If you didn’t gather from our previous review of Duck Hunt-styled Duckpocalypse, we’ve got a thing for nostalgia-inducing virtual reality games that take an old format and breathe new life into it. Especially ones featuring ducks and virtual lightguns.
On first look, Duck Season is a visually delightful reimagining of the classic Duck Hunt with all the goodness of VR. Does that make it interesting enough to make it worth playing? We strapped on our HTC Vive, dove into the time machine and began blasting away to find out.
A living room time warp to the 1980s
We were initially intrigued by Duck Season because we’d seen the duck shooting gallery and assumed that it would be a blast. A wonderfully fun way to relive a gaming classic from our youth.
So we were pleasantly surprised when we realised just how much more Duck Season has to offer.
Starting up the game you’re thrown back in time into 1988, right into the body of a small boy who’s just become the proud owner of the new Kingbit Entertainment System. Standing in his living room, you’re surrounded by a multitude of Easter eggs and interactive items that are sure to fill you with nostalgic joy.
There’s all sorts here, including the main focus of the action – the fuzzy old tube television that’s the hub of the living room and where the good times happen. Various videotapes are scattered about the room that you can put into the VHS player, too, including amusingly styled trailers and hilarious adverts from the era. Other items in the room can also be grabbed, prodded and tossed around, including everything from light snacks to magazines, toys, picture frames and more.
But the real interest lies in the multitude of playable 8-bit games scattered about the room. These classically styled cartridges are a relic of an older age of gaming that most modern kids wouldn’t even know what to do with – but we did. We grabbed a few and started stuffing them into the Kingbit gaming machine.
Most of the games are basically spoofs of real games originally released in the 80s and 90s. We played Pizza Boy (Paper Boy), Super Chef Bros (Super Mario Bros), Triple Tiger and many more, smirking the whole while. There’s even a 2D reference to one of the developer’s other VR games, Hover Junkers, that’s included in the mix. There’s a total of nine games to play with the old-fashion (albeit virtual) lightgun.
Let the duck hunting begin…
The real fun begins when you blow off the dust and insert the Duck Season cartridge into the Kingbit Entertainment System. Doing so throws you into a virtually recreated marshland with a pump-action shotgun and a whole lotta duck killing to be done.
This shotgun needs to be pumped, reloaded and carefully aimed if you want to succeed. The mechanics are satisfying which makes it a treat to play. One hand on the pump, the other on the trigger, you have to use both to aim if you want the shot to land on target, then it’s simply a case of shooting ducks out of the sky as they fly by.
Each level of Duck Season is split into waves and you need to hit a certain number of ducks in order to win. Missing too many means you lose, so the key is to have a steady hand and a careful aim. Each duck flies across the sky, then usually bounces off an invisible wall and back the other way before disappearing off into the ether. As the levels progress the ducks move more swiftly and disappear at greater speed too.
Initially, it’s easy to miss – not because the tracking is off, just because aiming both hands and lining up an in-flight target can be tricky. Once you get the hang of it though it’s far easier to hit the ducks even when they start passing more quickly and in greater numbers. When you do, a dog pops up from the reeds to help you celebrate. We couldn’t resist popping off a few shots at him too… which might have been our undoing later on.
The ducks you’ve hit pile up in the back of a truck next to you, though what they’re used for or why you’ll need that many is beyond us. There’s also a handy scoreboard at the edge of the marshland which keeps you up to date with how many ducks you’ve hit or missed as you play through.
We also love that when playing you can turn around and see yourself in the living room staring back through a big screen. We’ve seen this before in Operation Warcade and think it’s a really quirky attention to detail.
Lock ‘n’ load
Loading shotgun shells is fun and frustrating at the same time. Shells are limited to around five, so you need to take care with your shots or end up rushing to reload your halfway through a wave.
Timing is everything. Grabbing shells from your hip and inserting them into the underside of the virtual gun is immediately familiar to anyone who’s played any sort of VR shooting game from recent times. We found Duck Season one of the smoother experiences, which highlights just how polished and well designed it is – both the game within the game and the game itself.
Once a level is complete you’re back in the living room and can take a break by watching the VHS tapes – which is welcome, given how “virtually heavy” that gun action can begin to feel – or playing with the other games cartridges. Besides acting as a break from pumping your shotgun, there’s plenty of amusing reasons to watch these – inclduing achievements for completing or watching them all.
More than just shooting ducks
Each time you complete a level of Duck Season the living room changes slightly with new games and tapes often appearing. After a few levels, we began to notice a storyline unfolding which showed there was much more to Duck Season proper than just a bunch of mini-games within a game.
One moment the dog from the cartridge game was lurking outside the patio windows, in the next we turned in horror to find our virtual mother apparently murdered on the kitchen floor. Things were suddenly turning sinister and the game piqued our interest once more.
After you’ve played a few levels of Duck Season it’s easy to become worried that it’s all getting a bit repetitive and dull. There’s only so many ducks you can shoot and keep on shooting. This storyline that starts to evolve in the “real-world” adds a new level of intrigue that made us want to keep on playing to find out what happens.
We don’t want to say much for fear of spoiling it, but it’s apparent that there are multiple endings and a pretty enjoyable storyline that’s as interesting as it is sinister. Certainly not how we remember the 80s, but a great addition to an already fantastic game that keeps you playing.
How you play the game influences what happens in the storyline and what you see when you finish the levels, as well as the end result. Sometimes there’s a happy ending, sometimes it’s a much darker experience.
Once you’ve finished the story or even in-between, there’s the ability to play Duck Season in arcade mode. More ducks in a shooting gallery and less of the story to deal with. This is enough to provide hours more enjoyment if you’re done with trying to complete the game with the various endings or just messing about in the living room.
Duck Season is a gem of a game. It’s full of curiosities, hidden treats and fantastically enjoyable Easter eggs. If you’re a child of the 80s then this game is a fantastic trip down memory lane; an unofficial reimagining of the Duck Hunt classic. If you’re not then it’s a great blast anyway.
The included mini-games add interest beyond simply shooting down ducks on repeat, but the real highlight in Duck Season comes with its surprise storyline. Yep, there’s more here than first meets the eye.
Just when we were starting to get an inkling of boredom, the mystery and intrigue of the tale beyond the screen kept us wanting to play on and on to see what happened next. That’s pretty rare in many VR games – and a brilliant incentive to keep on playing.
How you play Duck Season changes how much playtime you’ll get from the game. If you just stick to shooting ducks you’d probably be able to complete it in under two hours. But if you play all the mini-games, re-play for the endings and get stuck into the arcade mode, then you’ll get plenty more playtime.
If you’re a fan of nostalgic gaming then Duck Season is a quacking brilliant game that’s well worth a purchase. It’s far more than just another gallery shooter, which makes for a great twist on a classic.