'80s handheld game still hits the mark

Is Bandai Electronic's 'Gunfighter' still fun to play 28 years later?

Jeff Sparkman Senior Copy Editor / Reviews
Jeff Sparkman is a copy editor at CNET who also writes about goofy and retro gadgets and contributes lame jokes where needed.
Jeff Sparkman
2 min read

Instant cool in the early 1980s: having a car like K.I.T.T. or the Batmobile. Failing that, having an arcade game in your garage.

The specific game changed depending on what they just got in over at Chuck E. Cheese (Star Wars, Crystal Castles, or the environmental cabinet version of Discs of Tron).

All the fun of a pizza party, minus the guy dressed like a rat. Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks

But, unless you were rich or a criminal mastermind, you had to settle for one of two alternatives: either you played similar games on your Atari 2600, or you begged your parents for the handheld versions, some of which were fashioned to look like miniature versions of the arcade cabinets.

Boot Hill was an early arcade game in which you played the classic gunfighter battle. The goal: Shoot the other gunfighter before he shoots you. That was pretty much it.

This gameplay was faithfully brought to the Bandai Electronics Arcade game Gunfighter, which boasts on the box, "All the Challenge and Thrills of Real Arcade Action!"

This game used a vacuum fluorescent display (VFD) rather than LCD or LED, so it had a nice, bright read-out.

Now, you can mock this relatively low-tech approach, but you have to give it credit--it delivers the goods. The game even has a cacti and a stage coach as obstacles between you and your opponent. You can shoot the cacti to get to him, but if you shoot the coach, you lose a point.

You can play against the game itself (with three difficulty levels, no less) or play against a friend. My favorite part is that when you get shot, it plays "funeral music" (dum-dum-de-dum DUM-de-dum-dum-dum-dum-DUM). And it's designed for "Ages 8 and Up."

But how does it hold up now, almost 30 years later? Funny you should ask; I just managed to score a working version of this game for three bucks at a thrift store.

I challenged Senior Editor Bonnie Cha to a duel. It took us a couple seconds to get used to the controls, but after that, the battle was on.

After a few minutes and a handful of, um, colorful metaphors, a victor emerged. I won--37 to 19--and Bonnie was a gracious loser. Well, gracious aside from accusing me of practicing before challenging her, anyway.

Sure, it's just one game, and there's not much to it, but I have to admit, it was fun to play. Score one for the old school.