The 10 Best Nintendo NES Zapper Games - Our Favorites Titles
“CHA-DING! CHA-DING! CHA-DING!”
Every kid who grew up in the 80s knows that sound. Even today, hearing that melodious twang awakens a mighty surge of our fondest childhood memories.
For those who don’t know, we’re referring to the nostalgic trigger sound of the NES light gun peripheral, the Zapper. This iconic accessory helped define 80s gaming and still stands as the coolest video game peripheral ever made.
Why’s that, you ask?
- It instantly transforms your game room into a safe, kid-friendly shooting gallery.
- It looks like an awesome future gun for destroying evil robots.
- It makes a cool click/twang noise every time you squeeze the trigger.
- The noise also causes a slight recoil so it feels like you’re actually firing.
- Unlike the Power Glove, the Zapper actually functions the way it’s supposed to.
Still, the most impressive thing about the Zapper is what we don’t remember—namely, any NES Zapper games. Despite all the Zapper’s renown and splendor, most gamers have played only one Zapper-compatible game: Duck Hunt. In fact, Nintendo only released 17 titles for the Zapper altogether.
As such, we bet that no more than a handful of you can even name another NES Zapper game. That ends today.
Below, we list and review all the best NES Zapper games.
We also explain how to get the hardware/software you need in order to play these games. Read on to see what your childhood was missing.
1. Duck Hunt
Let’s start with the obvious. As most of you know, Duck Hunt is one of the best NES Zapper games. Overall, it’s a great example of the perfect simplicity that made the 8-bit era of gaming so great.
More specifically, the controls are impeccably responsive. Really, the only variable is the skill of the player.
Aim correctly and your shots hit their marks. If you miss, it’s because your aim is off or because the duck hid behind an obstacle.
Also, the ducks get faster after each level you clear. So, the difficulty level is always appropriate, no matter who’s playing. As you get better, the game gets harder in order to match your skills.
Plus there are three game modes: 1 Duck, 2 Ducks, and an additional game called Clay Shooting. For all these reasons, this game pretty much never gets boring.
Now, here’s a mindblowing, life-altering fact you may not know about this game. Duck Hunt has a two-player versus mode. Seriously, it does!
Plug a controller into the first port and a second player can control the Duck with the D-Pad. While this may not be as cool as a dual-Zapper mode, it still allows two players to enjoy Duck Hunt in a whole new way. This excellent two-player party game is also a fun drinking game for over-21 gaming parties.
2. Wild Gunman
Wild Gunman was a very popular arcade game in the 1980s. Case in point, it’s the cowboy game played by Marty McFly in Back to the Future II—alongside a very young Elijah Wood, no less. In other words, it’s worth playing for nostalgic value alone.
But nostalgia isn’t the only reason—or even the main reason—to play Wild Gunman. This game is unique among Zapper games in that it focuses on western-style quick-draw duels.
In contrast, most games on this list are really just variations of typical shooting galleries. You wait for the target to appear and shoot it before it gets away.
But you can’t do that in Wild Gunman. Instead of hitting moving targets as quickly as possible, you shoot a stationary target at precisely the proper time.
You must wait for your enemy to say, “FIRE!” and then shoot him before he shoots you. If you shoot too soon or too slow, you lose.
This concept is so simple and addicting that it’s universally enjoyable—timeless, even. That’s why you’ve probably played some version of it before. Similar “quick-draw” minigames are included in several game franchises, including:
- Kirby’s Adventure
- Kirby Super Star
- Mario Party
- Wario Ware
In fact, the original Wild Gunman arcade game came out in 1974! It featured full motion videos of actors dressed like cowboys. And before that, there were, you know, actual cowboys shooting each other this way.
In any case, most video game incarnations of this concept don’t allow you to play with an actual gun peripheral. If you want an NES Zapper game that’s as fun and addicting as Duck Hunt, add Wild Gunman to your collection. Wild Gunman also features 3 modes of play: 1 Outlaw, 2 Outlaws, and a popup shooting gallery mode called “Gang.”
3. Hogan’s Alley
As we mentioned above, most NES Zapper games are just video game versions of traditional, midway-style shooting galleries. Of those, Hogan’s Alley is the one you should own.
Like Wild Gunman, Hogan’s Alley is rich in history and nostalgia. For starters, it was also a hit arcade game of the 80s.
Also, it’s based on an actual marksmanship training facility that’s been used by the police and military since before World War II. Back then, trainees would shoot mechanized pop-up targets with live fire to hone their skills.
Likewise, the Hogan’s Alley game features pop-up targets that resemble cardboard cutouts. The fun part is that you have to be careful about which targets you hit.
There is an innocent lady and a police officer that you must avoid shooting. But you don’t know who’s who until the targets turn around. You have to think fast to avoid making mistakes.
This is notably less monotonous than a game where you just shoot everything that moves. It really keeps you on your toes!
There are also 3 game modes. Game A has targets that turn around against a blank background. It’s a more mentally stimulating version of Wild Gunman, but it also feels like “Practice Mode.”
In Game B, targets appear in various hiding places along a city street. Game C is Trick Shot, wherein the object is to shoot cans to keep them from hitting the ground. You earn points for each can that makes it to the goal.
Gumshoe is an extremely unique game that sort of belongs in its own genre. It’s obviously a shooter because you control it with the gun. But it’s primarily a platformer.
More than anything else, it feels like one of those addicting, modern-day mobile games that eventually get ported into arcades. Think Flappy Bird crossed with Balloon Fight.
Anyway, the object of Gumshoe is to rescue your kidnapped daughter from gangsters. You do that by keeping your character, Mr. Stevenson, alive long enough to reach the end of the game.
But Mr. Stevenson is mostly out of your control, automatically running to the right at all times. Without your help, he’ll run right into dangerous obstacles and die.
So, you shoot him to make him jump and you shoot certain obstacles to destroy them. Shooting anything other than Mr. Stevenson consumes bullets, which you replenish by collecting balloons.
Granted, the logic of this game makes no sense at all. But it’s a truly unique game experience unlike any other.
5. Freedom Force
Freedom Force is a better—or, at least, more exciting—version of Hogan’s Alley. Both games require the same skill set: shooting the bad guys while sparing the innocents. But while Hogan’s Alley has cardboard training targets, Freedom Force has all the style and explosive energy of a 1980s action movie.
In this game, you play as a lone gunman who must destroy, like, a thousand terrorists to save a bunch of hostages. Basically, you singlehandedly take down an entire regime of terrorists in every level. The experience is what we imagine it feels like to be John McClane from Die Hard, if John McClane were also a Terminator.
Oh, we didn’t mention the best part. Freedom Force has a two-player mode.
Unfortunately, players must take turns instead of playing together co-op-style. So there’s still no game that you can play with two Zappers at once like a dual-gun-wielding super-cop.
6. Operation Wolf
Operation Wolf is another explosive shooter that gives off 80s action movie vibes. This one’s got a jungle warfare theme, reminiscent of Rambo or Commando.
The bad news is, the NES port is a lesser version of the original arcade hit, especially in terms of graphics. But the good news is that you probably never have/will play the arcade game. So, lacking that comparison, it’s another decent action shooter for the NES Zapper.
More importantly, here’s a better comparison to keep in mind. There are only 17 licensed games made for the NES Zapper, only a third of which are guerilla-warfare-style action games.
Of those, Freedom Force and Operation Wolf are the best. Though, Freedom Force definitely takes the cake.
7. Bill Barker’s Trick Shooting
Bill Barker’s Trick Shooting is a cutesy shooting gallery that doesn’t have the same nostalgic impact as Duck Hunt. Although, that damn laughing dog still makes an appearance.
“You LOSER! HA, HA, HA!”
The problem is, Trick Shooting was released in 1990, only months before the Super Nintendo came out. By then, it was too late for the game to earn the recognition it truly deserves.
Nostalgia aside, this game is great—possibly the best shooting gallery for the NES. And yes, that comparison even includes Duck Hunt.
The game has a loveable, bubbly personality and a bit more variety than Duck Hunt. There are 3 individual modes of play in which you shoot ascending balloons, tossed plates, or falling objects. In addition, there’s a fourth mode that includes all of these games, plus two bonus games.
Trick Shooting has loads of replay value as you can compete with friends or try to beat your own score. If you like Duck Hunt, you’ll love Bill Barker’s Trick Shooting.
8. Gotcha! The Sport!
Confused by the title? You should be.
Basically, Gotcha! The Sport! is the result of a poorly-conceived marketing ploy by several now-defunct companies. It’s a tie-in based on a spy comedy movie no one’s ever heard of to sell paintball guns to kids. Oh, and “Gotcha” is apparently what 1985 thought paintball was called.
Against all expectations, the result of this mess is a decent shooter game for the NES Zapper. It’s meant to simulate a typical, real-life game of paintball. And it does so surprisingly well from a time when few people had even heard of the sport.
Put simply, you try to shoot the opponents before they shoot you and capture their flag for the win. You also use the D-pad on the controller to scroll the screen left or right. As in Duck Hunt, the opponents become faster after each level you clear.
Compared to the other amazing games on this list, Gotcha! The Sport! isn’t exactly the best. But it’s different enough to warrant your consideration.
9. To the Earth
The last game worth mentioning is To the Earth. As you may have guessed, the game is set in space.
Normally, that would make it the most common type of shooter game there is. But when it comes to the NES Zapper, space shooters are surprisingly rare.
And we want to be excited about this refreshing change of scenery. But, unfortunately, the game is rather repetitive and unfairly difficult.
It does, however, have a couple of innovative features. Missing your shot depletes your life bar while hitting your mark fills it back up. And if you shoot enough enemies when your life bar’s full, it destroys all enemies on the screen.
If you want the only space shooter in the NES Zapper lineup (besides the Japan-only Space Shadow), buy To the Earth. Otherwise, don’t.
10. Chiller By American Game Cartridges
Chiller might not be one of the first nes zapper games that come to mind. This game may lack in overall popularity, but it pushed the NES hardware to the limit. However this game is no where near what the arcade game was.
As the nes version has some censorship that wasn't prevalant in the arcade version. For example in the arcade you start off in the torture chamber, where your supposed to shot the skin off the bodies.
In the NES version the torture chamber is much more toned down, and it's now the 3rd level in the game. The idea of the torture chamber is to shoot the flesh of the bodies and also shoot the torture devices, to inflict more torture on the bodies. Let's think about that for a second.. hmm that's a little messed up.
Nontheless this a cool horror type zapper game. The game is still a challenge to play as most 3rd party titles weren't know for the fluid control movements. Every scene has a monster meter on the top of the screen, which means that's the number of monsters you have to shoot to advance to the next scene. This is a cool game that should be played around Halloween. Enjoy...
Important: The Requirements For Playing NES Zapper Games
It’s important to know that you probably don’t have the required hardware to play these games, namely an old, picture tube television. Does the NES Zapper work on modern TVs? No, the nes Zapper is not compatible with the standard HD flatscreen TVs or Plasma TV's most people use in their homes today. It simply can’t register what you’re shooting at on these screens.
Fortunately, you can usually find the bulky, old TVs you need in thrift stores for about five bucks. Other than that, you need an NES system, a Zapper (and possibly a controller), and a copy of each game you’re interested in. You’ll also need the proper cords to connect your NES to the TV and to the wall outlet.
Get the Best NES Zapper Games Here
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