For about the cost of an evening of pints you can, for the first time, bring home the popular bar game Big Buck Hunter. Released this month by Jakks Pacific ($40), Big Buck Hunter Pro home edition is a simple plug and play for your TV. (That means you don’t need a game system – just those yellow and white holes in your set.) No question that the game is manufactured by a toy company, but that doesn’t mean you can’t play it with a bunch of your grown up friends and a six-pack apiece. In fact, I recommend a six-pack apiece, to blur the sights on the game’s fundamental drawbacks.
A couple basic set up tips. Get this game out of the box before you’re ready to play. Technology has come a long way since we were kids, but packaging has not. A couple dozen twist ties keep this puppy firmly hinged to the cardboard. I forgot how hard we had to work to get to the good stuff. If you think of it like a puzzle, I guess it can count as an activity unto itself. Another thing that we still have to contend with: battery compartments with tiny screw closures. I don’t know, man, but I’ve never known three AAA batteries to be such tough contenders for a standard snap-in cover. Annoying.
Once you’ve got everything out it’s a fairly simple task to get started. The game software is concealed within the shotgun peripheral, a light, sawed-off version of the real controller, which works the same way — trigger & pump reload — and plugs into the A/V inputs on any TV screen. Place the sensor on top of the set and turn them both on. It’ll prompt you to shoot at a target in the top left of the screen, then one in the bottom right, to calibrate the gun. Once you’ve done that (possibly twice if you’re not standing far enough away) you’re ready to hunt. Like the arcade original you can choose single- or multi-player, one-off or full trek modes by aiming at the options and pulling the trigger. You can also play just the bonus rounds (more on that later), which is a nice touch.
You might get the immediate sense that this is going to be easy when you see crosshairs on the screen indicating where you’re aiming. Don’t be fooled. It’s not easy. Unfortunately, that’s not because it’s such a challenging game, but because the interface is mega-laggy. You still have only a short window in which to squeeze off shots at passing deer, but at least at first you’re going to spend most of that time trying to figure out why those crosshairs didn’t follow your aim across the screen. Keep playing and you’ll get a slightly better sense of the lazy response, but it’s just not going to feel like the real thing. You could paint that as an added feature, though; you’ll feel behind the ball, a bit delayed, vaguely off center — just like you were throwing back beers at the bar. While testing this game I played with one drunk guy. As a control, naturally. He did seem to jive with it a bit more quickly than the rest of us.
I’m definitely into the option to play just the bonus games, which overall requires significantly less dedication than a whole hunt and are easier to master off the bat. My favorites are probably knocking out the hillbilly’s hooch jugs and hitting the flying saucers — they make this great “ding!” when you do. While I could do without the flatulent sound effects in the cow patty mini-game, I’m otherwise bullish on it. The frogs-on-lily-pads one is much more difficult. And then there’s the Caddy Shack gopher rip-off whack-a-mole round, which, half way through, becomes a bizarre neon-lit underground attack I dub the Gopher Rave Massacre. See below.
The takeaway: It only takes five minutes to realize that this game kind of sucks. But you’ll play it for two hours.