Light gun games aren’t only a beloved genre, but they also have a fascinating history that dates back to the early 1900s when carnival amusement games featured mechanical guns shooting at canvas cinema screens with video targets.
The very first known light gun game, the Ray-O-Lite by J.P. Seeburg Corp, emerged in 1936. This coin-operated marvel used light-emitting guns to hit light sensor targets, proving that electronic light gun games existed over three decades before early video games.
Fast forward to the traditional video game era, and we’ve witnessed an incredible evolution in light gun games. Join us as we rank our top picks for the best light gun games of all time, celebrating the ones from the traditional video game era. Sorry, Ray-O-Lite, we acknowledge your contribution, but let’s dive into the best of the best.
10. Link’s Crossbow Training (2007)
Link’s Crossbow Training is a hidden gem in the world of classic video game titles. Even passionate fans of The Legend of Zelda franchise might not have known about this Zelda-themed light gun game for the Nintendo Wii. It’s like a fusion of Hyrule Warriors and a light gun game, featuring a light crossbow instead of a traditional gun.
The game leverages assets from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, making it a must-play for Zelda enthusiasts. Link’s Crossbow Training combines target practice with intense battles against Hyrule’s enemies using the Wii Zapper, and it even includes boss fights. Produced by gaming legends Shigeru Miyamoto, Eiji Aonuma, and Takashi Tezuka, this game fulfills the dream of first-person shooting in the Zelda universe.
9. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is not just a 1991 arcade game; it’s an experience that complements the iconic film of the same name. Developed alongside the movie, this game allows you to step into the shoes of a T-800 Terminator cyborg armed with a formidable machine gun that never runs out of ammo.
What sets it apart is the positional-gun arcade shooter setup, where the light gun is attached to the cabinet, allowing you to fire from the hip at the video screen. Due to its arcade popularity, it made its way to various home consoles, with the SNES version playable using the Super Scope peripheral. In 2021, Arcade1Up even released a replica arcade cabinet with a detachable light gun, keeping the Terminator 2: Judgment Day arcade love alive.
8. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park fans, this one’s for you. The Lost World: Jurassic Park is not just an exciting arcade game; it’s also one of the finest light gun games ever created. This game offers a unique experience where you sit in the front seat of a Jurassic Park jeep, adding an immersive layer to the gameplay.
Developed by Sega, a studio known for creating several entries on our list, The Lost World: Jurassic Park stands out by utilizing the Model 3 arcade system, delivering advanced video output. While it might be morally challenging to blast dinosaurs, doing so from the safety of a Jurassic Park jeep is undeniably thrilling. This game is a prime example of how the arcade experience can be elevated through light gun gameplay.
7. Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles (2007)
Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles is a horror title for the Nintendo Wii that brought the world of Resident Evil to life like never before. This game takes you on a comprehensive journey through the best moments of the Resident Evil franchise, allowing you to play as and encounter familiar characters from various games in the series.
Covering events from Resident Evil Zero, the Resident Evil remake, and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, it culminates in a unique endgame experience. Both critics and players praised this unique format for the Resident Evil franchise, leading to its success. Capcom followed it up with Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, and both games were included in the PS3 Resident Evil Chronicles HD Collection. Resident Evil fans, rejoice – you’ve got not one, but two fantastic light gun games to enjoy.
6. Ghost Squad (2004)
Ghost Squad made waves when it was released in arcades in 2004. What set it apart was its advanced light gun, featuring a fire selector switch and mechanical recoil, adding a layer of realism to the gameplay.
The excitement doesn’t end there. The Nintendo Wii version of Ghost Squad is one of our favorite Wii games of all time. This version offers up to four-player co-op and even allows you to play Ghost Squad online, enhancing the multiplayer experience. Ghost Squad is undoubtedly one of the coolest light gun games ever released, and we’re thrilled to include it in our list of the best.
5. Alien 3: The Gun (1993)
Alien 3: The Gun doesn’t beat around the bush – it’s right there in the title. This light gun game, inspired by the Alien 3 film, gives you the authentic experience of being a space marine. While loosely based on the film’s content, the arcade title introduces plenty of exciting content not seen in the movie.
From various alien enemies to formidable bosses, Alien 3: The Gun offers an action-packed adventure. You can brave this journey alone or team up with a friend, and trust us, you’ll need all the help you can get to survive the horrors of the space prison colony you’re tasked to liberate. It’s no surprise that Alien 3: The Gun is a strong contender for one of the best light gun games ever.
4. Duck Hunt (1984)
We’ve come a long way since the 1936 Ray-O-Lite duck hunting game. While Duck Hunt‘s gameplay may seem simple compared to other titles on this list, its cultural significance is undeniable. Duck Hunt, bundled with Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), played a crucial role in making Nintendo’s video game consoles a household necessity in America, Europe, and Japan.
For many, it marked their first introduction to video games and the NES Zapper, a unique video game peripheral. Duck Hunt‘s inclusion in several NES bundles solidified its place in the hearts of gamers. It’s impossible to create a list of the best light gun games without paying tribute to this iconic classic.
3. Dead Space: Extraction (2009)
Dead Space: Extraction is a masterclass in horror gaming. Developed for the Nintendo Wii, this game made excellent use of the Wii Zapper attachment for the Wii Remote. Extraction, released just a year after the original Dead Space, was conceived as a prequel to the classic game.
Many team members worked on both titles, including the producer, writer, and composer. While its sales may not have met expectations, it received praise for its presentation and for being one of the first mature games on the Nintendo Wii. Today, it still holds a Metacritic score of 82, solidifying its status as one of the best light gun games in the genre.
2. Time Crisis (1995)
Time Crisis is a legendary name in the arcade light gun genre. What sets the Time Crisis series apart is its innovative foot pedal-controlled duck-for-cover mechanic. The second entry introduced two-player cooperative play, while the third expanded the gameplay with a wider range of weapons.
In 2015, a new entry was released for arcades, showcasing modern graphics while retaining the beloved duck-for-cover gunplay. Every game in the franchise is a hit, making it challenging to choose a particular favorite. Therefore, we salute the entire Time Crisis collection, as it is an essential staple in the light gun genre.
1. The House of the Dead
If you spent any time in arcades during the late ’90s and early 2000s, you undoubtedly came across The House of the Dead from Sega. This iconic game not only devoured your coin collection but also became a must-play in any arcade hall. The House of the Dead series played a significant role in the resurgence of zombies in popular culture and the horror genre during the late ’90s. It was a mainstay in arcades, offering intense gameplay and unforgettable moments.
While various ports and remakes have been released over the years, the recent remake for the Nintendo Switch by MegaPixel Studio is a testament to the series’ enduring appeal. With the Nintendo Switch Joy-Con, you can play the game like an original light gun title, bringing back the nostalgia of the arcade experience. Selecting the best game in the The House of the Dead series is a daunting task, so let’s celebrate the entire franchise for its incredible contribution to the horror and light gun genres.
In conclusion, these are the top light gun games from the traditional video game era that have left an indelible mark on the gaming world. From blasting aliens and dinosaurs to surviving a zombie apocalypse and braving space marine horrors, these games have offered thrilling experiences to gamers of all ages.
Whether you’re a fan of horror, action, or adventure, there’s a light gun game on this list that’s sure to captivate you. So, grab your light gun, or in some cases, your Wii Zapper or Joy-Con, and immerse yourself in the unforgettable world of light gun gaming.