Under normal circumstances, a ‘work simulator’ about delivering newspapers wouldn’t appear to make the best of subject matter for a videogame. But then this is no ordinary paper round.
Released in 1985, this arcade classic immediately grabbed attention with its unique cabinet, the handlebar controls replacing the standard joystick. Taking the role of the paperboy of the title, your job was to deliver the local rag to your loyal subscribers whilst dishing out journalistic graffiti to non-subscribers, your round hampered by all manner of obstacles. Complete a week of deliveries to see your name in print; lose all your lives and you’ll make headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Such was its success that it would go on to be converted to every system known to man. A sequel followed for the home systems in 1991 whilst the original would form part of the Midway Arcade Treasures compilation in 2003.
Paperboy comes from that ageless time of gaming. This is what an arcade game is supposed to look like. Colourful, distinctive graphics and chunky sprites are the order of the day here.
I hadn’t played this in years but everything is just as I remembered it. This isn’t what you would call a looker (something that probably helped its conversion to other systems) but the crudeness of the visuals just adds to the charm. Your deliveries for the week are clearly denoted as white houses, non-subscriber houses looking a bit like the spooky house from a horror film with their black exterior and bright red windows, just begging for a paper to be slung through them.
Your little man totters along realistically on his bike whilst a myriad of details and obstacles wait to be discovered along the street.
Before you start your round you have a choice of three streets; Easy, Medium and Hard. Bigger scores await you down medium and hard streets but your route will be much trickier.
Whichever option you plump for, the basic gameplay is the same. You start with a limited stack of papers, a push forward on your controller speeding your little guy along. Houses appear down the left hand side of the street as you cycle along the pavement or into the road if necessary. The aim is to deliver a paper to the subscriber houses, either by pinging one into the letterbox or slinging it onto the doorstep for a slightly lower score. You can deliver more than one paper per house but be careful not to smash a window or cause other damage or you’ll quickly lose a subscriber.
However, it appears that not everyone on the street is interested in keeping up with current events. Along the route are a number of non-subscribers. But fear not, you can teach them the error of their ways by chucking a paper or two through their window, or cycling through their flower bed.
But that’s not all. Apparently this is the most dangerous street in the world, your delivery route routinely hampered by speeding cars, drains, workmen, killer cats, rampaging RC cars, fighting thugs and even burglars. Sling a paper at some of them for extra points or try your best to skirt round them, not forgetting to pick up the extra stack of papers along the way.
And if you manage to get all the way to the end of the route, you get a cracking little training sector to negotiate, complete with targets and water jumps to avoid.
This is an awesome game and is somehow as much fun to play now as it was all those years ago. It’s hard as nails; I consider it a good week when I make it to Wednesday on Easy Street. But there are so many great touches that keep you coming back. There is a certain satisfaction on slotting the newspaper just where you want it; straight into the letterbox for a perfect score, through the gaping window of a non-subscriber or right in the face of the kid sat on the doorstep.
For a game this old, there are inevitably some niggles in the gameplay. You can only move forward, any attempt to sit still for too long drawing an attack from a swarm of bees. The lack of a backpedal is annoying when you manage to stop yourself just before smacking into a car but then find yourself too close to manoeuvre round it, instead creeping inexorably towards inevitable doom. And if it’s variety you are after then look elsewhere. This is as shallow as it gets, a coin-guzzler in the finest tradition with no apologies offered.
Almost as much fun as playing an old game and finding it was just like you remember is when the music comes on and you think, ‘So that’s where that tune comes from!’
There are certain tunes from my gaming past that have stuck with me and from the moment the title music hits, I am transported back to that grotty seaside arcade in Hastings. It’s a real toe tapper that gets you right in the mood. There is some speech too, although it sounds a little like someone chewing a crisp packet, whilst in game spot effects add nicely to the overall atmosphere.
Okay, so you can’t play using the handlebars in your own home but that aside, this remains a stonking, old fashioned arcade classic.
He may be 30 years old but this is one Paperboy who still delivers.