. Well, one of these three games is like Tetris, at any rate. Let's start with that one.
This is Blastris A, and the basic elements of Tetris are in place - blocks inexorable fall into the screen, and you must manipulate them to form full lines across the play area, which then disappear. However, unlike regular Tetris you can't move or rotate the blocks. Also unlike regular Tetris is the fact that the tetrominoes move from left to right instead of falling from the top of the screen as God - or at least Alexey Pajtinov - intended. Seeing Tetris blocks move this way feels very odd. It's like seeing someone out walking their cat on a lead: it's conceivably something that could happen, but that doesn't mean it should.
So if you can't move or rotate the blocks, how do you control Blastris? Don't forget you're using the Super Scope, (as though you could forget,) so the answer is that you shoot the blocks. In the example pictured above, the long green block is moving from left to right, where it's bottom-most square will land on the top of that yellow clump. You don't want that, so take hold of your Super Scope and fire away!
They you go, the bottom square has been blasted off of the Tetris piece. If this was a film, this would be the part where they finally say the title of the movie out loud. Blastris - now you're getting it, and the newly-truncated tetromino will neatly fit into that three-square gap. That's it, that's the game. You have a limited amount of shots, with two shots being restored for every block that drops, so you can't just keep blasting pieces out of the way, but you generally seem to have enough shots available to do what needs to be done. Clear five lines and you'll move up to the next level, where the blocks move faster.
Unfortunately, Blastris A isn't much fun. I think this is because it suffers greatly when inevitably compared to Tetris Classic™, with the player's reduced ability to decide where the blocks will go leading to a sense of disconnection from the action. It was probably just a quirk of the game's randomness, but it seemed extremely reluctant to send blocks along the lower-most row, making it more of tedious waiting game than a challenge of intellect. In normal Tetris, I could have moved the blocks over there myself, and that knowledge was constantly at the forefront of my mind as I whined to myself about the lack of suitable blocks coming in at the bottom of the screen. Also, the blocks move from left to right and that's just not right. Verdict: a noble effort, but an unsuccessful one.
On to Blastris B, which isn't so much Tetris as it is Columns. I'm guessing it kept the name because Blastolumns is an awful title. Anyway, coloured blocks fall in - from top to bottom, thankfully - and you have to align them so they're in matching rows / columns / diagonals of three. Again, you can't move the blocks, but you can change their colour by shooting them, making them cycle through green, blue and orange. It's a nice touch that you can see the next colour in the sequence along the top edge of each cube, so you don't have to worry about forgetting the order in a hectic moment.
There are some blocks whose colour you can't change - these are the ones with the metal borders, an example of which you can see fall in the screenshot above. Aside from that, there are no extra complications or twists to the mechanics, giving the whole experience the feel of playing Columns on a controller with a busted d-pad. Setting up chains, normally a core feature of games such as this, is far more difficult when you can't decide where the blocks are going to land, and just like Blastris A this is an experiment that didn't quite pan out. The only other interesting thing about Blastris B is that in the Type B game there are constant elephant noises playing. I have no idea why this is the case.
Finally on the Blastris side there's Mole Patrol, which has absolutely nothing to do with Tetris and was presumably only included in this half of the game to achieve a three-and-three split between Super Scope 6's games.
Mole Patrol begins with a conga line of small purple aliens - which are quite clearly not moles - grinning at the player before jumping into the green Super Mario pipe on the right.
Then they pop up out of these craters and you have to shoot them right in their adorable little astro-mole faces. It's Whack-A-Mole, but with guns. Cap-A-Mole, perhaps.
It's a very slight offering and it feels a bit cheeky to describe it as a "game" when you're calling this a "six games in one" package, but unlike the previous two games Mole Patrol does make sense. It feels basic, but it also doesn't feel like a failed attempt to shoehorn guns into a puzzle game, so I think it just about manages to take the top spot out of these first three games.
You'll quickly realise that the key to success in Mole Patrol is making quick and accurate distinctions between the colours purple and pink. Amongst the purple moles are these pink moles, and shooting a pink mole makes the whole game speed up to a point where it's nigh-impossible to hit anything for a while. Don't shoot the pink moles. The game is quite clear on this. Why the pink moles are deserving of our special consideration while the purple moles are vermin that must be executed on sight is not explained, but the obvious answer is that it's a grey / red squirrel situation, only instead of nuts the moles eat, I dunno, moon rocks?
Once you've played one round of Mole Patrol you've played them all, and there's not much to do besides watching for the tell-tale plume of dust that appears when a mole is about to pop out of a particular hole and then trying to differentiate between pink and purple as fast as possible. This game is not kind to the colour blind.
I do like this scorecard you get after trying the single-round "Score Mode," even if it does highlight just how ravaged by age my reactions have become. Or maybe I was just too cautious in my mole-blasting ways.
Over to the LazerBlazer side of things now for three games of sci-fi shooting action, brought to you via menu screens populated by futuristic flight attendants. We've got Intercept, Engage and Confront. I think I'll start with Intercept, I'm not good with confrontations.
In Intercept, you have to intercept things. Missiles, specifically, big rockets that travel from right-to-left across the screen and which must be taken down with fire from your Super Scope. Not too much fire, because you only have three shots and they take a while to come back but, you know, some fire.
The big twist of Intercept is that you can't just shoot at the missiles: oh no, because they're moving you have to lead them, firing ahead of them so that your bullet has time to reach them before they fly past. Let five rockets reach the left-hand side of the screen and it's game over. Why yes, it is sort of like Missile Command, although it's a good job that the young John Connor honed his guerilla techniques on that game instead of Intercept. I don't think this would have held his interest long enough for him to become the saviour of humanity.
This "leading the target" aspect factors ever more heavily into Intercept's gameplay with the arrival of these smaller rockets. Except they aren't small, they're far away and therefore you have to lead them by a greater distance. It took me a while to figure that out, as though I were trapped in that bit from Father Ted.
During Intercept's versus mode, you'll sometimes see a cameo from Mario as he's chased across the sky by one of the Koopa Kids. Is that Lemmy or Iggy? I can't tell from this distance. Anyway, if you manage to shoot Lemmy / Iggy, you're reward with a points bonus and the restoration of a hit point.
I did not manage to hit the Koopaling. I accidentally shot Mario instead. Sorry, Mario.
I'm afraid I didn't have much fun with Intercept. Having to lead your targets all the time just isn't that much fun, and the repetitive missile patterns and one-note gameplay aren't exactly thrilling either. One thing I will say in Intercept's favour is that the backgrounds are lovely to look at, and if you're a fan of parallax scrolling then this game is your Louvre, your Sistine Chapel. Next time I'm in a bad mood I think I'm going to load up Intercept, turn off the sprites and enjoy the scenery.
The second game in LazerBlazer is Engage, where you shoot at enemy ships while flying very quickly over some Mode 7 scenery. Very quickly, like, fast enough to make me feel a bit ill if I look at the ground too long. The floor looks like the inside of a migraine.
Spaceships appear and you shoot at them. You have four shots in this mode, so that allows for some less... restrained gunplay, but you still have to lead the enemy ships a lot of the time.
Sometimes the enemy will launch missiles at you. They're picked up by your ship's computer, as you can see in the screenshot above. That small circle is highlighting an incoming missile, so you'd better shoot it down by wildly shooting all your remaining shots in its general direction. Hey, it was a tactic that worked out all right for me. The actual enemy ships don't seem to be much of a threat, so as long as you concentrate on clearing out the missiles you'll do just fine.
You also get your energy recharged between stages. I'm not sure what happens when you run out of energy, because it's separate to your hit points. I mean, I'm sure you still die because I think "energy" is analogous to "fuel" in this context, but I'm not clear on exactly what effects your rate of fuel consumption. If I just streamlined my spacefighter and took all the unnecessary weight out of the boot I probably wouldn't even have to worry about it.
Finally there's Confront, our hero finally deciding to confront the alien menace about why they're doing all this menacing. Not really, there's nothing even resembling a plot in any part of Super Scope 6, although it's not difficult to imagine the protagonist of Mole Patrol being upset about the alien moles digging up his cosmo-allotment.
In this game, Super Scope 6 finally presents the player with an opportunity to blast some spaceships with no worries about leading the target or planning your shots - it's just you, the enemy and unlimited ammunition, and as such it's probably the best game of the bunch. I know that Nintendo were trying to demonstrate the potential versatility of the lightgun experience, but in the end these types of games seem to be at their most engaging when they simply task the player with shooting everything in sight.
Yet more enticing backgrounds, too, even if they are a touch placid for the gameplay. Confront is little more than a generic shooting gallery, where ships pop up and you have to shoot them before they shoot you, but it's all pleasant enough, what with the nice backgrounds and the very Star Wars laser blast sound effects. It gets very difficult very quickly, but then that's true of every game in Super Scope 6 with the possible exception of Engage, so while the games themselves might be ephemeral affairs, you'll still have to put in plenty of practise if you want to complete them. The LazerBlazer games do apparently end after thirty stages, but I couldn't make it that far so if there's a fancy ending sequence I'm afraid you're going to have to see it elsewhere. Like I said, the ageing process has done terrible things to my reactions.
So that's Super Scope 6, half-a-dozen not particularly impressive lightgun games. Confront was okay, I suppose, but not a patch something like Time Crisis or even Yoshi's Safari. The puzzle games were interesting but deeply flawed, Mole Patrol and the first two LazerBlazers are just a bit boring, and the whole package most assuredly didn't accomplish what was presumably Nintendo's goal with Super Scope 6 - to sell people on the Super Scope. Of course, Super Scope 6 was bundled with the Super Scope, so if you owned the game then you already owned the gun, but playing this isn't going to send you running off to proselytise about the power of Nintendo's latest peripheral. It doesn't impress now and it didn't impress when I was a kid: I remember trying it at a friend's house just after he got one, only for the Super Scope to be put back in its box after a quick go at each game, never to be exhumed from its cardboard tomb. Well, we had too much Mario Kart to play to be messing around with electronic drainpipes.