Big Buck Hunter Pro is the popular 2006 installment in the arcade game franchise from PlayMechanix. The Big Buck Hunter franchise continues to survive despite the death of the arcade industry. Walk into any American movie theater or pizza buffet cool enough to have arcade machines and you’ll likely see a Pro cabinet or one of its sequels there, resplendent with two shotguns (one green, the other orange) and some goofy antler molding around the screen and marquis.
In 2009 and 2010, the franchise’s expanded even more with the ports of Big Buck Hunter Pro for the Nintendo Wii, iPhone and other mobile platforms, and even a plug-and-play TV game. All but the Wii version were developed by Merge Interactive. Merge is working on the upcoming Big Buck Hunter Pro Adventure for Windows 8, but before its arrival they’ve released a Windows Phone 7 port of the iOS game. Does their familiarity with the franchise produce a worthy and accessible hunting game? Mostly, except for some annoying issues with the port.
Big Buck Hunter Pro is less a hunting simulation and more a hunting-themed shooting gallery. Players can choose to engage in a single ‘trek,’ which is a series of five levels in a single location, or a 3-trek Adventure encompassing three locations. Each adventure involves hunting a specific animal. At present, only two adventures are available: Whitetail Deer and Elk. But four more adventures are listed as Coming Soon, presumably as PDLC.
In each of the brief levels that make up a trek, you’re tasked with killing the three target males of the desired species. To do so, you just tap the screen to fire; no movement controls here. After each shot you’ll need to tap the bottom of the screen to reload, necessitating the use of a second finger or thumb. Reloading works better in the arcade game since pumping a shotgun is inherently fun (if not Freudian); the touch-screen method is slightly less enjoyable, but you get used to it. Unfortunately, shots often seem to lag slightly from when the player taps the screen. Hit boxes often seem off too, making aiming far less precise than it should be.
Female animals such as does complicate your hunting mission. Hit one by mistake and the level ends, forcing you on to the next one (while still giving you points for any previous proper kills). Depending on the level, females may block a male almost the whole time he’s on-screen. You’ll have to wait for just the right moment to strike. This mechanic adds a proper degree of challenge, but I wish there was a mode in which players could shoot anything that moves with impunity. It’d make for a nice stress reliever in addition to allowing younger kids to play without constantly failing form shooting the wrong animals.
Assuming you don’t kill Bambi’s mom, levels end once all three males are dead or escaped. Every single time you play a new trek or adventure, you’ll have to input your initials after the first level wraps up. That’s arcade-accurate and makes competing locally work better, but the game really should save player profiles and just let you select your name from the saved list instead of having to tap it out each time.
Duck Hunt guide. Red marks indicate faster-moving ducks.
Each trek ends with its own unique bonus game, so there are six bonus games in total. These can be played independent of the main game in the ‘Bonus Only’ mode; a great feature. Several, such as ‘Pie in the Sky’ (shoot cow pies) and Gopher Garden add a nice dose of humor.
Too hot for Windows Phone
Every previous version of Big Buck Hunter Pro, whether it be arcade, Wii, or iPhone, has included photographs of female models during the mid-game instructional screens. These ladies aren’t overly sexualized or anything; they just pack a toy shotgun and smile. For reasons unknown to normal human beings, someone at Microsoft decided the ladies had to go. The only small vestige of them in the Windows Phone version appears in a single Achievement icon.
Censoring something that nobody could possibly find offensive and that passes the muster of arcade operators and Apple’s censors already is both unnecessary and slightly evil. The faceless Microsoft representative in question basically decided that seeing women in any form is bad. No, their exclusion from the game doesn’t affect the actual fun of shooting, but it diminishes the game’s personality.
The Windows Phone version of Big Buck Hunter Pro ostensibly sports two unique online features: Coin-Up Login and Arcade Finder. Coin-Up is supposed to allow players to create a network account that gets shared between this game and the arcade version, or access their existing arcade account. Sadly, the feature is one-hundred percent broken. After going through the process of entering your information, it always fails to connect when you hit submit. Worse, a ‘connection failed’ message then pops up every time you complete a level, sometimes during the actual gameplay of the subsequent level.
Arcade Finder allows players to search for networked Big Buck Hunter Pro arcade cabinets near their location, either via GPS or zip code search. However, you can’t set the search radius, making the feature totally useless. I input a Houston zip code and got zero hits. Are they telling me there aren’t any machines in one of the country’s largest cities? If so, why bother including the feature?
Most of the Achievements in Big Buck Hunter Pro are easy. Several involve killing a specific number of bucks or critters. Since the maximum number of killable bucks in an adventure is 45 (and you’ll often score at least a few less than that), you’ll need to replay adventures or treks several times in order to score 500 buck kills. It’s a slight grind, but to the tune of a couple of hours, not 100 hours as with Carcassonne’s horrible grinding Achievement.
The Achievement that is intended to be the hardest involves completing a full adventure by killing all 45 bucks; no misses allowed. Thankfully, a tombstoning trick greatly alleviates the difficulty. See Arsenic17’s Achievement Guide for details.
The actual toughest Achievement is tied to completing the Dove Hunter minigame without missing a dove and with perfect accuracy. Unfortunately, the frame rate and hit detection are both completely awful in this minigame. Some players will not be able to complete what should be a simple challenge. Annoyingly, you can’t pause and choose to retry if you mess up during the minigame. You have to play it to completion or exit to the main menu. Either way, you’ll have to manually reselect the minigame. A better UI would have been appreciated.
The arcade version of Big Buck Hunter Pro is a simple game. It doesn’t aspire to be technically impressive or deep, but it gets by on fun and tongue-in-cheek southern charm. The Windows Phone game retains much of that charm, but the technical faults really pull it down from greatness. Poor controls and hit detection, broken online features, and pointless censorship all make this version inferior to the iOS one. It even costs three times as much to boot. And yet, despite these obvious faults, it’s still a fair approximation of the actual arcade game. Fans of shooting galleries and light gun games who can get past the blemishes will have a rootin’ tootin’ good time.
Big Buck Hunter Pro costs $2.99. Be warned that this WP7.5 game is currently unplayable on WP8 devices (it hangs on a loading screen). Folks with WP7 handsets, get it here on the Windows Phone Store.