Recently, Nintendo released a trio of classic Zapper-centric NES Virtual Console games for the Wii U eShop. Among these trigger-pulling showpieces, Wild Gunman brings wild west gun-fighting right out of the popular pulp books of the mid-twentieth century and straight into your living room. Originally published in 1985, Wild Gunman shows its age as it attempts to bring its signature gun-fighting action back to the Virtual Console.
Wild Gunman’s spin on the NES Light Gun Series mainly involves blasting it out with outlaws in gun-fighting duels. The gameplay is simple, with two of the three game modes taking place in a static western-themed screen — complete with cacti and a distant plateau in the background — in which one of about a half-dozen different outlaws strolls into frame looking for trouble. A brief, gloomy tune ends about the same time your opponent stops in the middle of the screen. Then, with tensions at an all-time high, your opponent yells “Draw!” as best as an 8-bit character can, and the two of you scramble in a race to put a new virtual hole in the other.
As with most of the Light Gun Series games, the object is to rack up as many points as possible while gunning through as many rounds as you can. In each playthrough, you are afforded three mistakes of either shooting too soon or letting an outlaw beat you to the draw. After that, it’s game over. While the enemy outlaws strut their stuff into view for each round, the player can take advantage of that down time to check out the outlaw’s draw time to see how fast they can skin their smoke wagon. As long as you shoot them quicker than that time, you win the duel. Each victory earns you points, with extra bonus points being awarded for every split second faster your time is than your opponent’s.
In booting up Wild Gunman, players familiar with Nintendo’s early NES Zapper games will already have a good idea of what to expect. The title screen allows the player to select one of three game modes: Game A (one outlaw), Game B (two outlaws), and Game C (gang). Game A and Game B are both pretty self-explanatory, with the player facing either one or two outlaws at a time in a dueling rampage that only ends after you make three mistakes. Game C, however, sees the player standing outside of a saloon and firing upon outlaws as they pop out of the various windows and front door in a game that is a bit of a cross between Hogan’s Alley and Whack-A-Mole.
As with all of the other Virtual Console ports on the eShop, Wild Gunman is pretty straight-forward. The game supports the Wii U Virtual Console’s addition of a navigational menu to access a save state, the game’s manual, and the ability to reset. Unfortunately, the Virtual Console version also maintains the original’s inability to actually save the high score once the game has been turned off, which would have been a nice enhancement for this high score-based game.
Due to the original incarnation of Wild Gunman being a Zapper-exclusive game, however, a few major adjustments had to be made to the controls.
The most notable and immediately noticeable change to the game is the implementation of IR-based pointer controls of the Wii Remote in lieu of the original’s intuitive Zapper IR gun mechanic. Anybody who has played the Virtual Console release of Duck Hunt should already be familiar with this adaptation, due to it using the exact control scheme — right down to the crosshair reticule.
Unfortunately, Wild Gunman suffers from the same problem as all games requiring the Wii Remote’s IR pointer: lag. Although the lag is minor, it makes a major impact on the player’s ability to quickly aim in a game that is built around speed and reflexes. In a possible yet inefficient attempt to remedy this problem, the aiming of Wild Gunman is pretty forgiving by allowing a hit to be registered as long as any pixel of the aiming reticule makes contact with the target, rather than just the intersection of the crosshairs.
As another detractor, the sense of actually being in a gunfight is lost due to the lack of the beloved Zapper peripheral’s ability to actually be pointed at the targets on the screen. Instead, the player is forced to simply move a cursor around the screen with laggy IR controls. Even further, leaving the aiming reticule in the middle of the screen is the modern day equivalent of holding the Zapper right up to the screen from back in the old days, which makes the game much less thrilling considering the enemies do not move around. Once exploited in this manner, the game turns into a game of simply pulling the trigger after the cue is given, which is not very fun at all.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, when facing more than one outlaw, the controls hinder the player much more than the original version — once again due to the laggy IR pointer controls of the Wii Remote.
The presentation of Wild Gunman preserves the original visuals and sounds of the 8-bit NES classic. However, although I did not find any issues with the graphics, I did notice a muffled popping sound before and after every soundbite the game played. This issue could possibly be attributed to Nintendo’s emulation software having occasional audio problems when being played on certain gaming setups. With this in mind, it might not be a consistent problem for everybody; it was pervasive enough to be worth mentioning, but not too annoying for me to want to stop playing.
Wild Gunman is not as strong or fun as its contemporary colleagues, such as Duck Hunt and Hogan’s Alley. The notion of quick-draw gun duels in the original was its unique hook, which is mostly lost in the Virtual Console version due to the revised controls. Wild Gunman may be worth a look if you have some nostalgic inclinations toward it, but if you are looking for a fun Zapper game on the Virtual Console, you would be better off with a different one.