Game Name: Ultimate Duck Hunting
Publisher: Zoo Games
Developer: Mid Carolina Media
Release Date: 10/20/2009
There is a sacred history to the name Duck Hunt. Dating back to the original NES, any gamer who owned that system can remember whiling away hours of their lives aiming a lightgun at a tiny screen while a dog laughed at every miss and cheered every kill. Twenty-five years since the original game was released, a new title hoping to trade on that nostalgia has arrived for the Nintendo Wii. Though it shares nothing at all with the original game, Ultimate Duck Hunting can’t help but conjure memories of that classic Nintendo title. Boasting realistic graphics and trained retrieving dogs, Ultimate Duck Hunting puts you out in the marshes just like a real hunter. Is it easier to just go down to your local butcher? Let’s find out.
Ultimate Duck Hunting features a “Quick Hunt” mode so that if you just want to get into the slaughter of innocent mallards, go right ahead. It also features a story mode designed to let you pick a pre-loaded avatar that most hideously resembles you, name them, choose the color of a dog but not breed, and name that poor beast as well. Then it is time for a brief training bit so that you can teach your old dog some new tricks, such as how to run forward, right, left, and back to you. And also how to stop moving at the sound of a whistle. Once this is done it is time to go hunting, and you’ll pick some part of the country that looks completely different from some other random part of the country. There is also a multiplayer mode that puts you head to head against another hunter to try to get more ducks. Of course, this means finding someone else who would rather play this game than another cooperative or competitive Wii game.
Hunters are supposed to have good eyesight, right? They need to be able to tell the difference between a squirrel and a tree at a few hundred yards. Sadly, any exceptional eyesight qualities that real hunters might have are wasted on this game. Bleak, gray landscapes, clouds that might be ducks, and birds that suddenly appear and dive-bomb past you are just the most obvious issues. Clipping problems abound, such as my hunting dog somehow becoming merged with a bush half the time. Backgrounds are virtually indistinguishable. There’s a tree in Virginia, and a white, snow covered tree in Alaska. The mound of dirt your duck blind sits atop isn’t much more than a brown blob. You are given a radar to help you find things, but that is practically useless as there are no real ways to set your viewpoint. Weapons don’t fare much better. Despite a wide variety of shotguns and rifles to choose from, they don’t amount to much on the screen past a black rod sticking out from the bottom of the screen. The guns in Wolfenstein 3D, by which I mean the shareware from the early 90’s, were better detailed.. When they fire, the guns cough smoke and, if you hit something, you might see a puff of feathers. In fact, if you fire while spinning around, the blast effect stays in place for a second while the barrel moves. About the best thing I can say for the graphics is that I wasn’t blinded by them.
When I mentioned that the guns cough, I meant that. It’s not a boom of a shotgun, it’s a weak, coughing burst. Most people who have played a video game or have fired one in real life have a good expectation of how a shotgun should sound. Those expectations are wasted. I have personally never used a duck call, but there are two of them on display in this game, and both of them sound, well, appropriately duck-ish. Your dog-whistle blows appropriately, and your commands that you shout to the dog sound authoritative, but those are the high points. There is effectively no music to speak of, which does add to the ambiance of being stuck on a duck blind in the middle of nowhere, but could have broken up the monotony. You do get a few tunes during management screens, but they are awful too. The sounds you are going to hear the most of are the duck calls and the identical shotgun blasts.
Let’s say you are building a game for the Wii that requires precision aiming. What do you want to do in order to facilitate that? Do you go with the Wii-mote itself, thereby allowing the use of any number of gun-style controller add-ons? Or do you remove the one-to-one aiming possibility and force the player to use the stick on the nunchuck to aim with? Or do you choose to hate your audience, forcing them to rotate and change elevation with the stick but aim and fire with the Wii-mote? Ultimate Duck Hunting uses a control scheme that I found questionable, at best. You move around and broadly aim with the stick. If you press the B button, you pull out your weapon, stop moving, and aim with the Wii-mote. Pulling the trigger fires. You have a cross-hair that you use the Wii-mote to actually fire with. Coupled with the bad graphics, you can’t tell if your shotgun is going to fire over the mountains or straight into the water. Regardless, it makes shooting at the duck a near-impossibility. Insanity is often defined as doing the same thing and expecting a different result. That is about how the controls are set up in this game. Aim at what you hope are ducks, shoot at them, hope they fall down. Repeat.
There is also the mechanic of training your dog to fetch the duck carcasses for you. This is another painful experience. Once the dog is trained in how to retrieve, you have to command him to do so. Then you get to wait, as the dog goes out to hunt, gets tired, and rests. Soon, as the stamina bar fills back up, you can repeat this process until you have claimed a duck. Tedious, time consuming, and difficult. Not fun.
Ultimate Duck Hunting features a system that lets you train your K-9 companion, buffing up his stamina, tracking ability, and speed. While this is a neat concept and deserves to be explored, the physical pain of playing the game keeps you from doing anything with it. Aside from that, the only draw to play this game more than once is to see what the other hunting zones look like. Once you realize there aren’t really any extra differences there, any desire to keep playing this game should curl up and die. Even the “multiple types of guns” fail. They all fire the same and carry the same amount of ammo.
If there is a challenge in Ultimate Duck Hunting, aside from dealing with the awkward controls, it is the patience. There is no pacing to this game. In the attempt to be as much of a hunting sim as possible, the idea that gamers might want some fun when playing on their console is completely omitted. You can sit there for five to ten minutes at a time without a good chance at hitting the duck. Even if everything else was just as poor but the game threw ducks at you like rioters throw rocks, it would be an improvement. Sure, it might be accurate to wait in a marsh for a shot, but it’s certainly not fun.
Humanity has been hunting (yes, and gathering) since we learned to walk upright. So it’s not surprising that we are starting to see more and more video games based on some type of hunting behavior. In fact, there are a wide variety of hunting sim games to be found at most of your local sports bars, complete with bright orange lightguns shaped like shotguns. The hunting of ducks in video games is, in itself, nothing new. Aside from the dog training/retrieving parts, there really isn’t anything new or even fun here. Why not add a home-run derby gametype, where wave after wave of ducks flies right at you? Or even a clay pigeon skeet section so that you could hone your skills? Ultimate Duck Hunting is so by-the-numbers that it hurts.
I think there are clinics out there dedicated to the idea that video game addiction is an illness that needs to be treated. Doctors, you don’t need a twelve-step program. I can provide you, right now, with a two-step program. Step one, play Ultimate Duck Hunting. Step two, swear off video games. It’s that bad. I’ve played bad games before where you could at least have some fun with it. Maybe I could try racing in as destructive a manner as possible. Maybe in some platformer I could at least find a segment I enjoyed. Some of the shooter titles might have had a great story but terrible gameplay, or the opposite. This game put me off video games though. I seriously went through a “maybe I’ll just read a book” phase soon afterward.
9. Appeal Factor
Aside from the idea of training a hunting dog to work with you, there isn’t anything that makes this game stand out. Even to the people I know at work who are hunters in real life that I showed this game to, the general reaction was “no thanks.” It’s hard to question that reaction. There are other hunting games out there, the niche market for that is slowly but surely growing. Just about anyone I can think of would rather play one of the cabinet arcade games with a light-shotgun than Ultimate Duck Hunting. This becomes doubly true once you have actually played it and you realize that all of the customization options are, in fact, untrue.
Appeal Factor: Dreadful
You can shoot the dog, over and over again, and he just whines. Whether that’s great because you aren’t hurting the dog or terrible because, well, you’re not hurting the dog, I leave up to you to decide. I guess it’s a plus that the reaction is even programmed in there, perhaps to get back at that snickering dog from the original, good Duck Hunt. That’s about the only redeeming factor I can think of for this game. Perhaps if it cost twice as much and came with a Wii-mote accessory in the shape of a real shotgun there might be something worth praising.
Control and Gameplay: Bad
Appeal Factor: Dreadful
FINAL SCORE: Very Bad Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Ultimate Duck Hunting is a terrible game that I wouldn’t even use for a coaster. In fact, the only way you’ll get your money’s worth out of this disc is if you use both the disc and the case for target practice. I will grant that the idea of training a hunting dog and using it to recover your kills is a neat idea, but it goes exactly nowhere. Whether you’re a hunter in real life or wondering what it would be like to hunt animals, stay away from this game.