You don’t see a lot of games in the light gun genre on the PS3 or 360. Time Crisis 4 is the only notable one for Sony’s console, and correct me if I’m wrong but I can’t even think of any on the 360. That might change once Natal drops and Sony figures out their motion sensing controller, but for now the Wii is king of rail shooters. The Wii remote’s pointer ability has sparked a revival of the light gun genre on the console, and with it we’ve seen a plethora of gun shells released for the remote. At present you can get anything from Komodo’s fierce looking Buckshot shotgun to any number of cheaper shells like the Sharpshooter, but it all started with Nintendo’s Zapper.
I remember seeing a prototype for the Wii Zapper way back at E3 06. The pistol design was reminiscent of the old NES Zapper, but also sleek, simplistic and stylish—everything Nintendo was pushing for their then-new console. It had its own control stick, but also appeared to digitally remap the B-button control to its own separate trigger. It was essentially a gun-shaped Nunchuk.
So where the hell did the real Wii Zapper come from? The final design arrived in late 07 with Link’s Crossbow Training, and abandoned all previous features of the prototype. A clunky, plastic shell that looked roughly like a Tommy gun, The Wii Zapper is little more than an awkward cradle for the Wii remote and Nunchuk. Its design favors a two-handed grip; a strange choice for the pistol oriented, point-and-shoot gameplay in lightgun games. Its trigger is purely mechanical, a mechanism designed to press against the remote’s B button whenever the Zapper’s trigger is pulled. It’s springy, unresponsive and just plain cheap-feeling.
The common consensus among gamers is that lightgun games are more comfortable and easier to play with just the plain old Wii remote—the Zapper can actually make playing more difficult than its needs to be! As they did with the Classic Controller Grip, Nyko was quick to offer a better alternative with the Perfect Shot. This gun shell used the same mechanical trigger principle as the Wii Zapper but did a much better job of it, and for a time was widely preferred by gamers. Now there’s an even better option.
Nyko’s Action Pak takes the basic principle of the Perfect Shot and refines it. Including a Nyko Wand and the Pistol Grip, the Action Pak finally puts some electronics into a Wii gun shell.
Remember the Trans-Port tech I talked about in my Wand review
? It’s a technology built into Nyko’s new peripherals that lets them talk to the Wand digitally, and the Pistol Grip is one of the first controllers to use it. The Pistol Grip doesn’t have any mechanical triggers to push down on the B button like the Zapper or even the Perfect Shot—when you pull the Pistol Grip’s trigger, the command transfers right through to the wand electronically. The Pistol Grip also has a button on the back that’s shaped like a gun’s ring hammer; this one corresponds to the Wand’s A button. Since the A button is usually mapped to reloading in lightgun games, flicking the Pistol Grip’s hammer back to reload adds an extra touch of authenticity.
But what if you have a game where the functionality of the A and B buttons is reversed (for example, A shoots and B reloads)? No worries—the Pistol Grip has a switch on the base of the grip that swaps the A and B buttons back and forth between the trigger and hammer.
Of course, not all Wii lightgun games use just the Wii remote; some use the Nunchuk too, and that’s why the Zapper has a cradle for the Nunchuk. The Pistol Grip has the same feature but does it a little differently. Right next to the swap switch is a socket for plugging in compatible accessories. The socket links any accessories digitally through the Pistol Grip to the Wand that is already plugged in. I tested it with the Nunchuk and Nyko’s Wired Kama, and both work fine. This socket is the same as the one on the back of the Wand and it has the same Trans-Port contacts, so you get the same perks from compatible Nyko accessories; for example, I still got rumble feedback from the Wired Kama when it was plugged into the bottom of the Pistol Grip.
So the Pistol Grip has plenty of bells and whistles, but how does it perform in the field? Setup was quick and easy, and much simpler than slotting everything into the Zapper. The Pistol Grip’s main slot has the same shape and tabs as the Wand’s battery door, so you remove the door from your Wand, hook the Pistol Grip’s tabs into the Wand and snap the end of the Wand into place. The back of the Pistol Grip’s body contains the digital connector, and slides back for loading the Wand, so once the Wand is in place you slide that up and clip it snugly into the Wand’s Trans-Port socket. The action is rather satisfying, kind of like cocking a real pistol.
I got off to sort of a false start by first testing the Pistol Grip with Dead Space Extraction. Don’t get me wrong—the controller and the game are both great, they just aren’t a good match for each other. Extraction’s environments are littered with ammo, items and secrets you must grab by spamming the A button. This is perfectly comfortable with a standalone Wii remote or Wand, but constantly flicking the Pistol Grip’s hammer tired my thumb out quickly. The Pistol Grip’s accuracy and handling are fine with Extraction, but the game is more of an on-rails adventure than a straight-up lightgun shooter.
The Pistol Grip is far more suited to a fast paced, balls-to-the-wall zombie killer, so I used just such a game for serious testing: House of the Dead Overkill. The Pistol Grip’s performance was exemplary. It’s accurate and comfortable to use, with almost no noticeable cursor lag or dropped signals. Holding it like a real pistol has a very natural feel and can enhance your own accuracy—curling your finger over a real trigger instead of the Wii remote’s B button is simply a more comfortable hand position. I turned off the crosshair and aimed down the Pistol Grip’s sights, so to speak, and even that was pretty accurate.
HotD Overkill lets you reload by either shaking the Wii remote or pressing the A button, so while I could shake the Pistol Grip to refresh my clip, thumbing the hammer is simpler and just feels cool. The Pistol Grip is a perfect fit for a game like Overkill, and I don’t play with anything else now.
If my aim was ever off I could access Overkill’s calibration screen, so the gun’s precision might be the result of my own tweaking. That said, Overkill pretty much set the bar for Wii lightgun games, so I wouldn’t expect any huge difficulties with the Pistol Grip in other games.
The Pistol Grip works best at around 5 to 7 feet away from the screen. If you’re playing in close quarters your aim might by skewed up or down a bit but you can remedy this by firing from the hip. With any lightgun game ideally you want to play in a larger space, and standing up in a proper firing stance just makes it more like an authentic arcade experience.
About the only serious drawback I found with the Pistol Grip is that, by nature of the Trans-Port tech, it only works with a Nyko Wand. I plugged a regular Wii remote in to make sure, and the Pistol Grip doesn’t recognize it. The accessory jack works with a regular Nunchuk but the main dock only works with a Wand. Those three little pins are what communicate the Pistol Grip’s input to the Wand, so a Wii remote just can’t receive the commands.
This would be a drawback if the Pistol Grip was sold separately, but it comes bundled with a Wand anyway so you’re set to go. In my Wand review I discovered that it’s easily as good as the Wii remote, maybe better, so if you need an extra controller the Action Pack is a solid deal at $40. When used together, the Pistol Grip and Wand make the sleekest, most elegant lightgun for the Wii. It’s easily in the top tier of Wii gun shells, and possibly the best one on the market right now.