I’ve always enjoyed light gun games, as evident by this entire series. Growing up, whenever I’d see a cabinet in the arcade, I was usually drawn to it. The mechanics are simple and congruent across different games, so it was relatively simple to play and enjoy. The struggle, then, came with a game standing out from the rest. To that I say:
Welcome to… CarnEvil!
When thinking back on this game the first thing that comes to mind isn’t the unique setting, or the shotgun controllers, or the kind of really brutal gameplay. It’s the Rob Zombie music absolutely blaring during the attract mode. Could anything pump you up more in an arcade than heavy guitar riffs and twangy, creepy sounds? For my 11 years old self there sure wasn’t.
CarnEvil is an on-rails shooter like any other, but instead of blasting away terrorists or zombies, your offing evil, demonic circus creatures. Creepy Christmasy elves, eerily grinning food vendors, and you bet there are some wicked clowns thrown in for good measure. The real highlight of the enemies are the boss encounters. A gigantic diaper-clad baby, a possessed teddy bear, an even an iteration of the scary Santa Clause-like villain Krampus. There was no shortage of style in this game.
Unique to the cabinet, too, was the light gun itself. Rather than a pistol or handgun, you’re given a pump shotgun to dole out the bullets. And the pump actually worked: you could use it to reload your gun (instead of the genre-standard shooting outside the screen). It was a nice touch to give the game just a bit more personality.
If you haven’t played this game yet, you absolutely should if you find a cabinet. The game still holds up well today. The sound design and gameplay are solid, and there really isn’t another shooter out there quite like it. Sadly, this game has not been ported over to any consoles, so it’s an arcade exclusive!
One last personal story before we go. While playing this one day at the local bowling alley, I somehow entered a cheat before the game started the added party hats and afro wigs on all of the grunt enemies! It was silly, sure, and totally unexpected, but another reason why video games as a whole are great. They’re never too serious, and little additions like this create memorable moments for the player (obviously).
*Played at Galloping Ghost Arcade in Brookfiled, IL 2019