When the Wii Zapper was announced at E3 2007, there was a collective groan here at Eurogamer Dungeons. As a plastic cradle to hold a Wii Remote and Nunchuk, we wondered exactly how it was going to offer more value than one of those Wii accessory packs that you find in bargain bins across the land. Or just holding it differently. After all, is Wii Sports Golf really that much more like playing golf if you've got a tiny plastic golf club attached to your Wii Remote?
Thankfully, lovable old Reggie announced at the same time that it was to come with a pack-in game, Link's Crossbow Training, so even if the Wii Zapper was a waste of plastic, at least we'd get a game with it, right?
Released in 1985, the NES Zapper is still a frequently referenced Nintendo icon, and when you first get the Wii Zapper out of the box, the prognosis just doesn't look as good. However, once you fit the Wii Remote and Nunchuk into it you see that, stylish or not, it was carefully designed. Both controllers slot in snugly and the wire that connects them is hidden by an enclosure that, with the wire wrapped exactly three and a half times inside, allows just enough length to connect the two perfectly (although there is still nowhere to hide the hand strap.)
The Wii Zapper is pleasingly weighty but (and this is a major but) the two-handed submachine-gun design is difficult to get comfortable with. I've found it best to rest the Wii Zapper on something (a coffee table, or a pile of cushions) but it's still not particularly comfortable for long periods.
As you have to swing the Wii Zapper further than the Wii Remote on its own to make similar movements, I also found that my accuracy took a hit in comparison. It's not quite as bad as you might have heard, but the Wii Zapper isn't going to be of any interest if you only "play to win."
But hang on a minute, that isn't what the Wii is really about, is it? While it might not be as accurate as just using the Wii Remote on its own, the Wii Zapper does "feel" more like using a gun, and is just that much more immersive, and somehow fun, for that very reason - and as there's no special hardware required, you can use the Wii Zapper with any game you wish to. Try Excite Truck, maybe.
Link's Crossbow Training
Of course, the first game you're likely to use it with is Link's Crossbow Training (what with it coming in the box and everything) and just like the Wii Zapper, at first glance Link's Crossbow Training doesn't seem up to snuff when compared to its parent product (The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess) especially as it's clearly just composed from the same art assets.
Consisting of nine different stages with three levels apiece, Link's Crossbow Training has three different modes of play: Target Shooting, Defender and Ranger.
Target Shooting levels, the first in each stage, are incredibly similar to Wii Play's Shooting Range, offering shooting galleries where the player is only expected to aim and destroy targets in a set amount of time.
Defender levels place a stationary Link in the centre of an attack from all sides, asking the player to rotate 360 degrees (by moving the aiming reticule to the edge of the screen) to destroy approaching enemies within the time limit, with power ups including an automatic crossbow on offer from destroying certain enemies.
Ranger levels are the most in-depth, and players must move Link using the control stick on the Nunchuk around levels taken directly from Twilight Princess while aiming and destroying a certain number of enemies within the time limit. Power-ups are available as in Defender levels.
Your score for each stage is awarded with a medal (ranked from bronze to platinum - what will they think of next?) with your score largely based on how well you can hit targets without missing any. Every shot on target increases your multiplier by one, and while 27 levels might sound like a fair amount, even if you're trying to get platinum on every stage it won't take much longer than a few hours to learn levels to the extent where you complete them only rarely breaking your multiplier. You could spend more time trying to improve your score even further than that, destroying all of the level's features for extra points, but as a score challenge the title doesn't have very much staying power at all. As missions average around a minute each you can easily complete the single player portion of Link's Crossbow Training in about half an hour.
If multiplayer was better, I might be able to forgive that, but sadly there's absolutely nothing to it. The title only allows you to play the levels from single-player mode by taking turns, and although you can play with up to three other players it seems academic when you're essentially playing single player mode with other people in the room.
If you don't want a Wii Zapper, Link's Crossbow Training offers terrible value based on its length, but that's not to say that the few hours that you'll spend with it aren't fun. They're really fun. The Ranger levels are the highlight of the experience and cry out to be developed into a larger game, but like the rest of it, there just aren't enough.
Link's Crossbow Training's flaws would be unforgivable even as a budget-priced title if it wasn't for the fact that it includes the Wii Zapper. And being honest, "it just feels more fun" is a wooly reason to recommend the Wii Zapper when the Wii Remote and Nunchuk work perfectly fine on their own - especially considering the Wii Zapper is both less accurate and less comfortable.
If you'd feel better playing gun games with a controller that's more like a gun (as some players like to play golf games with a controller that's "more like a golf club", though we still think they're mental) Link's Crossbow Training is a nice little extra but, whatever you do, don't pick up a Zapper just for the game - but with Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, House of the Dead II & III, and Ghost Squad just around the corner, there are a few good reasons to pick it up anyway.