There’s something about light gun games that really clicks with me. Perhaps it’s the idea of blowing away zombies in House of the Dead, or the sheer draw power of a great Time Crisis game.
But when it comes to playing them at home, the experiences have been limited. You could play with a controller…but why? The best method I’ve seen recently is using the PlayStation Eye camera and PlayStation Move with games like Time Crisis: Razing Storm and the downloadable House of the Dead games. This hasn’t failed me yet.
That’s why I had some interest in the MARS Lightcon, a new set-up that brings the thrill of light gun games to the modern generation. PDP has done quite well with peripherals in the past, so this gained my interest. However, despite its best efforts, it just really feels like it doesn’t hit the bullseye as well as it should.
First, let’s talk about the set-up of the device itself. It uses a camera, similar to the PlayStation Eye, but works more on an infrared signal. That means instead of pointing out at the player and reading their motions, it coordinates with the TV and reads signals that come from the Lightcon gun peripherals. In turn, the controllers themselves require two AA batteries to work.
The connectivity between the Lightcon IR station and the guns work suitably enough, but accuracy is a bit of a problem here. PDP’s instructions require you to have a distance from the TV depending on the size of the TV. For instance, if it’s a 50” screen, you should have the sensor placed 50” away. But even then, it can take quite a bit to coordinate the IR camera with the screen.
That’s because instead of a real-time icon that shows where you need to position things, you get an intermittent image that shows whether you’re off the mark or not. It can be somewhat confusing to get coordinated; and it still syncs up even if you’re not quite centered. As a result, I had to play a couple of rounds of Voyage of the Dead with less than pinpoint accuracy.
I finally did manage to get a good sync going…but even then, there’s noticeable lag with the Lightcon’s performance. The on-screen cursor isn’t entirely accurate, even with the coordination between device and peripherals. There were times I missed simple headshots or let an enemy hurt my newly adopted robot dog because the sights jittered off. When it does click, it can be fun, scoring multiple headshots in Voyage of the Dead in a row. But that’s when it works, and it’s more on and off than it should be.
As for the gun itself, it’s got a weird looking design. Granted, it’s practical, as you can use it for quick reloading, like a mini-shotgun (if there is such a thing?). And it shoots properly enough. But it doesn’t feel nearly as cool as Namco’s classic GunCon controller from the PS2 era. This is more like a funky-looking water pistol.
Technical set-up aside, let’s look at the three games that the Lightcon works with. Keep in mind they’re not all packaged with the unit, and some need to be purchased separately.
First up is a “Lightcon friendly” version of Big Buck Hunter Arcade. Notice that I use quotation marks because this game is a mess with the peripheral. Granted, the port wasn’t that hot to begin with, so it’s not entirely PDP’s fault. But you’d think out of all the games you want to work the best with the Lightcon, the most recognizable arcade brand would come first.
Next up is Qubit’s Quest. This is probably the most innovative of the three games, as you shoot the screen to take out adversaries going after your dog, as well as perform other functions. The main quest is surprisingly good, provided you have the accuracy to keep your beloved mutt alive. And the mini-games have some decent variety as well. Alas, the game will not work without the Lightcon, which may leave a few players sore.
Finally, there’s Voyage of the Dead. If you might guess, this is PDP’s take on the House of the Dead style of play, as you blast your way through a cruise ship filled with the undead. The game certainly has its moments, but also a few annoyances that are hard to put up with.
First off, aside from some certain zombie types, there really isn’t too much threat in the game. Sure, the screen is flooded with zombies, but they take quite a while to get close to your range, for the most part. While this provides ample opportunity to blast them to bits, it also takes away from its challenge.
Secondly, it can take forever to kill a zombie unless you blow their heads off. Other games know that body damage can go a long way. Here, though, you have to shoot seven times before they finally collapse. That shouldn’t be how it works.
And then there’s the characters you choose from in the game. For some reason, they will not shut up. They keep talking to themselves and repeating the same dialogue over and over again. I did like the special weapons they brandish, like the harpoon gun. But outside of that, they really don’t bring anything new here. Also, this game doesn’t work without the Lightcon either, so you can’t breeze through it with a controller.
Voyage of the Dead is decent, but with its short campaign and mostly forgettable mini-games, it’s not nearly as memorable as Sega’s zombie-killing entries. Even one stage of Bandai Namco’s Deadstorm Pirates has more flourish than this game.
I admire PDP for trying to bring back a begotten era of light gun shooters for a new generation to enjoy. But the Lightcon just feels like a missed opportunity. Qubit’s Quest is a neat game, and Voyage of the Dead has its moments. But the inaccuracy of the device and the IR camera, not to mention the overall lacking performance, leaves the Lightcon shooting blanks.
Hopefully, we’ll see improvements made to the model down the road, along with some classic games (Point Blank, anyone?) to really make it worthwhile. But as it stands, the MARS Lightcon feels like a misfire.
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