With the advent of HDTVs and their different method of producing an image compared to old-school CRTs, one genre of game has largely fallen by the wayside: the light-gun shooter.
With that said, however, there are a number of developers out there keeping the soul — if not the exact execution — of this classic arcade genre alive, and with most gamers tending to demand more than a simple 20-minute arcade-style game for their money these days, they often have a ton of hidden depth behind the traditional “point and shoot” gameplay.
Gal*Gun: Double Peace is one of the most potent examples of a developer taking what is, at heart, a very simple, straightforward style of game and adding a ton of depth, replayability and longevity to it. We’ve certainly come a long way since Operation Wolf, that’s for sure.
Before we delve into Gal*Gun: Double Peace specifically, let’s take a look at the light-gun shooter genre in general to put it in some sort of context.
Believe it or not, light-gun games have actually been around since the 1930s, predating what we tend to describe as “video games” by several decades. These games made use of light sensors on mechanical targets coupled with a gun — usually a rifle, in contrast to the pistol-style guns we more typically tend to associate with more recent light-gun games — that would fire out a beam of light when the trigger was pulled.
The technology continued to develop over the course of 30 years or so, with one of the most successful “pre-video games” arcade titles coming from Sega in 1966 in the form of Periscope. In this game, the player, armed with a simulated submarine periscope that limited their field of view both horizontally and vertically, took on cardboard ships which moved using chains. Sega and Nintendo then spent the best part of the late ’60s and early ’70s competing to release more and more technologically advanced games involving gun-like props.
Light-guns entered the home at the same time as video games thanks to 1972’s Magnavox Odyssey, the first commercially available home games console. Due to its primitive technology — it was only capable of displaying three dots and one vertical line on the screen at any one time — Odyssey games tended to come with overlays for the television screen that would provide context for what was going on. Odyssey light-gun games — of which there were a whopping four, all of which were included with the sold-separately light-gun accessory — typically involved having to shoot one of the white dots with the gun; in some cases, the target could be moved around by a second player. Primitive by today’s standards, certainly, but the basic principles of how it all worked formed the basis of how many subsequent light-gun peripherals for home consoles and arcade games alike would work.
Perhaps the best-known home light-gun is Nintendo’s Zapper for the NES, which is most commonly remembered as “that bright orange gun you played Duck Hunt with”. Other games were available that supported the Zapper, but, perhaps wisely, many developers chose to make its use optional rather than hoping people had an optional peripheral — even despite one of the NES’ popular bundles coming with both a Zapper and robotic second player R.O.B.
As gaming technology advanced, so too did the ways in which light guns worked. While the first electromechanical lightguns from the ’30s and onwards actually fired out a beam of light at targets, more recent incarnations are designed to receive light rather than shoot it out. The exact way in which this works varies from light-gun to light-gun, but in most cases it involved blanking out or flashing the screen for a split-second — fast enough for the diode in the gun to recognise that where it is pointed while remaining relatively unobtrusive to the player — and then using the information the gun received to determine whether or not the player had scored a hit. More recent games use infrared sensors or cameras similar to how the Wii’s remotes work in order to determine where they are pointed.
So that’s how the technology works: essentially you’re pointing a cursor at a screen and “clicking” on it in order to shoot. Unsurprisingly, many arcade light-gun shooters found themselves converted to platforms that supported mouse control, as this allowed for a vaguely similar experience without requiring expensive additional and optional peripherals.
With such a limited control method, then, it would be necessary to design games around these limitations. Freedom of movement would almost certainly be right out of the window, as it wouldn’t be overly practical to expect someone to control a character and point a gun at the screen — though that didn’t stop some developers from experimenting — and so, too, would be complex interactions. Light-gun games, therefore, tended to fall into one of two categories: violent, military-inspired games such as Operation Wolf and non-violent, sports-style games such as Duck Hunt.
Namco’s 1995 title Time Crisis pushed the genre onwards by adding an additional control to the mix: a foot pedal, which would allow the player to duck down behind cover and reload or pop up and shoot enemies. In this way, the game had quite a bit more depth than earlier light-gun shooters, which tended to rely on shooting enemies before their attack animations finished to avoid taking damage. In Time Crisis, you could actually dodge, which was a significant addition. Later installments in the series also added simultaneous play for two players, allowing each player to see the action unfolding from a different angle, and even cover one another if their teammate found themselves on the receiving end of suppressing fire.
Time Crisis’ contemporary The House of the Dead from Sega took a different tack to Time Crisis, putting one or two players in a distinctly “up close and personal” situation with their adversaries rather than facing them against wave after wave of goons against the clock. Locational damage was extremely important in The House of the Dead; the age-old zombie-killing strategy of “shoot them in the head” was in full effect here. That wasn’t all, though; The House of the Dead also occasionally took a break from shooting galleries of incoming enemies in favour of boss battles. Tightly scripted and heavily pattern-based, The House of the Dead’s bosses are memorable encounters, though not always for the right reasons. “Suffer like G did?!”
So where does this leave Gal*Gun, then? Well, it was never in the arcades and it never used a light-gun accessory (though the PlayStation 3 version of the Japan-only first game in the series used PlayStation Move as an optional sort-of substitute), though that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a ton of arcade shooter DNA. In terms of execution, it’s closer to The House of the Dead than Time Crisis in that it unfolds from a first-person perspective along predefined routes, you can’t dodge but you can occasionally choose which way to go, and the action is generally fairly up-close and personal. Locational damage is also extremely important, though rather than headshots being the universal way that you dispatch enemies, different characters have different weak spots. Oh, and there are boss fights.
Perhaps the most striking difference between Gal*Gun and the light-gun shooters of days gone by is the theme: it’s entirely non-violent, and it doesn’t involve sports, either. Instead, the plot is straight out of a comedy harem anime: the protagonist finds himself, quite by accident, on the receiving end of an angel’s arrow that is 32 times more powerful than it is supposed to be, making him temporarily completely irresistible to the opposite sex. Not only that, but the lingering effects of the angel’s arrow mean that if he doesn’t find his true love by the end of the day, he’ll be destined to be alone forever.
This rather silly setup forms the basis for both the original Gal*Gun and the newer Double Peace, with the latter’s events echoing and occasionally making reference to the former, though no knowledge of the original is required to enjoy Double Peace.
Protagonist Houdai is armed with the ability to use “pheromone shots” to deal with the incoming hordes of girls that block his path. Pelt a girl with enough of these and she’ll collapse to the ground in a state of euphoria; hit her in her weak spot and she’ll go down in one hit as an “Ecstasy Shot”; make it through a whole level and you progress with the story, branching into one of several different paths early in the narrative, with each path offering both a “good” and a “true” ending according to your performance and responses to the characters.
Yes, herein lies the other big difference between Double Peace and other light-gun shooters: the fact that it’s not just about shooting things and attaining high scores. No; the shooting action is actually wrapped around a dating sim in the True Love mould — that is to say, Houdai has several statistics that can rise and fall over the course of his adventure, with certain dialogue options and paths only being available to him if he meets the prerequisite statistics. No joking about stealing panties without a few points in “pervert” for you!
What the dating sim trappings do to Double Peace is provide it with a sense of structure and progression that more typical arcade-style shooters lack. There’s a narrative reason for Houdai to be doing the things he is doing, and the conclusions to each of the narrative arcs are surprisingly sweet. Not only that, but the “enemies” you face aren’t faceless clones or identical-looking zombies — each one of them is a unique character with their own appearance, personality, voice and character traits. We’ll delve into this aspect in more detail when we take a closer look at the game’s narrative, themes and characterisation, but for now, suffice it to say that this makes the whole experience a lot more fun.
And yet, even with this depth, replayability and sense of narrative coherence about it, Double Peace maintains one of the core appeal elements of the light-gun shooter: immediacy. You can pick up the game, start playing and immediately know what to do. It’s fun, and it’s satisfying. The fact that many players picked up the PS3 original and enjoyed it despite, in some cases, not knowing a lick of Japanese is a big part of the reason that Double Peace made it West in the first place; while there’s an enjoyable, amusing story to participate in, the truly appealing thing about the game is simply pointing a cursor at giddy, smiling girls until they fall over in quasi-orgasmic ecstasy and award you with points.
There’s not a malicious bone in Gal*Gun’s body; all it wants to do is make you smile. And in that regard, it succeeds admirably, much as the light-gun shooters of yore succeeded in making you feel like a gun-toting badass: it’s simple, delightful, pleasurable fun that remembers that, more often than not, people are playing games simply to have a good time.
More about Gal*Gun: Double Peace
Gal*Gun Double Peace is out now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita and PC.
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