Delivering the fun!
To Beat: Complete Sunday to reach the ending
My Difficulty: 5/10
Video: Paperboy Longplay
Today we have another arcade conversion on the NES. These types of ports tend to have varying quality, but I see Paperboy on NES as a well done game. It may not be the definitive version of the game, but I do think that the game is best known on the NES. It is still a popular title today and a fun game to pick up and play anytime.
Paperboy was released in the arcades in 1985. It was both developed and published by Atari Games. The arcade game is housed in an upright cabinet that features a set of handlebars used to control the game. The game was ported to almost twenty different computers, home consoles, and handhelds. The NES port of Paperboy was released in November 1988 and published by Mindscape. There are two sequels to the game. The first is the aptly named Paperboy 2 which debuted in 1991 on home consoles including the NES. The second is the Nintendo 64 game also called Paperboy. There have also been several re-releases of the original Paperboy on systems such as the Game Boy Color, Playstation 2, Xbox 360, and mobile.
In Paperboy, you play the role of a young boy making the rounds on a daily paper route. The object of the game is to deliver newspapers to a series of homes on a two-block street using his trusty bicycle to ensure the deliveries are made in time. There is only one level in the game but you repeat it for every day of the week, which makes for seven levels in total. You win the game if you survive a week’s worth of newspaper delivery.
When you start the game you see an overhead map of the street. One at a time, blue homes will appear in random locations on the left side of the street. These are subscribers to the newspaper. The remaining spaces on the map are filled in with red houses representing non-subscribers. Logically, you want to deliver papers to the subscribers and ignore the non-subscribers.
The controls are very simple. Use the D-Pad to steer your bike. You can go left and right, speed up by pressing Up, and brake by pressing Down. You can grind and squeal your brakes all you want, but you cannot come to a complete stop and must always keep moving ahead. You toss newspapers with either the A button or B button. The Start button pauses the game, and the Select button only comes into play on the title screen for choosing either 1 Player or 2 Player mode. Multiplayer in Paperboy is alternating play.
The game utilizes an oblique perspective in gameplay which is not often seen. It resembles a three-quarters view a little bit. The street you are riding travels upward while slanting to the right, and the playfield scrolls in that same direction. The houses are all modeled in this view giving them a pseudo-3D appearance. The graphics may not be mindblowing, but they are both presentable and suitable for this game.
As stated above, the objective each day is to deliver papers to subscribers. While the subscriber houses appear blue on the introductory map, during gameplay they are either white, blue, or yellow. The non-subscriber homes are always red, so just by color it is easy to tell if you should deliver a paper to a home. To successfully deliver a paper, you must throw it and land it either at the front door or in the mailbox. If successful, a sound effect will play and you will be awarded points.
Paperboy is primarily a score attack game, and so there are quite a few ways to earn points aside from successful deliveries. There are several objects in the game that you can strike with papers that will award points. There are garbage cans, tombstones, and lamps that you can demolish to add to your score. The most fun way to earn points is to smash a paper through the window of a non-subscriber. Most homes in the game have several windows facing the street providing many opportunities to cause some damage and pad your score.
Your bicycle can only hold up to ten newspapers at one time. In the upper-left corner of the screen you can see how many papers you are holding, as well as how many lives you have and your current score. There is a balancing act between saving enough papers to serve your subscribers while throwing them at all the various targets and windows for points. As you bike up the street you will occasionally find a bundle of newspapers that you can pick up by riding over them. The bundles always restock you to the full ten papers. These extra newspapers are scarce in the beginning of the week and more than plentiful by the end of the week. It makes sense that early on you want to be more conservative to get a feel of the neighborhood before going all out for points toward the end.
Other than the level layout, there are many obstacles that stand in your way of a successful day. Many houses have static objects in the yard such as fences, doghouses, signposts, and fire hydrants. More dangerous are the moving objects. There are various people and children that either hang out in their yard or move around. There’s a skateboarder that appears quickly down the sidewalk. There’s a runaway tire that comes down a driveway and veers down toward you. One of the more annoying obstacles is a dog that will give chase as soon as you pass by, but fortunately you can stymie him with a newspaper. There is also a mini-tornado and the Grim Reaper himself that appear later in the week. As the game progresses there are more obstacles that appear at once making it more difficult to pass through and finish the day. If you collide with anything you crash your bike and lose a life. You resume play near where you crashed your bike.
At the end of the street is a training course that acts as a bonus stage. You get unlimited papers and there are targets that you can hit with them that bestow a few points. Aside from that, there are ramps, puddles, walls, and a moving ramp that is tricky to get the hang of clearing. There is also a timer that begins at 45 seconds, but it is more than enough time for the course. If you crash here you don’t lose a life, but you end the level right away. If you make it to the end you meet a small crowd cheering you on and you are awarded 100 points for each second remaining on the timer.
After the training course the map of the street appears displaying all the houses on your route and your results for the day. If you fail to deliver a paper to a subscriber or accidentally break one of their windows, you lose them as a subscriber and their house blinks on the map to indicate their change in status. The residents get so sad when they don’t get their paper that they not only cancel their subscription, but they paint their entire home red so that you know not to give them a paper anymore, unless you want to put some through their window for points! If you retain all your subscribers for the day, then you get a new subscriber and their house changes color from red to one of the other colors.
For the entire game, you get three additional lives to work with, and there are no ways to earn extra lives. This makes the game challenging to beat even though you get used to the few house layouts very quickly. If you lose all your lives, the game ends with a newspaper and the headline “Paperboy Calls It Quits.” You also lose the game if you lose all your subscribers. You are taken to the high score screen where you can put in your initials and try again.
I have owned Paperboy since childhood, so it has gotten a lot of playtime over the years. We got it secondhand and I don’t remember how we acquired it. It is a common cart and I have had several copies of it that I pick up in lots. I don’t remember if I ever beat the game as a kid, but if not I did get deep into the game at least. Paperboy came up as a game in the NA weekly contest, and during those plays I have beaten the game a few times and have gotten increasingly better at improving my score.
My official Paperboy finish for this project was the best run I have ever had to date. I got to Saturday in my first attempt and then cleared the game on the next try. I had a couple of lame crashes early in the game and then I got on a roll and breezed through the rest of the game. My final score was 152,250 and that is a personal best! I do wish I had a crashless run, but maybe that is something I can tackle in the future. There’s room for score improvement as well.
While trying to play this game for points, I learned of a few tricks to optimize scoring. Since both the A button and B button throw papers, you can press both buttons at almost the same time to throw two papers very close together. Doing this, it is possible to land both papers inside the mailbox for double points. This works in some other places as well, such as the training course targets. I do some of this in my run to boost my score. There are some houses where you can get two in the mailbox and at least one paper at the door, but I didn’t try doing that myself.
Paperboy is a classic arcade game that is right at home on the NES. It is a simple game that has a surprising amount of depth for someone interested in going for high scores. The graphics are simplistic, and there is only one song that loops continuously, but I don’t find that they detract from the game. Paperboy is great for picking up whenever there’s time to kill. This is another example of a game that would be a good fit in any NES collection.