Ask anyone who had an original NES console in their youth about their first game, and nine times out of 10, the first answer you'll get is Super Mario Bros. Not only was it a masterpiece that every console owner had to own, but it was also one of the two games packed in with the system when sales of the console really started to pick up steam. Ask about their second game, and the answer would be the other pack-in game, Duck Hunt. While it didn't get as much play time as its companion, it was a fondly remembered game for its simplicity, use of the plastic NES Zapper peripheral, and the faithful hound that would snicker every time you let the fowl get away. When the Wii was first announced, nostalgic gamers were frothing at the sight of what looked to be a redesigned Zapper peripheral mostly because it could bring them one step closer to a Duck Hunt sequel. However, the closest Nintendo has come to doing so was a mini-game inclusion in Wii Play that had the same clearing but involved floating targets instead. Zoo Games and Digital Octane have sought to fill that void with the release of Ultimate Duck Hunting. Alas, all they've done with this title is add fuel to the fire for a proper Nintendo release.
Ultimate Duck Hunting provides you with a few modes. Career mode has you training your dog to be a better retriever of fallen ducks. Once you complete your initial training, you can go to one of six hunting areas to shoot down some ducks. Hunting down ducks isn't a simple point-and-shoot affair, though, as you have to carefully place some lures and use different calls to coax them out of hiding. Once you down a duck, you can tell your dog to retrieve the bird. Experience gained from the hunt can then be used to level up your dog's abilities so that the animal can be a better and more efficient retriever. Single Hunt mode gives you the same experience without the dog training parts, while multiplayer has you and a friend competing for who can retrieve the most ducks in a given amount of time.
You can immediately tell upon booting up the game that things will go south in the quality department, especially when the opening movie makes the game less exciting to play. Career mode seems to be nothing more than a way to power up your dog, and it's the only reward for hunting down ducks. You don't go to a duck hunting championship or have a story about how you want to become the best duck hunter in the nation. You simply hunt down ducks so that your dog gets better at retrieving them. Worse yet, the dog can't be imported to another mode so you essentially have him level up for no good reason. As for the hunting itself, it ends up being boring. Aiming at a duck is harder than it should be, and those without any patience will simply shoot away at any flock they see until they happen to get lucky. The various duck calls don't seem to have much of an effect in terms of bringing the flocks closer, so hunting is a crapshoot at best. With all of these flaws, it's highly doubtful that you could get someone to play any multiplayer games with you.
The controls feel too basic and unresponsive at times. The shooting isn't so bad, as you simply aim with the Wii Remote and use the B button to fire. The A button is used to zoom in, and the 1 button is used to move in and out of shooting mode. Beyond this, though, things get painful. The analog stick on the Nunchuk is used for character movement, which is fine until you realize that it's the only way to move. Wii gamers used to having first-person controls where the remote helps you turn will be taken aback by the change. The motion controls for reloading are pretty flaky, so reliance on the Z button for that action is a must. The worst part of the controls, though, is reserved for dog commands. You'll be using a combination of the B button and remote movements to tell your dog where to go to retrieve the duck, while the B button alone makes him stop. The problem is that it fails to work all of the time in the tutorial levels. Getting the command to start is hard enough, and stopping the dog seems even harder since a simple button press won't always register with the game. This element alone makes Ultimate Duck Hunting all the more frustrating and makes you wish that the dog command element was removed altogether.
Like the gameplay, the graphics are unbelievable bad. The skyline seems to lack any texture, as it's only a solid gray or orange. The environments don't stand out in terms of their modeling, but the texture work feels lifeless. It's as if the artists were told to use basic colors instead of trying to emulate actual hunting grounds. Environmental effects don't help, either, since things like rain and snow clash with everything else by looking cartoonish. As for the hunting team, the dog looks fine and has a good running animation, but the same can't be said for the hunter, who slowly ambles through the environment with robotic motions. This is the first time a hunter is ever seen walking with both arms straight, as if he's taking a leisurely stroll down the street, and hopefully, it will be the last time anyone attempts to use this animation style.
The sound is minimal and, at times, unintentionally humorous. The music in the menus is ambient but is hardly memorable or inspiring. It never plays outside of the menus, though, so it doesn't get in the way of the game. The sound effects from the environment are fine, but the duck calls are hilarious. Whether or not they mimic the real thing, they always make it seem like the duck is laughing at you. Gunshots are terrible, thanks to the low volume they produce in the game, making them seem weaker than they should be. It gets worse because the Wiimote also makes the gunshot noise but is much too loud for the system to handle, making it crackle and seem as if your rifle is a toy instead of the real deal. The reload sound doesn't help, either, as it also sounds bad coming from the Wiimote speaker. The only positive in the sound department is the narrator of the dog training session. He comes off as average, and with the state of the game, he could have been much worse in the overall delivery of his lines.
Ultimate Duck Hunting is a disaster of a game. The graphics look like they came from a first-generation PS2 title, and the sound is laughably horrid at best. The controls feel like they took a step backward from early Wii game designs. Worst of all, nothing seems like it has a purpose or is remotely fun, whether it's the dog training or hunting. The inclusion of the dog training makes the game less fun than if it were a simple duck-shooting game. Gamers who are hoping to shoot down virtual ducks would do better with any of the Cabela hunting titles for the system or pray that Nintendo makes a WiiWare or Virtual Console release of Duck Hunt. This title is best left forgotten at the bottom of a bargain bin.
More articles about Ultimate Duck Hunting