Wii Zapper: Hands-on review

Will Greenwald takes the latest Wii accessory out for some target shooting.

Wii Zapper
The Wii Zapper: Spiritual Successor to the old NES light gun? Nintendo

If you grew up with a Nintendo Entertainment System in your house, then you no doubt remember the Zapper, the gray (or bright orange) light gun that let you shoot at ducks, bulls-eyes, and banditos. After almost 20 years, Nintendo has brought the Zapper, at least in name, to the Nintendo Wii. It's available in stores today for just $20, and it includes a free game, Link's Crossbow Training.

Instead of a light gun, the Wii Zapper is a simple gun-shaped plastic shell that houses the Wii remote and nunchuk attachment for use in certain shooting games. Simple, curved, and white, the Zapper fits perfectly with the Wii's aesthetic. Despite its vague gun shape--it loosely resembles a Capone-era Thompson submachine gun)--the Zapper's profile is nowhere near as menacing as the original Zapper's. Frankly, it looks more like an abstract sculpture than a gun, all rounded and white with nary a sharp angle to be seen.

Underneath the curved, matte white shell is a simple and comfortable device with few moving parts and no electronics. The Wii remote slides into an indentation in the top of the Zapper and clicks in place securely. The nunchuk attachment slides into a smaller notch on the back of the Zapper and stays in place thanks to two small plastic pegs. Once both devices are locked into the Zapper, you can keep the cord between them wound up and hidden thanks to a compartment inside the handle. This cord-winding and tucking will keep your Zapper nice and neat, but inserting and removing the corded nunchuk is a pain--you'll probably want to invest another $20 in a dedicated nunchuk that will remain permanently housed in the Zapper.

With both the Wiimote and nunchuk in place, the Zapper feels a bit more solid and comfortable. Your front hand has access to the trigger that sets off the Wiimote's B button, while your back hand has total control over the nunchuk. Even though it doesn't look like a gun, the Zapper at least feels a bit like one. Hold it in both hands, point the "barrel" at the screen, and let the Wii pointer do the rest.

You could simply hold the Wiimote in one hand, the nunchuk in the other, and play any Wii game as you normally would. But it's all about the ergonomics. While the Zapper doesn't add any meaningful or unique features to the Wii's control system, it provides a near-ideal grip for shooting games--the Zapper simply feels better than holding the remote and nunchuk normally. It doesn't offer quite the same experience as a genuine light gun, since you're still constrained by the Wiimote's sensors, but it still makes those games feel much more intuitive than the typical Zapper-less remote/nunchuk control scheme.

Or at least it does while you're aiming and shooting; moving around (with the nunchuk's thumbstick) adds something of an ambidextrous challenge to games that takes a bit of getting used to, and may be downright frustrating for some. Judging from the Zapper-centric games in the pipeline (Medal of Honor: Heroes 2, Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, and Ghost Squad are all available now, and a retooled House of the Dead is on the slate for 2008), publishers are focusing on "rail shooters"--games that have you automatically progressing through a level on a preset path. That lets you concentrate on aiming and blasting, not on moving around.

Even if you don't want those new titles, the Wii Zapper justifies its $20 price tag with its pack-in game, Link's Crossbow Training. This simple, Zelda-themed shooting gallery game would have easily been worth $20 alone, without the Zapper. It's not the largest or most complicated game for the Wii, but it offers enough fun and variety to satisfy both casual gamers and Nintendo fanboys. You play the ubiquitous elf Link, who got his hands on a crossbow after almost two decades of using a bow and arrow. Coincidentally enough, Link's crossbow looks very similar to the Wii Zapper. You can run through nine levels, each with three separate stages, to test your marksmanship. Besides the typical shoot-the-bulls-eye on-rails experience, Link's Crossbow Training includes modes where you must fend off hordes of skeletons advancing upon you, shoot your way through a goblin camp, and even plink flying skulls out of the sky in a stage that feels more than a little like the original Duck Hunt's skeet-shooting mode. It's not a very deep game, but it's simple and fun--a recipe for success on the Wii.

The Wii Zapper doesn't quite live up to its formidable pedigree, and probably won't burn itself into gamers' memories like its predecessor. Still, the Zapper is a fun little gadget with a great pack-in game that justifies its scant price tag. It might not be a must-buy accessory/game for the Wii, but it'll give you more than enough fun for the Jackson you'll drop on it.

 

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