I’ve said fairly often how uniquely beneficial Super Smash Bros. is for Nintendo. Not only is it one of their most popular series of games, it’s also an amazing way for them to re-introduce titles to the public consciousness. It’s how the massively successful Fire Emblem was brought into the world at large. For many, the original Smash Bros. was where they discovered Ness and the fan favorite game Earthbound. Dr. Mario, who didn’t get a lot of attention for many, many years, got a resurgence thanks to Super Smash Bros. Melee. With this many examples, it’s obvious that Smash Bros. is both a great party game and the perfect promotional vehicle in equal measure.
As of this Thursday we can add Duck Hunt to that list. During an ever popular Nintendo Direct, Nintendo revealed that the dog from Duck Hunt is coming to the new Smash Bros. as a playable fighter (with a duck in tow) Truthfully, this isn’t really that newsworthy as both the roster was leaked months ago and the game is already out on the 3DS, but this did mark the first time that Nintendo formally announced the fighter with an amazing video. Obviously not missing the significance of this, Nintendo then chose to announce that Duck Hunt itself is coming to the Wii U Virtual Console. That means, for the first time since 1987, one of the most popular light gun shooters is coming back for another round.
The mere fact that Dunk Hunt has such a popular legacy is a point of interest. First released in 1984 for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Duck Hunt was one of the early home console games to feature a light gun, aptly named the NES Zapper. For those who don’t know, a light gun is a tiny plastic pistol that allows you to shoot things in a game. Seeing as the title is as clear cut as one can be, you clearly need the Zapper to play the game. The gameplay is incredibly simple too. You literally just sit there and shoot ducks, only advancing levels once you’ve killed the required amount. Run out of bullets? You get a game over and the dog laughs at you. That’s it. That’s the game. Many critics at the time considered it really boring and pointless. The industry was just rebounding too in North America, so when the game came overseas in 1985 as an NES launch title, it’s not unreasonable to think that people were a little iffy on the whole NES Zapper requirement.
Surprisingly enough, it’s because of those exact criticisms that Dunk Hunt has endured in the eyes of many. The fact that it was pointless was part of the appeal. It required no added knowledge or a big time commitment. You turn it on, choose Game A, Game B, or Game C, and play on. Anyone can play the game and use it to quickly kill some time. If Duck Hunt had been a portable game, or were to ever become one, it’s easy to see how it could be very successful. Dunk Hunt also did wonders for the light gun shooter genre. The 1980s was when these games first started coming out and they definitely needed a bonafide hit to grow. Duck Hunt was that hit and it lead to one of the most popular genres for arcades across the globe.
There’s also the immense popularity of the game’s true star: the dog. You don’t control the dog, nor does it even have a name, but since the shooter has no physical presence and the ducks are the “enemies,” the dog is what people latched on to. It grabbed any ducks you shot down like the loyal animal it is. But perhaps most famously, the dog would also laugh with immense smugness when you failed to complete your goal. As if your inability to shoot the required amount of ducks wasn’t enough of a mood killer, the dog rises up out of the grass and straight up laughs at you. The laugh is so iconic, people consider the dog to be one of the biggest assholes in the history of gaming.
I loved Dunk Hunt as a kid, simply because it let me play with a plastic gun. I had so much fun just shooting those virtual ducks. The game wasn’t boring for me either. It was so easy to jump into, I just did it when I had a little bit of time to spare. It also didn’t require extended attention from me as my other games did. No matter how old I got though, Duck Hunt was always remembered with fondness. To be honest, I haven’t played the game in years. Actually not since I was kid well over a decade ago. Yet it was one of the first games I have any memory of playing and it is just embedded in my history. When I first saw that the Dunk Hunt dog was coming to Smash Bros. when the roster leaked, I got really excited. I knew playing as it would be fun (and it really is).
It’s almost a little baffling why it’s taken Nintendo so long to bring Duck Hunt back. It’s been 30 years! They even had the technology for it too. The Wii had plenty of rail shooters that used the Wiimote as a gun substitute. In fact, when Dunk Hunt returns on the Wii U, you will actually need the Wiimote to play the game. It just fits so perfectly! Considering how iconic the game is, Nintendo really could have brought it back at anytime. But I can see why they wanted to wait until the right time. I haven’t seen Duck Hunt spoken about so much in incredibly long time. Putting that dog into Smash Bros. is easily one of the most clever moves Nintendo and Masahiro Sakurai (Smash Bros. creator/director) have ever pulled. And who knows, maybe Duck Hunt will get the modern day treatment eventually. Then we can watch that fiendish dog laugh in glorious high definition (that’s not a fighting taunt in Smash Bros.).
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.