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The original NES Zapper.

The Zapper is a light gun, a video game controller developed by Nintendo for use with the NES, and was first sold in the USA in October 1985. It was based on the earlier light gun developed for the Famicom originally sold on 1984-02-18 in Japan which was named simply ガン [Gan] "Gun," and was part of the 光線銃シリーズ [Kosen Ju Shirizu] "Light Gun Series". The Famicon Gun itself was a home version of Nintendo's earlier light gun arcade game and light gun bars. The Zapper underwent a color transformation shortly after its American debut to make it more orange, no doubt to make it compliant with stricter US toy gun laws. Meanwhile, the Japanese light gun looked far more like a realistic revolver and even came with a belt holster. A special light gun using identical technology was available for the VS. System and PlayChoice-10.

The Zapper works by momentarily turning the screen black when the trigger is pulled except for a white box where a target can be hit. For this brief flash, the light gun senses the light levels in the direction which it is pointed. If it encounters a bright area surrounded by a black field at the precise time when it should, the gun tells the game to score a hit on that target. To keep track of multiple targets, the game flashes once for each target maintaining the order internally to score hits properly. In order for this to work, the Nintendo engineers who designed the Zapper had to make sure the flashes on the television were perfectly in sync with the Zapper's light sensor. This works just fine on CRTs, but later flat screen televisions had a slight delay which prevents old style light guns from working.


Because my brother and I got a later NES Action set (around 1988), it came with the orange-colored Zapper. I do remember enjoying the game Duck Hunt for awhile, my father especially enjoyed shooting clay pigeons in Duck Hunt, but, over all, I found the Zapper and it's games to be pretty lame. My brother ended up cutting the cord off the gun and using it for a toy gun.

Many years later, when playing with the debugger controls of an NES emulator, I found out how the Zapper works, and found it to be a pretty interesting feat of technology.

The NES Action Set that my brother and I bought had the revised orange and gray model, but he destroyed it. I now own an original gray-model Zapper.



  • The Zapper looks pretty cool. It has a nice shape and both color patterns are stylish.
  • The designers wisely made the gun so that it checked for a specific light pattern rather than just a bright light. This made it much harder to "cheat" by aiming the gun at a light bulb like older light gun models.
  • Surprisingly, even after Nintendo had essentially given up on light gun games, third-party companies continued to make them.


  • Nintendo didn't push the gun very hard. They initially only made three games for it, Wild Gunman, Duck Hunt, and Hogan's Alley. Shortly after the US release of the Zapper, Gumshoe was released in the US only, and a fifth and final US-only game, Barker Bill's Trick Shooting, was released in 1990. All other games were made by third party developers, and many of them allowed the player to use a regular controller instead.


  • Nearly all of the games which utilize the zapper are pretty awful.





What's inside the Zapper.


The following list is every game released for the NES which can utilize the Zapper. In order to accommodate customers who didn't own a Zapper, several games also allowed the player to use a regular controller by displaying a crosshair on the screen and having the D-pad move it.

Title Released Mandatory Licensed
3-In-1 Super Gun 19??-??-?? Yes No
The Adventures of Bayou Billy 1988-08-12 No Yes
Baby Boomer 1989-??-?? No No
Barker Bill's Trick Shooting 1990-08-?? Yes Yes
Chiller 1990-??-?? No No
Crime Busters 1989-??-?? Yes Yes
Day Dreamin' Davey 1992-06-?? No Yes
Duck Hunt 1984-04-21 Yes Yes
Freedom Force 1988-04-?? Yes Yes
Gotcha! The Sport! 1987-11-?? Yes Yes
Gumshoe 1986-06-?? Yes Yes
Hogan's Alley 1984-06-12 Yes Yes
Laser Invasion 1991-03-15 Yes Yes
The Lone Ranger 1991-08-?? No Yes
Mechanized Attack 1990-06-?? No Yes
Operation Wolf 1989-05-?? No Yes
Shooting Range 1989-06-?? Yes Yes
Super Russian Roulette  ????-??-?? Yes No
To the Earth 1989-11-?? Yes Yes
Track & Field II 1988-09-16 No Yes
Wild Gunman 1984-02-18 Yes Yes


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