The Rise and Fall of Light Gun Games in Arcades: A Nostalgic Journey

Light gun games have mostly been left behind in today's retro arcade selections, but these iconic classics have fans wanting a comeback.

Top Light Gun Games That Make Us Yearn for the Genre’s Return

Arcade Shooting

Arcades, once a bustling hub of gaming excitement, have sadly been on the verge of complete obliteration due to the ever-changing times and evolution of video game hardware since their heyday. However, amid the memories of these iconic gaming centers, one genre stood out as a shining star: the light gun game. These games allowed players to use a peripheral to actually aim at the screen, bringing a new level of interactivity and immersion to the arcade experience.

While some light gun games made their way into homes along with peripherals, the genre has since left the limelight. But fear not, fellow gamers! Traces of the light gun game can still be found in many VR titles, giving us hope that the genre may make a triumphant return in the future. But until then, let’s take a nostalgic journey through some of the best light gun games that graced the arcades.

Luigi’s Mansion Arcade: A Rare Arcade Adaptation Of Luigi’s Solo Journey

Luigi’s Mansion Arcade

Release: 2015
Available Only In Arcades

There are some unique peripherals on this list, but nothing as unique as a vacuum cleaner. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has played Luigi’s Mansion on the GameCube, since it is the character’s main defense against the ghosts. In the arcades, players aim it like a gun to suck up the ghosts attacking Luigi. The game was well received, but did not have a large presence in the United States when it initially came out. As such, it will be hard for any fan to track down a cabinet these days.

Crisis Zone: Time Crisis, But With An Automatic Weapon

Crisis Zone

Released in 1999 (PS2 Release: 2004)
Available In Arcades, PlayStation 2

Though it is technically a spin-off to Time Crisis, Crisis Zone plays differently enough to warrant its own entry. Players still go in and out of cover with the pedal, but this time they are equipped with an automatic weapon and the arcade title has no cooperative options. The structure is also a bit different from the Time Crisis series, with more freedom given to players as to how they want to tackle the levels. Though it was released in 1999, the PS2 port did not come out until 2004. This port included a multiplayer mode, a new level, and improved graphics.

CarnEvil: Shooting Through A Possessed Carnival

CarnEvil

Release: 1998
Available Only In Arcades

If zombies and dinosaurs do not scare the player, then maybe an evil carnival will keep them up at night. The game takes place in a classic horror trope, but at least this time it gives the protagonist a means to fight back. The peripheral here is a shotgun, so it gives players a classic 80s horror movie vibe, like The Evil Dead or Phantasm. The game was developed by Midway, with the violence and gore fitting in with the company’s reputation. Even if the graphics are primitive by today’s standards, it almost elevates the terror.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park: Relive The Movie Through A Railshooter

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Release Year: 1997
Available on arcades

Jurassic Park was one of the most successful franchises of the ’90s, and when the first film was released, the inevitable video game tie-in followed. But it was the second arcade game released by Sega that really impressed fans and critics. The aim of the game was to find Ian Malcolm and Sarah Harding, so they could get the player off the dreaded island. The gamer plays as two hunters on Site B, which was an interesting angle to take for the game. To escape, the player must fight a bunch of deadly dinosaurs that live on the island. Upon finding Ian and Sarah, the player has to help them get the injured Tyrannosaurus Rex to the trailer to be treated. The next aim of the game is to defeat its parents. There was talk of a console port in the late 1990s but it never came to fruition, meaning it is only possible to officially play this game in an arcade.

Lethal Enforcers: The Closest We Get To A Dirty Harry Light Gun Game

Lethal Enforcers

Release Year: 1992
Available on SNES, PlayStation, Sega Genesis, and in arcades

These days a game called Lethal Enforcers about cops shooting up residential areas probably would not fly the same way it did 30 years ago. However, the ’90s were a different time, and it is difficult to ignore this title when talking about 90s nostalgia. The primitive digital sprites only add to the game’s charm. Home console versions also had a peripheral to use that was pretty advanced for its time.

Alien 3: The Gun: More Action-Packed Than The Movie

Alien 3: The Gun

Release Year: 1993
Only available in arcades

The Alien franchise constantly switches between spine-tingling horror and bombastic action. Where the Alien 3 film is more in line with the debut entry than the first sequel because the protagonists face off against just one monster, the game is a light-gun title released exclusively in arcades. While it may not follow the movie closely, it received high critical praise. The quality of games based on the franchise is hit or miss, so every solid entry needs to be recognized and celebrated.

Duck Hunt: The Original Light Gun Peripheral

Duck Hunt

Release date: 1984
Available on: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

First-person shooter games in the 80s didn’t get better than Duck Hunt. Like most games from that era, it is dated now but was great fun to play back in the day. It sold 28 million copies and is largely responsible for the popularity of light gun games. The aim of the game is to shoot ducks and clay pigeons and hit a minimum amount of targets to progress to the next level. The game gets harder with each level with faster targets and an increase in the minimum number to hit. Because of the way the NES Zapper works, it does not function on modern televisions. Anyone hoping to play it has to find an old-fashioned CRT Television.

Revolution X: Save Aerosmith With Giant Miniguns

Revolution X

Release Year: 1994
Available on SNES, Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, MS-DOS, PlayStation, and in arcades

It is hard to imagine the gaming demographic of the 1990s being enticed to play one game over the other in the arcades because Aerosmith was predominantly featured. Whether the story about the protagonists rescuing the members of the popular rock band boosted sales or not, the game was massively successful and is considered a classic of the light-gun arcade shooter. The sturdy light-gun peripheral mounted to the cabinet also made playing the title just feel so good. Console versions also exist, but they are of poor quality compared to the arcade original.

Link’s Crossbow Training

Release Year: 2007
Available on Wii

Link’s Crossbow Training was a great light gun game published by Nintendo and released on the Wii video game console. It was released in 2007 and became an instant hit with fans and critics alike. It is set in the style of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and the player takes on the role of Link from the series. After completing each level, the player gets a medal based on their score. The aim of the game is to shoot down targets and enemies. There were 9 playable levels and each level was an exciting, adrenaline-fueled activity that made the player long for the next one. They don’t make games like this anymore.

Die Hard Trilogy: Part Third-Person Shooter, Part Driving Game, Part Light-Gun Game

Die Hard Trilogy

Release Year: 1996
Available on PS1, Sega Saturn, and Windows

This is not exclusively a light gun title. The game covers the three movies and divides them into separate genres. The second movie is turned into a light gun game while the first is a third-person shooter and the closer is a driving game. Even though it is only one part of the package, players could use a peripheral to play the section in a more immersive way. The game received a sequel that told its original story while utilizing the same format. Die Hard has been pretty dormant for years, and it never had a lot of great games, so Die Hard Trilogy remains one of the best based on the franchise.

Star Wars Trilogy Arcade: Lightsaber Duels, Dogfights, And On-Foot Segments All In One Package

Star Wars Trilogy Arcade

Release Year: 1998
Available only in arcades

Yet another game covering a whole trilogy, this arcade title goes through the events of the classic Star Wars films. Levels vary between dogfights and on-foot segments. Several boss fights also see players control a lightsaber. To be fair, this is not exactly a light gun game since players aim using a joystick, but it works better when considering a chunk of the game has players shooting from a ship. As much as fans would appreciate a home version of this game, it would be hard to translate the feel of the arcade into the living room.

Terminator 2: The Arcade Game: Change The Future One Light-Gun Level At A Time

Terminator 2: The Arcade Game

Release Year: 1991
Available on the SNES, Sega Genesis, Sega Master System, and in arcades

Initially released in arcades, this adaptation of the legendary film is generally considered the best adaptation. There were several other games also covering the events of the movie, but they were side-scrollers or different genres. The genre lends itself to exciting levels directly based on the movie’s set pieces. During a time when video game adaptations were looked down upon, it was quite impressive to see this game receive such praise.

Point Blank: The Family Friendly Entry

Point Blank

Release Year: 1994
Available on PS1, Nintendo DS, and in arcades

Where most of the games on this list involve shooting humans or machines, this game is more family-friendly. It came out in arcades before being ported to the PlayStation. There was a whole trilogy on the console, though few releases happened afterward. The first title was re-released on the Nintendo DS where players used the stylus to shoot the weapons. A fourth game in the series came out in the arcades in 2016 but never made its way to consoles.

Time Crisis: Duck In And Out Of Cover With A Pedal

Time Crisis

Release Year: 1995
Available on PS1 and in arcades

Perhaps the most popular light gun series, Time Crisis added an extra dynamic of letting players duck behind cover. This added an extra layer of intensity and engagement. The series had several spin-offs and numerous sequels, all the way up to Time Crisis 5 in 2015. Time Crisis 4 on the PlayStation 3 even had support for the PlayStation Move controller, eliminating the need to buy another peripheral.

Silent Scope: Live The Game Through A Sniper’s Scope

Silent Scope

Release Year: 2002
Available on PS2, Xbox, and in arcades
Metacritic Score: 63

In the arcade, Silent Scope utilized a unique sniper rifle peripheral. Players looked into the scope to simulate looking through a real scope within the game. Translating this unique mechanic to a home console was certainly a challenge, and some argue the home versions never quite captured the same feeling. All the same, the older Silent Scope games are classics. Since Konami published these titles, it is unlikely we’ll ever see a continuation unless it is in the form of a pachinko machine. There is a peripheral available for the Xbox release, which is definitely necessary for an authentic Silent Scope experience.

Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles: Relive The Classic Resident Evil Titles In A New Way

Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles

Release Year: 2007
Available on Nintendo Wii and PS3
Metacritic Score: 75

Umbrella Chronicles was not the series’ first foray into the light gun game. Resident Evil: Survivor is a game most would like to forget about, however. Umbrella Chronicles takes players through the classic Resident Evil games from a new perspective. It is also playable cooperatively. The Wii version uses the Wiimote, while the PS3 version supports the Move controller in addition to the Sixaxis and DualShock 3.

Ghost Squad: Use The Peripheral To Adjust Your Weapon And Firing Mode

Ghost Squad

Release Year: 2004
Available on Nintendo Wii and in arcades
Metacritic Score: 69

Ghost Squad also featured a wholly unique controller in its arcade form. Players clicked different switches on the peripheral, which was shaped like an assault rifle. Certain arcade versions even had purchasable cards to save character data and unlock new upgrades and character skins. While there are only three levels, they have several non-linear moments, encouraging replayability. In 2012 the game came to the Nintendo Wii.

Dino Stalker: A Hidden Sequel To Dino Crisis 2

Dino Stalker

Release Year: 2002
Available on PS2
Metacritic Score: 50

Add dinosaurs into any mix and the product immediately becomes cooler. The story follows a World War II pilot who is transported to a dangerous land filled with dinosaurs. After a little while, the game turns out to be a backdoor sequel to Dino Crisis 2, directly following up on the PS1 game’s events. This is great news for people who were disappointed by Dino Crisis 3, which barely resembles a Dino Crisis game.

Police 911: The Game Tracks Player Movement

Police 911

Release Year: 2000
Available on PS2 (only in Japan and Europe) and in arcades

This arcade game was unique for its motion-sensing mechanics. Instead of going into cover with the use of a pedal, Police 911 actually tracked players’ movements, making them duck and shift their bodies in real life to go into cover in the game. With VR, games like Super Hot have taken this mechanic even further, with players moving out of the way of moving bullets. As previously mentioned, traces of the genre are evident in VR.

Area 51: Shooting Some Aliens

Area 51

Release Year: 1995
Available on PS1, Sega Saturn, Windows, and in arcades

As the name implies, Area 51 had players defend themselves against an alien menace. Released in 1995 in the arcades, the environments are in 3D while enemies and other NPCs are 2D digitized sprites. The arcade version was well-received, but console conversions were not nearly as beloved. After a direct sequel, two first-person shooters bearing the series’ name were made for the PS2 and Xbox and then the subsequent generation. Most fans just want another light gun game, though.

Closing Thoughts

The arcade era may be fading, but the memories of light gun games will forever live on. These games provided a level of interactivity and immersion that was unmatched at their time, and some classics still resonate with gamers today. From Luigi’s Mansion Arcade to Area 51, each game offered its own unique experience and left an indelible mark on the hearts of players.

So the next time you stumble upon an old arcade cabinet or come across a VR game that reminds you of the good old days, take a moment to appreciate the legacy of light gun games. Let’s hope that in the future, this genre will make a triumphant return, bringing us even more exciting and immersive experiences.


Q&A: More Light Gun Games and Concerns

Q: Are there any other light gun games that you recommend?

A: Absolutely! Here are a few more light gun games that are definitely worth checking out:
1. House of the Dead series
2. Time Crisis II
3. Virtua Cop series
4. Mad Dog McCree
5. The House of the Dead: Overkill

Q: Are there any plans for arcade light gun games to make a comeback?

A: While there are no concrete plans for a full-blown revival of arcade light gun games, there is still hope in the form of VR technology. VR has the potential to bring back the immersive and interactive experience of light gun games, allowing players to physically aim and shoot at virtual targets. Keep an eye out for VR developers and studios who might bring the magic of light gun games back to life.

Q: Can I still find light gun games in arcades today?

A: While it might be challenging to find arcades that still have light gun games, it is not impossible. Some arcades, especially those that focus on retro gaming or have a dedicated niche for classic games, may still feature a few light gun cabinets. It’s always worth checking out local arcades or gaming events to see if you can relive the nostalgia of playing light gun games in their natural arcade habitat.

Q: Can I play light gun games on modern consoles or PCs?

A: Unfortunately, playing light gun games on modern consoles or PCs can be tricky due to compatibility issues and the lack of peripheral support. However, there are some alternatives that you can explore. For example, certain light gun games have been ported to consoles like the Wii, which utilizes the Wii Remote and Nunchuk as a makeshift light gun. Likewise, PC gamers can explore options like using mouse and keyboard configurations or emulator setups to recreate the light gun experience. While it may not be perfect, it can still offer a taste of the light gun gameplay you love.

Q: Is there any news about new light gun games being developed?

A: Currently, there isn’t a significant amount of news about new light gun games in development. The focus in the gaming industry has largely shifted towards virtual reality and other innovative gameplay experiences. While this may seem disappointing for light gun enthusiasts, it’s important to remember that gaming trends are constantly evolving. As technology progresses and new gaming concepts emerge, it’s possible that light gun games will once again capture the attention of developers and gamers alike.


References:

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