I’ve always wondered what happened to light guns during the 16-bit era. After having a respectable measure of success on both the NES and Master System (Punisher and Rescue Mission are the best examples from that generation), they sort of stumbled. Nintendo had no success with their Super Scope and Sega hardly fared any better with the Menacer. In fact, the total amount of games supported by both can be counted on both hands… and you’ll have fingers left over.
What happened? Light guns were always great in the arcades (still are) and they’ve thrived on both the 32-bit and the current crop of consoles. The mid ’90s seem to be a major hiccup that still baffles me. When Sega first released the Menacer in 1992, great things were expected and it was exciting to think of the genre taking advantage of the Genesis’ power. Sega’s arcade catalogue alone was enough to get you excited, and there were plenty of Master System games awaiting sequels. Personally, I was anxiously awaiting a new version of Rescue Mission or even Gangster Town. The Genesis was finally starting to get some decent peripherals and Nintendo’s Power Glove notwithstanding, most consumers had yet to develop a feeling of being burned from purchasing orphaned accessories. It seemed only natural that every console should have a light gun. Heck, both the NES and Master System had them packed in!
When you first gaze upon it, it becomes clear that the Menacer is aptly named. The long, huge box takes up a lot of shelf space and gives the impression that you’re buying a high powered rifle or something. Splayed across the cover is the image of an excited fellow who looks more like he’s spying through the dual scopes on an undressing next door neighbor than actually playing. The gun itself, quite a departure from the pistols of old, is actually quite tiny compared to its packaging. Along with it, you get a stabilizer (a stock for shoulder or from-the-hip shooting), the binocular module with two scopes (you can use one or both at a time), the 6 in 1 game cartridge, and the infra red sensor. The sensor is plugged into the second control port on the Genesis and is placed on top of your TV. Six AAA batteries must be inserted into the rear of the gun, which can be a hassle. I can understand the desire to go along with the whole wireless fad that ran rampant at the time but six batteries? It would have been better to just have the gun connect directly to the Genesis, as the lack of a cord does little to improve actual gameplay. Supposedly, the batteries yield up to twenty hours of play time, so you shouldn’t have to worry much about the extra cost. Leaving the Menacer idle for thirty minutes will shut it off, which also helps to conserve the batteries.
The Menacer’s best feature is its ability to be used in three different forms, making it highly flexible. Play with both the scopes and the stock to use it as a rifle, just use the stock and shoot from the hip, or play without either one and use it as a traditional pistol. For this reason, it seems more appealing at first than the bulky Super Scope, being more versatile and easier to hold. It’s also surprisingly comfortable. However, this versatility comes at a price. Using both the stock and the scopes makes aiming a bit difficult at times, as your field of vision is extremely limited. Sure, you never see everything through a real rifle’s scope but even when using both of the Menacer’s, the viewing area is just as small as on a traditional rifle. Even removing one of the scopes does little to improve visibility. Moreover, there is no amplification (why are they called “binocular modules” then?) and using both scopes simultaneously makes play almost impossible. The whole purpose of having both connected is thus rendered useless.
Playing with only the stock is a bit better for those times when you just want to mow things down in a hail of bullets (like in T2: Arcade) but again, precision shots are quite difficult. I did find that it was easier to make hard shots with this combination than with the scopes on, which simply shouldn’t be. The stock is pretty comfortable and doesn’t wear on the shoulder after extended periods of play, so this is a good way to go.
For general play, perhaps the best way to use the Menacer is all by itself, without any of the accessories. As a traditional pistol, it’s more precise and easier to aim. Of course, this will leave you wondering why on Earth it came packed with all those gadgets. My guess is that since the Menacer was released at a time when a lot of accessories were more form than function, Sega thought it would sell better if they added a ton of extra stuff. This was true for a lot of peripherals and as a result, most of them ended up stored in the closet or basement after the initial novelty wore of and their utter uselessness became more apparent.
Sadly, the Menacer falls into this category, although only barely. Playing without either the stock or the scopes may be the best way to use it but it still isn’t 100% effective. The gun’s calibration seems to be inherently flawed, making precise aiming very difficult. The manual states that the best distance from which to play is six to eight feet from the screen and that you should not play from any closer than four and a half feet. This seems odd to me. Don’t play close? Why not? The Master System gun and the NES Zapper could both be used accurately as close as practically on the screen. Surely this piece of modern wireless technology should work from a chair four feet away, or so one would be inclined to believe. In reality, playing from closer than five feet is hit and miss (literally). Your fire has a nasty tendency to swing to the upper-right corner of the screen when you shoot, even though the cross hair (or “Accu-Sight,” as Sega called it) looks perfectly centered. No matter how hard you try, the thing just seems to go wild at this distance, and there’s no reason for it. Over the years, I’ve played with both 8-bit guns, both of Namco’s GunCons, Mad Katz’s Dreamcast pistol, and the Saturn Stunner; all from the comfort of my futon only four feet from my 27” WEGA without any problem and the Menacer is the only gun with which I’ve ever had a problem.
One would hope to derive some comfort from the 6 in 1 cartridge that comes as a pack-in. Again, you’d be disappointed as it only offers a mediocre array of mini games. There are six in total: Pest Control, Space Station Defender, Whack Ball, Front Line, Rockman’s Zone, and Ready, Aim Tomatoes! The last one is probably the best, since it features Toe Jam & Earl. This doesn’t say much, as none of the games are interesting enough to be played for more than that first half hour after you initially set the whole gun up. This is a direct reflection of the Menacer’s most glaring flaw, which is its overall lack of games. In addition to the pack in, only a handful of games are playable with it, including T2: the Arcade Game, Corpse Killer (Sega CD and 32X CD versions), and the Mega Drive-exclusive Body Count. The lack of software makes the Menacer very easy to collect for and the price of a complete unit. None of the aforementioned titles are truly exceptional, though T2 and Body Count are really good for some quick fun.
I had high hopes for the Menacer and was more than a bit disappointed. The fact that it isn’t compatible with Konami’s Lethal Enforcer series or the classic Snatcher only added to my disenchantment. I have heard that the American Laser Games titles, such as Who Shot Johnny Rock? and Mad Dog Mcree can be played with it. However, your mileage will vary on how enticing that really is.
If you’re looking for a gun for your Genesis, you’ll only need the Menacer if you want to play a few decent titles like T2 and Body Count. For all your other shooting action, get a Konami Justifier instead.