Is Duck Season a game, or an experience?
On Thursday of last week, Duck Season by Stress Level Zero arrived for Steam and the Oculus Store. Technically, Duck Season is billed as a video game, but one can certainly argue that it seems more of a deluxe experience rather than a game, per se. Of course, at the end of the day, what really matters most, is if the game/experience entertains those who fork over the necessary $19.99 entry fee. Stress Level Zero seems less concerned with labels and genres, and instead, is passionately focused on delivering a compelling VR experience. They certainly have delivered a heaping helping of nostalgia if nothing else. 80's themed nostalgic entertainment properties can't seem to get any hotter right now. It's like they're the new zombies or something. We have the Stranger Things Netflix series of course, and many other movies and TV shows cashing in on this particular fad. Stress Level Zero seems to have positioned themselves perfectly to take full advantage of this phenomena, from a VR entertainment standpoint.
I've seen VR consumers specifically request experiences that would let them visit various eras of the past. While Duck Season isn't necessarily designed with this core idea in mind, you still end up in one of the most accurate recreations of a late 80's living room I've ever seen. The carpet, the furniture, the television, the VCR, everything has been painstakingly recreated to give you the feeling that you've stepped into an average American living room circa 1988. You have a video game console sitting on the carpet in front of the glowing CRT television. If it looks surprisingly like the Nintendo Entertainment System, well, the theme continues from there. Game cartridges, game boxes, Nintendo Power magazines, Zapper gun controller, it's all here. Sure, everything has been altered slightly, to avoid legal entanglements with the Big N and other companies, but it's still immediately apparent what Stress Level Zero is going for..
The name of the game is Duck Season, and at first blush, you might assume that this is simply a modern day recreation of Nintendo's famous Duck Hunt.
Of course, it doesn't take too long to figure out that the duck shooting sequences are more of a mild diversion than anything else. The real meat of the game, or should I say experience, is in the living room setting. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised, if some gamers try out this title, and they just don't get what Stress Level Zero is trying to do here. It's not about fast action, or intense thrills. It's about soaking up the environment and all that wonderful nostalgia. In fact, I physically sat my butt down on the carpet and played parts of this game like I was 10 years old again, sitting in my 80's living room. Mom even makes you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!
I can't help but wonder however, if this type of experience is lost on anyone below the age of 35. If you've never owned a Nintendo Entertainment System, and you really don't know all that much about life in the 80's, will there be enough substance here to keep your attention? I'm not so sure. I know that shows like Stranger Things are surprisingly popular with younger audiences, but Duck Season is just so specifically designed for children of the 80's. Luckily, Stress Level Zero did their homework, and they know a huge percentage of VR gamers are in that ideal age demographic. Headset owners tend to skew a little older, and most of these folks actually did own a Nintendo Entertainment System during their childhood.
So, at the end of the day, is Duck Season worth playing? Well, I can say, that as you continue to get further through the world that Stress Level Zero has created, you get to a certain point where the festivities take on a darker and more disturbing tone. In fact, the game can morph from a happy nostalgia fest, into a terror/horror experience in the blink of an eye. I will fully admit that I was hoping that this aspect of Duck Season was a bit more fleshed out and fully featured. Just when things started to get really interesting, it seemed like the next thing I knew, I was watching the end credits roll.
Still, we have to remember that there are multiple endings and many different secrets and Easter eggs to discover. A single playthrough may only last 90 minutes, but if you explore every nook and cranny of the experience, you could end up spending several additional hours. Duck Season is designed for you to take your sweet time. You're meant to savor the experience slowly but surely. Try out all the various game cartridges skewed about your living room floor, as well as the VHS tapes. In fact, the Full Motion Video sequences are probably the most entertaining and unique aspect of the game. Stress Level Zero has done an absolutely marvelous job with the video sequences that play on the old boob tube. Their comedic talents in designing some wonderfully campy infomercials and sequences are put to great use.
Ultimately, Duck Season is more experience than game, but it's still a powerful example of how Virtual Reality can take us to a different time and place, and allow us to remember some joyous aspects of our childhood years. If you're over the age of 35, and owned a NES back in the 80's, then what are you doing still reading this article? Grab this new experience and soak it all it. If you're on the younger side, maybe watch a few YouTube play sessions to get a better idea if it's something that would appeal to you.