The NES Zapper, also known as The Gun or Beam Gun in Japan, is an electronic light gun accessory for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and the Japanese Famicom. It was released in Japan for the Famicom on February 18, 1984 (1984-02-18) and alongside the launch of the NES in North America in October 1985. The Famicom version of the Zapper, made for the game Wild Gunman, resembled a revolver-style handgun, but the North American version resembled a futuristic science fiction ray gun with a color scheme matching the NES. Early versions of the Zapper were a dark gray, but later it was changed to orange.[dubious– discuss] Although originally included in some configurations of the NES, the Zapper was available for purchase separately.
The Zapper allows players to aim at the television set display and "shoot" various objects that appear on the screen such as ducks, clay pigeons, targets, cowboys, criminals or other objectives.
The Zapper is used on supported NES games such as Duck Hunt and Wild Gunman. To hit targets on the screen, players point the device by lining up the front and rear sights with the desired target and pulling the trigger. The Zapper could also be used on the title screens of games to move the cursor—done by pointing the device away from the screen and pulling the trigger—or starting the game (pointing at the screen and pulling the trigger).
When the trigger on the Zapper is pressed, the game causes the entire screen to become black for one frame. Then, on the next frame, the target area is drawn in all white as the rest of the screen remains black. The Zapper detects this change from low light to bright light, as well as the duration of the "flash", as the different targets on screen (if multiple targets are on screen) will flash for different durations. This is how the game knows which target has been hit. After all target areas have been illuminated, the game returns to drawing graphics as usual. The whole process is almost imperceptible to the human eye, although one can notice a slight "flashing" of the image. Although the Zapper just detects light, it can only be used on CRT displays. It will not work on LCDs, plasma displays or other flat panel displays due to display lag. This darkness/brightness sequence prevents the possible issue caused by pointing the Zapper right next to or into a light bulb. Some people believe that this way it is possible to cheat and get a perfect hit score, probably misled by other older light guns which didn't use this method. It was possible to tweak the brightness and contrast on some CRT televisions in such a manner that a hit was detected no matter where you aimed[dubious– discuss].
In the 1989 animated series Captain N: The Game Master, the main character Kevin Keene uses the reissued orange NES Zapper as a weapon during his time in Videoland (which you can plainly see while watching the show due to its bright color). The gun fires laser blasts which are used to destroy the enemies he encounters. It also had a freeze-ray option which fires off Tetris-shaped blocks of ice that encircle and trap foes inside a cube of ice.
Raul Panther of "The Protomen" usually has an NES Zapper in a belt holster while on stage.
Artist Kent Sheely is known for using Photoshop to replace pistols in film stills with NES Zappers.
^Kohler, Chris (2005), Retro Gaming Hacks, O'Reilly Publishing, p. 19, ISBN978-0-596-00917-5, "...the Zapper light gun was included with most NES packages."
^Kent, Steven (2001) , "The Seeds of Competition", The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokémon and Beyond- The Story That Touched Our Lives and Changed the World (First ed.), Roseville, California: Prima Publishing, p. 305, ISBN0-7615-3643-4, "The Nintendo Action Set, which included everything in the Control Deck packaging plus the "Zapper" light gun and the game Duck Hunt, sold for US$149, as did the Master System and gun set, which included the "Light Phaser" and the game Safari Hunt."