It’s easy to forget now that back in SEGA‘s 16-bit halcyon days, they wielded considerable brand power, enjoying reach far beyond the fledgling console business that made them a household name.
Indeed, all manner of SEGA and Sonic merchandise and licensed paraphernalia was doing the rounds to your local Woolworths, Toys ‘R Us et al in the early ’90s. I myself was a card-carrying segaphile even back then, and I remember having all sorts of SEGA stuff besides my beloved Mega Drive, including Lock-On, a home laser tag set for two players. You’d be forgiven for not having heard of it.
The guns and headsets themselves are the same deep, iconic blue as the SEGA logo, strengthening brand association with the added bonus of ensuring that the guns look like toys rather than real killing implements. The headsets sport a small, single character LCD used mostly for displaying a player’s remaining lives. These displays are reflected into semi-transparent plastic eyepieces for the wearer to see, which is actually a pretty ingenious way of negating the need for a costly second display while maintaining almost full visibility.
Everything functions as you might expect. Getting shot by your opponent’s infra-red beam results in losing one of your nine lives; unless, that is, they’ve pressed the ‘super shot button,’ thus giving them a brief window to hit you for three. A ‘single player’ option is touted in the manual, but it really only amounts to shooting at a another headset set to two-player mode. Not quite the same as stalking live quarry, is it?
The guns feature buttons rather than triggers (again, distancing them from functional, honest-to-goodness weapons), and a speaker to give off passable gun noises. We’re not talking FLAC quality, of course, but they set the scene well enough. Thankfully, your headset beeps when an opponent has a shot lined up, thus giving some idea of when you need to be commando rolling behind the nearest piece of furniture.
Interestingly, the nature of infra-red beams meant that reflecting your shots off mirrors, garish pre-millennial wallpaper and the like was entirely possible, more often than not leading to the perennial childhood cry of foul play: “mum, he’s cheating”. War really is hell, eh?
Lock-On came in three flavours. Mark I and Mark 2 were functionally identical, with the latter being simply a smaller, more compact version of the original, which will be a far from alien concept to contemporary console gamers. The third version, Lock-On Voice Command, includes guns which you can control with a number of basic phrases. Sadly, “pop a cap in his ass” isn’t one of them, but apparently the whole affair was very hit-and-miss anyway.
Combining plastic, mock guns and video games would fall out of favour by the time the PS2, GameCube and Xbox started doing the rounds. Likewise, SEGA cabinets bristling with make-believe firearms, once a common sight in arcades, are a dying breed. Nevertheless, Lock-On is an interesting piece of SEGA history, and an interesting reminder of the reach those iconic four letters once had.