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In Duck Hunt, players had a special gun apparatus, the Nintendo Zapper Light Gun that they plugged into the NES console, and attempted to shoot down ducks or clay pigeons in mid-flight. Duck Hunt was originally released as an arcade game in 1984 and was also included in the PlayChoice-10 arcade console. Like many early video games, Duck Hunt has no proper ending.

The player is also accompanied by a nameless dog that laughs at you if no duck is hit. The dog has passed into video gaming folklore. Additionally, one of the more popular urban legends within the video game community claims that some players have found a way to shoot the dog. This is actually impossible for several gameplay reasons and limitations, although it is possible to shoot the dog in the bonus round of the arcade version of the game, Vs. Duck Hunt (possibly the origin of the urban legend). However, players will get no bonus points if they do ("OUCH!!! SHOOT THE DUCKS, NOT ME!!!") . There is also a fan-made Macromedia Flash remake of the game that features the ability to shoot the dog. [1] The dog also makes a cameo in the NES game Barker Bill's Trick Shooting (also a Zapper game) and he can be shot.

The game had three modes: one and two-duck variations on the above formula and a third clay pigeon shooting mode. Most players regard this last mode as by far the most difficult; the clay pigeons were much smaller sprites than the ducks. Additionally, in later rounds shooting multiple clays required faster reaction time than as in the same numbered round in the duck modes. In Vs. Duck Hunt, Clay Shooting mode appeared as the second round with the first round being the two duck variation (the arcade version never had one duck). Also, only in the arcade version, the dog appears in the clay shooting round when you miss the clay pigeons. In the NES version, the dog only appears in the duck shooting modes.