GENRE: Light Gun
RELEASE DATE: 03/87 – (US), 08/87 – (EU)
Shooting Gallery is exactly what its title says it is: a gallery of knickknacks paraded out for you to shoot with the Light Phaser. I imagine there were few games made for the Light Phaser as great as this one, though I do not believe the game is great. I just admire the purity of its purpose. The word “shooting” is in the title.
Keeping the world safe from Bob Ross paintings.
Shooting Gallery goes the extra mile to draw the player into its “world,” so to speak. Just look at the title screen: an off-duty cop or security guard stands with his gun drawn in front of a hastily painted mountain background (you’ll learn that the mountain background is for the duck stages). The yellow bricks surrounding the man are disconcerting – why yellow? – but he looks confident in his shooting abilities and that’s what matters. Why am I informing you of this? Because Sega deserves credit for injecting these details into their series of reflex exercises.
Duck Hunt II: The Reckoning
According to the Shooting Gallery manual, there are four different games with a total of six rounds. The names of the games are as follows: Just For the Birds, Aerial Attack, Twisting Tubes, and TV Terror. In Just For the Birds, you shoot ducks that fly around in unconventional patterns. Aerial Attack provides balloons and honest-to-goodness zeppelins. Twisting Tubes gives you balls weaving through knotted pipes. And TV Terror has you shooting spaceships and televisions that can only be shot when their shields are down. If this place existed in the real world, it would be the greatest shooting gallery known to man, particularly as you’re given unlimited rounds. Unlike many light gun games that purposefully limit your ammo to provide challenge, Shooting Gallery knows you’ll need as much ammo as possible to take out all the targets. Shoot to your heart’s content.
Hot air balloons sans people is a depressing sight.
Despite the abundance of ammo, Shooting Gallery requires you to be a crack shot. In order to pass each round, you have to hit a certain number of targets, shown only at the end of each round. The deeper into the game’s twenty four rounds you go, the more targets provided, the faster they come, the more you’re required to shoot. There’s a lot of trial-and-error, a lot of sweat on the trigger. If you miss the round’s requirement, you’re back to stage one with the ducks, no second chances.
The game’s difficulty is unforgiving, particularly in Twisting Tubes and TV Terror. In Twisting Tubes, the balls move quickly through the mostly enclosed tubes, providing you with the slimmest of opportunities to shoot them. In TV Terror, you’re beholden to the spaceships and televisions dropping their shields – you shoot when the game says, not when you want to. These are exercises meant for children with lightning reflexes, reflexes that haven’t been tarnished by car crashes, alcohol abuse, failed marriages and other life-related happenings. The Light Phaser, surprisingly, could handle the stress, but I, as an increasingly tired individual, could not.*
Shooting Gallery shifts from cute and whimsical to abstract and frustrating in five rounds.
Ultimately, it’s the details of Shooting Gallery that elevate it above your typical light gun excursion. Each of the four environments have beautiful soft backgrounds unlike any I’ve seen on the Master System; as if a painter finished them moments before they were taken to the gallery. When you shoot at an object and miss, you chip the background, revealing the brick behind it. The chipped background is important. Sega is reminding you that the gallery is pure artifice. You’re not really in the sky shooting zeppelins or in space shooting floating televisions. I find this bold. After all, Shooting Gallery is a video game. The setting could be anywhere and the player wouldn’t blink an eye. “Shoot balls as they’re moving through tubes? Sure, why not?” But Shooting Gallery is intentionally fake. It takes place in the real world, or at least in a shooting gallery supposedly set in the real world, but all you see are the set pieces – and the occasional chip. This constant awareness of a false reality lends the game a depth that Sega likely didn’t intend. The falseness isn’t a commentary on anything, I’m sure, but it gave me something to ponder as I shot like mad at ducks and balloons.
*It should be noted that I do not abuse alcohol nor have I gotten into a string of car accidents. My marriage is fine. The point is, life happens to all of us, and the more life happens, the slower we become. Or something.