There was always a certain type of charm with the NES black box titles that were released in the early part of the console’s library, especially those that utilised additional accessories. Games such as Gyromite live long in the memory of gamers thanks to its usage of R.O.B the Robot, and one of the more popular titles that used the NES Zapper/light gun was of course Duck Hunt. However, just like R.O.B the Robot and the light gun, there was more than one game that utilised these accessories. Sure, people remember Duck Hunt and Wild Gunman, but what about the game in which you play as a detective who cannot stop moving and gets killed by cans and inanimate objects….no? Not remember that one? Well grab your gun pardner and let’s take a trip down memory lane to one of the lesser-remembered titles for the NES: Gumshoe.
Gumshoe was released on the NES in Europe 1988 and utilises the Light Gun, or NES Zapper, or whatever you choose the pointy gun-shaped accessory that was good at hunting ducks and not dogs (LOL – Ed). The game centres around the character Mr Stevenson who was not by all accounts a plumber from Brooklyn that travels down green pipes and has a fondness for mushrooms but a detective dressed in a brown detective mac and wearing his detective hat who according to lore worked for the FBI. The premise of the game is that the evil protagonist King Dom sends our detective chum a ransom note saying he is holding Stevenson’s daughter ransom and to bring 5 “ Black Panther” diamonds to him within 24 in-game hours…..or ELSE! What “else” is is anyone’s guess – it could be a right good tickling, a swift kick in the “crown jewels” – that will be left to your imagination but whatever it is we have to get going and get going quick!
Your character will automatically move to the right but what you will find is that your controller does nothing to help Mr Stevenson jump or stop himself from falling off the ledge. This is where your light gun/zapper comes into play. You have to shoot your character in order to make him jump on to different ledges, and continually shooting at him makes him continually jump, using up bullets that you can see on screen. What stops you from reaching the end of the level is enemies that come at you, from cans hurtling across the screen, rocks falling from above and static evil blocks that if you touch them, you lose a life. Three lives and you’re done. Kaput. Finito. These blocks are “conveniently” located in the air and on the ground, with “convenient” being the operative word as they always seem to be placed in places that you would naturally jump to and find yourselves jumping towards but before you realise what is happening it is too late. Be careful though about being trigger happy, as you only have a finite amount of ammunition to use. You can collect red balloons that give you more bullets and thankfully there are a lot more than 99 red balloons floating in the summer sky…. Nevertheless, the balloons are plentiful so you shouldn’t get to the point of running out of bullets. It really doesn’t get more complicated than that, a question of shooting your character to jump over pitfalls, dodging enemies and static blocks, collecting red balloons and making your way to the end of the level in one piece in order to get the diamond.
Like most black box NES games if not all of them, as soon as you pop the cartridge into your console and power up, you go straight to the title screen. If you don’t touch any buttons you get a short demo akin to Super Mario Bros which gives a perfect indication as to what trials and tribulations await. These demo sequences only last between 5 to 10 seconds and your character doesn’t jump, he just falls off the ledge like the proverbial lemming but does show what the graphics are like and the environments you will face. The graphics are bold, well-defined and at times quite detailed for an early NES title. For example, Mr Stevenson is detailed well and does look like a detective similar to Columbo or other stereotypical American detective. The atmosphere changes and is utilised well thanks to the palette used throughout the levels and although the premise of the game doesn’t change, the backdrop and the surroundings do. Controls? Well, there are none. You use your light gun/zapper to shoot on screen, to shoot Mr Stevenson to make him jump, or shoot the enemies to dispose of them – be it cans, rocks or animate enemies. What is good about Gumshoe is the music – the opening music is schmoozy, schmaltzy and not other adjectives that start with “sch”. It gives the air and feel of a character and situation set in the 1940’s/50’s USA. It fits the tone of the game and the sound effects suit the game well, short sharp sound bursts reflecting when the gun gets fired.
So far so good, lots of positives about the game, but are there any criticisms and downsides? Well, there is one however it is a big let down of the game, and that is the difficulty. Difficult games are not bad games by any stretch, difficulty can bring a welcome challenge and can improve gamer’s reactions, reflexes and thinking. However, the difficulty in Gumshoe comes from the core gameplay. You are forced to use the zapper to not only shoot Mr Stevenson as he continues to walk forward and doesn’t stop for anything but also to shoot the enemies and items that are set out to hurt you. You have to be accurate with your shooting otherwise you will find yourself falling off ledges where you haven’t shot Mr Stevenson accurately enough, or find yourself getting killed by enemies – believe me there are a LOT of enemies and projectiles that come quickly towards you and you really have to have excellent reflexes and a dead-eye accuracy.
You will unfortunately find yourself losing a lot of lives in this game and find progressing through the game slow-going. You could always try and cheat the system by being right up close to the television or the old “lightbulb” trick, but regardless, the game is difficult when it needn’t be. If there were less enemies, travelling less quickly, and the platforming parts more forgiving, then the game might be more enjoyable. But as a result, the game loses somewhat of its shine and that is a real shame, as the story, the graphics and the music compliment the game well. It could have been up there with Duck Hunt or “that’s like a baby’s toy” Wild Gunman. Nevertheless, if you’re sick of shooting ducks, and don’t want to play like cowboys in the Wild West, you may want to consider Gumshoe a try just for the challenge alone and for an early NES title the story it builds before you begin.
If you get to the end and manage to rescue Mr Stevenson’s daughter, send her my regards…
All screenshots from Moby Games