Wild Gunman Review (NES, NES Zapper)

This video marks the beginning of a look at every single game ever made for the Nintendo Entertainment System’s Zapper. We start with a game based on one of Nintendo’s version old-fashioned arcade machines.

Name: Wild Gunman
Developer: Nintendo Co., Ltd.
Publisher: Nintendo Co., Ltd.
Released on: NES
Original Release Date: October 1985

Wild Gunman’s original arcade incarnation was an electromechanical machine in a pre-arcade world. Based on the simple act of a Wild West gunfight, players would be face to face with a projected image of a real person in cowboy garb. Players would have to fire at their foe before they did the same to the player, and a different video would be played if the player was successful or failed miserably.

Nintendo are fantastic at reviving old ideas using newer technology, and they were doing this even in the 80’s, as the original Wild Gunman was resurrected in digital form as an early game to use the Japanese Famicom’s Beam Gun, before being added to the North American Nintendo Entertainment System’s list of launch releases as one of the first games for the now iconic NES Zapper.

Being an early Famicom game, Wild Gunman is presented very simplistically with three different game modes, with Game A – 1 Outlaw mode being the most famous. You’re viewing the action in the first person, as a shady gentleman strides over to the middle of the screen before staring at you intensely for a brief moment. When his eyes flash and the words Fire appear on screen, you need to quickly shoot him down before he shoots you first. Wild Gunman is about how quick you can react – Before you’re promoted to unload your weapon, you’re given your opponent’s reaction time in seconds – All you have to do it beat it.

And this highlights a big problem with Wild Gunman as a home game, and that there is just no difficulty in having your Zapper pointed at the screen, waiting for the Fire prompt and shooting. There’s no aiming involved in this mode, as long as you shoot the screen, it’ll register a hit. What you’re actually supposed to do it have your gun by your side – The Beam Gun, the Japanese Famicom’s original incarnation of the NES Zapper, sometimes came with a holster belt for this very purpose. You’re supposed to play this game like a gunslinger would and shoot from the hip as quickly as possible.

Due to the endless repetition of this mode, you’ll very quickly get bored in the space of five minutes or so. Game B – 2 Outlaws is a little more interesting, as you’ll have two foes to bring down. It’s not quite a clear cut as that though, as each Outlaw has different reaction times and you’ll have to aim at each one depending on what side of the screen they’re on. In some cases, one of the so-called Outlaws won’t even fire, and you’ll be penalised for gunning that one down.

This mod is a lot more fun and there’s a lot more skill involved. Quickly figuring out which Outlaws is going to fire and in what order you need to shoot them, is a much more enjoyable deviation on the standard Game A mode – Although, it’s still pretty simple.

The final mode, Game C – Gang is a mode that’s a simple shooting gallery. Enemies pop out of doors and windows of a saloon, and you shoot at them. Simple as, really. There are five hitboxes to aim and shoot at, and again it’s very easy – You’ll grow tired of this mode before you die in-game.

Being one of the first light gun games for the Famicom and NES and an early game for the system in general, Wild Gunman is obviously simplistic, with gigantic hitboxes and a game mechanic that relies more on the player constraining themselves than any actual skill. But, for such an early game, the Outlaw sprites are pretty impressive and very reminiscent of the art style of the early Punch-Out!! arcade cabinet.

On that note, the home console version of Wild Gunman had a life in the arcades, appearing as a game in one of Nintendo’s Playchoice-10 range of cabinets, where players had a certain amount of time to play the game before having to put more money in. Nintendo also had another line of NES to arcade conversions called Vs. that added multiplayer functionality and while there was a Vs. Wild Gunman cabinet planned it was never released. It did, however, become forever immortalised in its brief cameo during the 2015 scenes of Back To The Future Part 2.