First up – I’m not going to get into the debate about what the all time best lightgun is. There are loads of great contenders from the Namco Gcon guns to some of the Sega releases and some people prefer the old NES Zapper.
They all have good points and pad points and it really comes down to personal preference.
What I want to look at here is what the best light gun available is now and that means that it has to work with modern TV’s.
Basically, that rules out all of the classics. If you have a CRT TV and want to play on that then you have a huge amount of selection and you will need different light guns for each console.
If on the other hand, like me, you want to play on your own big screen LED TV, your options are much more limited.
The criteria that I will be using is that and Light Guns listed must work on a modern TV and must also work on a PC because to get the most out of these games and the most flexibility, you need to emulate them ion a PC.
- Aimtrak Lightgun from Arcade Controls
- Build your own:
- Samco’s Lightgun
- Jaybees Lightgun
- PDP Mars
- Sinden Lightgun (coming soon)
- Wii Remote and Wii Zapper
As you can see from the list above. Options are pretty limited. Light gun games fell from popularity due to a combination of factors some time ago and while there are a supprising number of people interested in playing them, there have not been many manufacturers making them recently.
I think it was probably a combination of light guns being of poor quality initially once LCD tvs became the norm. That made people less excited about playing them and manufacturers probably read that as reduced demand.
On the plus side, we have some solid options which come close to the original feel, with some really exciting developments on the horizon.
At the minute, you are limited to a Infra Red based solution. This is where you position some IR LEDs on your TV and the light gun sees them and works out where you are pointing.
This is exactly how the Wii remote works and it is best implemented on the Aimtrak lightgun. This solution can be extremely accurate if the software is good ( its mainly down to the software interpreting position rather than the hardware). The big problem with it is that that if you move the software has a hard time dealing with that and the result is that the aim tends to go off a little bit. Its still consistent but will no longer be pointing where you re aiming exactly.
This is the best solution at the minute though and is absolutely playable so long as you done move around too much or pass the controller to someone who is a different height without calibrating again.
What are the options and which one should you pick?
There is a cheap solution, a premium solution and a DIY solution (which is also the mid priced one).
The cheap solution is
The Wii remote and Zapper. You just need a wii remote (possibly a nunchuk adapter as well) and a ir sensor bar.
Any Wii remote will work fine, it does not need to be a branded one and you can pick some great ones up on Amazon. There is also the option of getting one second hand. You can pic up a whole wii with the nunchuck for a bargain price now.
You need a zapper or other gun adapter for your nunchuck. That’s really just for the feel so any will do.
Lastly you will need an IR bar. The one that comes with the Wii would work but it does not have a standard usb adapter. You can pick up a third party one with a standard usb adapter for under $10.
If you are going to use it mainly with Dolphin though, you could think about getting the Dolphin Bar. Its a little more expensive but it is designed to work with The Dolphin Emulator. The Wii remote connects directly to the Dolphin bar through bluetooth (Its also a good idea if your PC does not have bluetooth) and it translates the signal.
Once you have all that set up, you will be able to play light gun games on any emulators that accept a mouse (with absolute coordinates) as an input.
You will want to play with the cross hairs on though as its not really consistent enough for line of site aiming.
The Premium Solution is the Aimtrak light gun at the moment.
For a kit, it costs around £80 for the non recoil version and that includes the gun and a good quality sensor bar.
The Aimtrak lightgun is basically plug and play. There is some software to install which helps you set up the light gun and then calibrate it and then you will see it working in WIndows as a mouse.
Its very accurate so long as you don’t change positions and with that caveat, you will be able to play games without the cross hairs (where they support it).
The gun is very will made and feels like a quality product.
It is not as good as the old school CRT light guns because of the issues when you move but it is probably the best that is available right now. (see the bottom of the article foe some exciting upcoming developments that might change this).
The DIY Option.
Until very recently, I would have thought that this was outside the realms of possibility for normal people without electronics experience. That is until Samco over on the Arcade Controls forum released his design for a DIY light gun using an Audrino and a clever little IR camera from DFRobot.
You can read about it in my DIY Light gun article.
I put one together myself and was very pleased with the result. It performs almost exactly like the Aimtrak but you can get it built for around £40 – £50 – and you get the satisfaction that you have built it yourself!
There is also another project based on the Samco one but using 4 leds instead of 2. That one claims to remove the need for calibration and also be more accurate when you move around. I am excited about that design from Jaybee but I haven’t gotten around to building it yet.
What about the Future?
There are some really exciting developments coming up that could change what the best choice is.
The 2 projects are the PDP Mars lightgun which only works on the PS4 and Xbox currently and only with a small selection of games.
And secondly the Sinden lightgun which is the one that I am most excited about. Its a kickstarter at the minute and should be delivering in December or January, but it looks like it be the first gun to allow genuine line of site aiming and no calibration on the pc and modern TVs. I can’t wait for it and I will update this article when it arrives.