Fortnite’s new High Stakes mode is a bit of a classic, I think. It’s only just dropped in but, two games down, I’m already mourning the moment they snatch it away from us again. It’s super simple: you land somewhere, hunt for a safe and extract a jewel from inside, and then you have to lug it to a getaway van. It’s squad-based, so it’s all about teamwork, and because this is Fortnite, the intricacies in terms of approach are already muddling my brain.
But let’s put that aside for now. Instead, let’s talk about The Grappler, which has launched alongside High Stakes. Grappling guns are already money in the bank as far as games are concerned – the uncoiling swoosh of Arkham’s, the boots-against-the-wall landing in Just Cause 2. Yes! Grappling guns are the kind of thing you dream about owning in real life. I’m not going to walk to the Co-op for Stroopwafels, I’m going to zip there and probably land on the roof. I’m going to ride the Grappling Railway! (Just me?)
Anyway. Fortnite’s Grappler is fantastic. It doesn’t pin you neatly to the place you aimed at so much as loft you in that general direction. It’s so quick, and a bit dazzling with it. You get a surprising amount of air, and you might land somewhere unexpected and find you’ve gotten yourself in trouble. It’s limited-use, which I wish I had known in advance, so eventually you’ve grappled too much and it simple disappears from your arsenal, without so much as an insouciant pop as it goes. Most importantly, though? At the end of the grappling line you don’t have a hook, but a huge red plunger.
This is so perfect for Fortnite, of course, a cartoony game in which nothing is ever too serious. But I particularly love it because it sends me whirling backwards through time to an era when the most exciting thing in games was Donald Duck wearing a fedora. Years before Fortnite – do not make me count how many – Donald Duck understood that games and plungers belonged together. And he explored this fertile terrain in the glorious 16-bit marvel Quackshot.
Quackshot was a bit of a classic. Lovely platforming and a genuine sense of globe-trotting exploration as Donald bounced off around the world in search of some kind of jewel or trinket or something. Crucially, though, he didn’t bottom-bounce. He shot people with a gun! Donald Duck! But because this was Disney, the gun fired plungers. And it did far more than just mess up your enemies.
At first, it barely did that. In its initial form, the plunger gun simply stuck to people’s’ faces for a bit and froze them in place. I only realise now that you were probably meant to see the enemy shivering in place and imagine them yanking at the plunger to try and remove it. No matter. An upgrade later, and a sweet idea became a truly brilliant tool. As Quackshot got going, you could use the plunger gun to climb things, firing plunger after plunger into walls and then bouncing off them to move higher and higher.
What a fabulous thing, and how rare it still is to this day to see a weapon that covers so much territory in a game. A gun that is not just a gun. I wrote about the plunger gun in Edge quite a while back, and I can’t think of too many in-game weapons in the years that followed that I have a similar fondness for.
I’m pretty sure that somebody at Epic has fond memories of Quackshot, too, and not just because of the Grappler, or even that weird plunger bomb that predates it. Halfway through Chair’s wonderful side-scroller Shadow Complex, you are given a gun that fires that kind of gooey expanding foam that sticks people to walls. And so it does – it sticks people to walls and gets inside machinery and wrecks it. But you can also use it to create foam steps and ledges for yourself. Like Donald Duck, you can take aim at the world around you and change your environment in meaningful – and delightful – ways.