The series Nintendo is Great will explore every game ever released for a Nintendo console/handheld, beginning with the Famicom and working our way up to the Nintendo Switch.
RELEASE DATE: 02/18/1984 – (JP), 10/18/1985 – (US), 02/15/1988 – (EU)
ALSO ON: PlayChoice-10, Wii U Virtual Console (10/22/2015 – EU, 01/07/2016 – US, 06/22/16 – EU)
Today, when retro enthusiasts think of Wild Gunman, they either remember grimacing cowboys losing their hat/trousers/dignity after being shot or that scene in “Back to the Future Part II” where Marty McFly destroys the arcade version. Wild Gunman itself? Not particularly memorable, unless you have a penchant for old light gun games.
Go on, Marty. You know you want to…
Nintendo must have really liked the concept of old West duels, though. The Wild Gunman we all remember was actually Nintendo’s second go at a Wild Gunman game. The first, also titled Wild Gunman, was an electro-mechanical lightgun arcade game and released in 1974 in Japan (1976 in the US). The absolutely massive cabinet used 16mm film projection to display full-motion-video of an outlaw cowboy, ready to fire at you. When the cowboy’s eyes flash, you draw and shoot. If you hit him, he’ll fall over and the game will move to the next outlaw. Fail to shoot first and the cowboy wins.
I’m not particularly well-versed in arcade history, but prior to writing this article, I wasn’t aware that any full-motion-video was used in arcade games, pre-1980s. I did a little digging, and it appears that Nintendo was the only developer using film-projection for full-motion-video in the 1970s. If this is truly the case (the Internet is often wrong, don’tcha know), imagine seeing Wild Gunman for the first time in arcades in 1976. Jaws dropped! Minds blown! Cowboy corpses everywhere!
Now you’re playing with power.
Or… maybe not. If Wild Gunman (1974) was so technically groundbreaking, why doesn’t anyone discuss or acknowledge its achievements in retro gaming circles? Perhaps very few have played it. I mean, look at that arcade cabinet. No way that thing cost less than five figures – in today’s money certainly, if not 1970s dollars. Its’ stateswide reach may have been limited to larger cities. Or perhaps Nintendo’s cartoonish “revamping” of the Wild Gunman concept in 1984 became much more popular and widespread than the original? I have no answers. Given the fond memories many have towards crappy FMV games like Night Trap, lack of regard for one of the genre’s originators seems more than a little strange.
WILD GUNMAN (FAMICOM/NES)
And all the Japanese children cheered.*
Wild Gunman was the first light gun game for the Famicom. As such, the game was packaged with the Beam Gun, a six-shooter/revolver that came with its own holster. If I had a sweet holster for my Zapper, perhaps I would have played a few more rounds of Wild Gunman as a kid, am I right?! Flimsy holster and plastic casing aside, the Beam Gun looks tremendously realistic. Even in the 1980s, I’m not sure America would have been ok with that. Nintendo’s faithfulness to traditional revolver design is one of the reasons why they redesigned the Zapper to resemble something out of a 60s sci-fi movie.
Still the O.G.
With full-motion-video displaying real actors playing outlaw cowboys, the original Wild Gunman strove for realism. Wild Gunman (1984) throws all that realistic trash out the window. Here, the five cowboy sprites are immaculately crafted cartoon characters. You could make up backstories for these characters based on their appearances alone. In fact, let’s do that. Let’s call them The Nameless Ones.
The Scraggly One (also known as the Famous One on the NES cover) – hunched over, unshaven – hasn’t seen a person in weeks, and he’s none too happy to see you. He’s angry and desperate which makes him more dangerous.
The Quiet One keeps his hat tucked over most of his face. It’s hard to see his pupils, but if you do catch them, they have a soulless glint; like him and the devil worked out an agreement long ago.
The Nervous One‘s only fired a gun a couple of times. He’s unsure of himself, but he’s also squirrelly. When shot at, he loses his pants. For him, embarrassment is worse than death.
The Fat One‘s draped in a sombrero and poncho. What does he have under there? He’s a wild card. You know he’s carrying pain, you’re just not sure how intense.
Then there’s The Boss. He’s tall, well-dressed. He’s got money, but how much remains uncertain. He’s disinterested in your presence, but you’re still a threat so he’s come to take you out. Shoot him, and he’ll lose his hat, revealing his bald head – a secret he wanted to remain hidden.
Alas, the sprites (and my unofficial biographies) are Wild Gunman‘s best features. This is one repetitive, monotonous shooting game that only ends when you run out of lives or just grow tired of shooting the same five cowboys. The latter won’t take long.
Round 1 of infinity.
Wild Gunman gives you three options, One Outlaw, Two Outlaws, and Gang. One Outlaw has you shooting – wait for it – one outlaw at a time. Here, a single cowboy saunters out and attempts to intimidate you. Once their eyes shine and the announcer yells “Fire!”, you have a limited amount of time (as displayed on the screen next to “Gunman”) to shoot them. Fire before the gunman shoots and you win. Fire before the announcer yells “Fire!” and you get a foul and lose a life. One Outlaw continues forever, with no discernible goal except “kill more outlaw cowboys.”
Fouls also transport you to a peyote-inspired neon desert landscape.
Two Outlaws adds an additional gunman on screen at the same time. Most of the time, both gunmen will yell “Fire!” at the same time, although occasionally only one will yell it. If you shoot both gunmen when only one yells “Fire!”, you will lose a life and be sent to jail for murder. Two Outlaws also continues forever, because the Old West really was that corrupt.
“But… but I’m such a winner!”
Gang places you in front of a saloon with several windows. Once the round starts, the same cowboys (up to their no good tricks) from the Outlaw portions pop out of each window, begging to be shot yet again. Shoot them all with your limited bullets, survive the wave and your reward from the sheriff is doing it again.. and again… and again.
That’s some bull plop right there.
Are we noticing a pattern here? Wild Gunman asks you to shoot the same five men over and over in different placements and venues, until your trigger finger can’t abide any more abuse. Perhaps we enjoyed such mind-numbing exercise in 1984, but here, today, now? No longer. It doesn’t help that Wild Gunman‘s hitbox is generous to a fault. In the Outlaw areas, you can fire near the gunmen and they’ll be shot. This makes two of the three game options far easier than they should be. Gang is slightly harder, due to the smaller hitboxes and faster appearing cowboys, but shooting the inhabitants of the saloon gets old fast – just like the rest of the game.
There’s a snake in my boots, indeed.
VS. WILD GUNMAN?
Don’t let GameFAQs fool you. If you’re a Nintendo buff, you know Vs. Wild Gunman doesn’t actually exist. While Wild Gunman does make an appearance in “Back to the Future Part II” as an arcade title, the cabinet was custom-made for the film. Nintendo would later include Wild Gunman as one of the available games in their PlayChoice-10 arcade machine, but this is as close as the shooting game got to a cabinet of its own.
The PlayChoice-10 (even with Wild Gunman): A+
WILD GUNMAN (WII U VIRTUAL CONSOLE)
Unlike most of the Famicom/NES games covered so far, Wild Gunman hasn’t been re-released and ported ad nauseam to a thousand different Nintendo systems/peripherals. The game is so tied to the Zapper that including it as a hidden game within, say, Animal Crossing or as an e-Reader card set made no sense.
When the Wii released with the unconventional Wiimote in late 2006, developers like Sega, Capcom, and Activision saw the Wiimote’s potential to be used as a gun within their games. Several House of the Dead, Resident Evil and Call of Duty titles followed, and while the majority weren’t as successful as their PS3 and 360 counterparts, they sold well enough and were a nice break from the unbelievable deluge of budget and party games. Nintendo even released the Wii Zapper, a gun shell-like contraption that holds the Wiimote and Nunchuk, in late 2007
Not anywhere near as iconic as the original.
Despite Nintendo acknowledging that the Wiimote works well for shooting games, they failed to port any of their old Zapper titles to the NES Virtual Console. Perhaps they didn’t want to take the time to adapt these titles to use the Wiimote. Perhaps they didn’t see the point. I couldn’t find any reason why Nintendo chose not to do this, but if you have a theory and/or a link to an official explanation, please leave a comment below.
With the Wii U Virtual Console, Nintendo decided that it was time to resurrect a handful of old Zapper games, complete with Wiimote functionality. Wild Gunman wasn’t the first to be ported (that would be Duck Hunt, of course), but the game released in Europe on October 23rd, 2015, almost to the day that Marty McFly arrived from the past. So… that’s neat for Europe! America and Japan had to deal with the less meaningful release dates of Janaury 7th, 2016, and June 22nd, 2016 respectively.
Wild Gunman is the first Zapper game I’ve experienced using the Wiimote, and it works really well. Too well, in fact. Unlike the original Famicom/NES game (or the PlayChoice-10 version), the Wii U port has a large blue cursor that shows you where your hit will land before you even fire. This is great if you’re not looking for a challenge, but for those who want some grits with their coffee, the blue cursor makes an already easy game even easier. Behold!
That said, it is refreshing to play a light gun game on a modern high-definition television with zero problems. The Wiimote’s functional design will never replace the Zapper’s sleek retro feel, and Wild Gunman itself isn’t an engrossing game. But the experience of taking retro technology into our present day is worth the few bucks.
Wild Gunman working well on modern equipment: B-
Did you know Wild Gunman as a concept predates the 1974 arcade version? In 1972, Nintendo released a toy set called “Wild Gunman” exclusively in Japan. I have zero experience with this product, so here’s a link to someone who does. Happy reading!