Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#35 – Hogan’s Alley

Do you have what it takes to shoot cardboard targets?

Take a shot at any mode!

To Beat: Finish Game A Round 30, Game B Round 4, and Game C Round 10
What I Did: Reached Game A Round 41, Game B Round 6, and Game C Round 11
Played: 10/17/16
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10

Today we have another Zapper game! It’s not just a Zapper game, but one of the revered “Black Box” NES games as well. The game box features a menacing looking gangster that you just want to blast away! Hogan’s Alley is an early game with some surprising history behind it for a game based on target shooting.

Hogan’s Alley was created in 1984 as a standalone arcade cabinet. The game featured a light gun peripheral attached to the machine that players use to shoot at targets. Hogan’s Alley was ported to the Famicom later in June 1984 and was the third light gun game on the system behind Wild Gunman and Duck Hunt. All three of those games were launch titles when the NES was first released in October 1985. Hogan’s Alley was eventually re-released on Wii U Virtual Console in Europe in October 2015 and in North America a few months later in January 2016.

The name Hogan’s Alley originated from an American comic strip of the same name way back in 1895. Hogan’s Alley is portrayed in the comic as a run-down neighborhood full of odd people. In the 1920s, the FBI opened a rifle training ground at the Special Police School and named it Hogan’s Alley. The school was shut down during World War II. In 1987, a couple of years after the release of the video game, Hogan’s Alley was established in Quantico, Virginia and it is used for tactical training by the FBI and other government organizations. This facility was designed to look and feel like a real small town with a huge fake crime problem. The FBI themselves claim that they chose the name Hogan’s Alley because the rough neighborhood in the original comic strip resembles the style of their training area. I’m just speculating, but possibly the old facility was named after the comic strip and they just carried the name over to the current facility. It is also pretty likely that this was the same reason why Nintendo chose Hogan’s Alley as the name for the video game.

Visual recognition is just as important as trigger speed.

Hogan’s Alley is a light-gun target game that requires the NES Zapper. There are three game modes selectable from the title screen. Game A is called Hogan’s Alley and looks like it takes place inside of a shooting gallery. In each round, three panels will scroll into view sideways so that you cannot see the face of the panels. Once all three come into view they will turn and face you. The object is to shoot each of the gangsters and avoid shooting the innocent bystanders. There are six different people that can appear. Three of them are gun-wielding gangsters that you should shoot, and the others are a lady, a professor, and a police officer that you must leave alone. You only get a short amount of time to fire before the panels flip back to the side. Afterward, the next round begins with three new panels. Each successive round changes the amount of time that the panels face you and this timer gets shorter the longer you play. If you fail to shoot a gangster or fire at an innocent bystander, this you get a miss. The game is over when you accumulate ten misses.

Game B is also called Hogan’s Alley but this time it takes place in what I can only assume is the location Hogan’s Alley. Here you face buildings in the alleyway and the panels emerge from the scenery one or two at a time. The objective is the same. Shoot the bad guys and leave the good people alone. After five panels are revealed, the view will scroll forward to reveal new scenery as well as five more panels. Each round has five different sections of five panels each before looping back to the beginning. Just like in Game A, each successive round has a shorter timeframe for active panels, you accumulate misses when you make a mistake, and the game ends after ten misses.

Keep out! You mean keep the bad guys out!

Game C is called Trick Shot and this game is different from the other two. Cans will emerge from the right side of the screen moving to the left while falling. Shoot the cans to bounce them upward in the air a bit. The goal is to prevent the cans from falling down off the bottom of the screen. On the left side of the screen are three ledges. You want to navigate the cans onto one of those ledges to earn points. The top ledge gives you 300 points, the middle ledge gives you 800 points, and the bottom ledge gives you 5000 points. The lower you go, you get more points at a higher risk of losing the can off the bottom of the screen. The cans will also ricochet off the sides of the ledges keeping them in play longer. There is a tiny safety platform toward the middle of the screen that the cans can land on as well but you only get 100 points for that. Each round has five cans. You get a miss if a can falls off the bottom of the screen and ten misses means the end of the game.

Hogan’s Alley does not have an ending in any of the game modes, so this one has an unclear winning condition. There are a range of potential choices. The easiest condition would be to break the high score of 12,000 in one or all of the modes, but that is a rather low bar to achieve in any mode. The most difficult one would be to loop the round counter. The game can go up to Round 99 before looping back to Round 0. I don’t think this is good either since the difficulty flattens out long before getting that high.

The winning condition I chose has to do with the periodic victory messages that Hogan’s Alley displays on screen. After winning so many rounds, the game will play a little melody and display the phrase “SHARPSHOOTER!” on screen. Play even further and you’ll eventually get the message “SUPER SHARPSHOOTER!” to appear. This is the best possible message you can get and you can see it over and over as long as you keep playing. Obtaining the “SUPER SHARPSHOOTER!” message is what I consider to be mastery of the game for that particular mode. To get this message, you have to complete Round 30 in Game A, Round 4 in Game B, or Round 10 in Game C. I wanted to achieve that in all modes.

Shooting an actual can has to be much more difficult.

My family never owned Hogan’s Alley growing up but I do remember playing it at some point during my childhood. My grandfather likes to hunt and he got into playing several Zapper games at one point, so that is probably where I remember playing it casually. I remember enjoying Trick Shot but that’s the only mode I remember playing.

It didn’t take me very long to beat Hogan’s Alley. I had a much easier time here than when I beat Operation Wolf so that experience probably helped. It did take me two attempts to clear Games A and B and I beat Game C on the first try. I ended up playing until I ended naturally. I reached Round 41 in Game A and Round 6 in Game B before failing out. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to capture the picture properly when I ended Game C and all I got was the high score. I didn’t take notes either and I’ve already forgotten exactly what I did from several months ago. I did capture an image of the end of Round 10, so I can say I made it to Round 11 for sure.

Hogan’s Alley is a fun Zapper game that doesn’t really offer much once you’ve mastered each mode. It was definitely neat for a launch game and having the novelty of shooting the bad guys (or cans) on the TV. Today, it’s a pretty good game as an introduction to using the Zapper, and that’s about it. I guess it could be fun if you want to chase high scores or compete against someone else. At best it is an average game, but there’s nothing wrong with that in my book.

#35 – Hogan’s Alley (Game A)

#35 – Hogan’s Alley (Game B)

#35 – Hogan’s Alley (Game C)

DuckTales Box Cover

#10 – DuckTales

Jump, hop, and bounce your way all over the world, and make a fortune in the process!

DuckTales! A-woo-o-o-o-ooo!

To Beat: Reach the end credits
To Complete: Beat the game on Difficult setting with the best ending
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 1/10/16 – 1/13/16
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 3/10

The world of Disney and its many franchise characters have held a place in the public consciousness for nearly 100 years. In the late 1980s and 1990s, Disney would have a prolonged period of success in both feature films and animated TV series which just so happens to coincide nicely with the NES era. It’s no surprise then that Disney and Nintendo would converge into something special, and perhaps there is no better proof of that than DuckTales on NES.

DuckTales, the animated TV series, ran from 1987-1990 and spanned 100 episodes over either three or four seasons depending on how you want to slice it. The series centers on Scrooge McDuck, the richest duck in the world, and his three grandnephews Huey, Dewey, and Louis in their various adventures which often revolve around either obtaining more treasure or protecting his wealth from the bad guys. The series was the first Disney cartoon produced solely for syndication and that approach paved the way for other Disney daytime cartoon series to follow suit in the following years.

Whoa!  I didn't know this could be so risqué!

Whoa! I didn’t know this could be so risqué!

DuckTales on NES, however, was not the first Disney property to appear on the console. That honor belongs to Mickey Mousecapade. Capcom published Mickey Mousecapade but the game was actually developed by Hudson. Starting with DuckTales, Capcom developed the rest of their Disney-published games themselves, and all of these titles are widely recognized as fun games for the console. Many members of the team that created Mega Man would go on to work on DuckTales.

DuckTales is a side-scrolling platformer game where you take on the role of Scrooge McDuck as he goes off on a worldwide (and briefly interstellar) treasure hunt. The main feature of the game is Scrooge’s cane which is primarily used as a pogo stick. Holding down and B while in the air deploys the pogo stick allowing Scrooge to bounce higher than a standard jump, defeat enemies, and traverse hazards that would damage Scrooge when touched directly. There are five levels to start with and each level can be chosen to play in almost any order. Each level is open ended and contains branching paths, hidden secrets, and a boss fight at the end. The object of the game is to complete the levels while amassing as much treasure as you can find.

Let’s look at each level in a bit more detail:

The Amazon: This is a pretty straightforward level. Cross through the jungle, optionally go underground, and then climb up through some ruins. The middle portion of the level can be bothersome as there are bees that fly in a sine wave that spawn where they are likely to knock you right into a pit. Toward the end of the level there is a requirement to pay money to spawn a platform needed to proceed, but if you are an intrepid adventurer you can skip it without needing to pay, as I did when I played!

A good place to practice dealing with the bees

A good place to practice dealing with the bees

Transylvania: This is the most maze-like level in the game. There are a few branching paths as well as mirrors that teleport you around the level. There is also a hint that points out an “illusion” wall, and all that means is there is a fake wall you can walk through to proceed forward. There is also a mine-cart section hidden away in this level where you just ride along and jump out right before you hurdle into a pit!

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

African Mines: The first time you enter this level you get booted out pretty quickly because you need a key from Transylvania to proceed, so the game sends you back there to search out the key. Once you get that, you’ll find a level that is mostly linear. Hidden in this level is one of two hidden treasures that really boosts Scrooge’s money count, and there is also a huge shortcut that will allow you to skip most of the stage. Otherwise, there are a couple of tricky portions you will have to contend with.

It's a bad time to forget swimwear.

It’s a bad time to forget swimwear.

Himalayas: This level starts out above ground under complete snow cover and if you try to pogo into the snow you will briefly get stuck. Pretty clever! The middle part of the level takes place underground with lots of spiders that zip down to hit you when you attempt to pass. This level has a lot of places where you could fall and die which makes this level a bit more difficult than the rest.

Oh Scrooge what have you gotten yourself into!

Oh Scrooge what have you gotten yourself into!

The Moon: This level starts off on the surface and there is an alien spaceship that you must explore to find a couple of items that more or less amount to keys needed to reach the ending stretch. Okay, one of the items is literally a key, and the other is a remote control. It’s more interesting than I’m making it out to be. I would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention the iconic music track that plays throughout the stage. This song always seems to come up in any discussion around the best NES music and I can’t argue with that as it’s one of my favorite game tunes as well. I particularly like this arrangement of the song!

Good music helps distract from all of the danger!

Good music helps distract from all of the danger!

When all five stages are finished, the last stage opens up which unfortunately is yet another trip to Transylvania with a different boss at the end. This is the biggest letdown in the game but it’s really the only glaring negative thing about it either.

I have to admit that I have never really watched DuckTales much on TV and I also do not have much history with the game either. This is one of those games that I was aware of but never owned and I didn’t bother going out of my way to get it. When I really started collecting NES again for good, DuckTales may have been the most significant omission in my collection at that time considering the quality and recognition of the game as well as the relatively cheap price. I ended up buying my copy at my local game store for $10 which was a price I couldn’t pass up. The game would later come up as part of the Nintendo Age weekly contest that I participate in and that’s when I really spent some time getting acquainted with the game.

Even though I haven’t played that much of DuckTales compared to the other games I’ve played so far, I do have a personal story about it. Back in 2009, my best friend lived a few hours away and I would go up with some friends to spend the weekend at his duplex every now and then. One of the activities we came up with was racing random NES games on our laptops to see who could beat the game the fastest. We did this maybe three or four times and one of the games we did was DuckTales. From what I remember I won every race we did except for DuckTales. I chalk that up to my inexperience with the game relative to my friends. I think now I could perform way better!

So many spikes!

So many spikes!

At this point DuckTales is a pretty straightforward game for me, even on the Difficult setting. The only difference I see between difficulties are the types of item drops you get from the chests. The endings are not dependent on the difficulty settings anyway. The endings are determined by the amount of money you have at the end of the game and you need $10 million to achieve the best ending. I took my time and explored everything I could remember but I only ended up with $9.5 million. There is a bit of a trick to getting more money that I ignored. In most levels you can find Launchpad and if you talk to him you have the option of leaving the level to choose a different stage. If you do that, you get to keep all the treasure you found and the level resets completely so that next time you can collect all of the money again. Doing this at every opportunity makes it easy to reach the $10 million mark.

So, back to the drawing board. My second attempt went much smoother but it ultimately ended in disaster. I fell victim to an undocumented feature. Huh? It’s not listed in the manual but there is a way to refill your health in case it is running low. When the game is paused, pressing Select refills your health but it costs $3 million. I accidentally pressed Select when trying to unpause the game and I spent that precious money. I was on The Moon which was the 5th level I was playing and I had no opportunity to grind out enough money after that to eclipse the $10 million mark. Another attempt gone to waste!

I didn't completely run out of money like this but you get the idea.

I didn’t completely run out of money like this but you get the idea.

My third attempt was more or less the ideal run. There are some other ways to squeeze even more money out of a run, but I ended up with more than enough money to get the best ending. I was feeling pretty good so I decided just for fun to make one attempt at getting the bad ending. Yes, DuckTales has a bad ending and it is quite difficult to pull off. You need to finish the game with no money at all. This seems impossible since beating each boss gives you an unskippable treasure that adds $1 million to your score. However, with some creative money collecting and spending all of it on health refills, the game can be finished with Scrooge completely broke. Now the typical way to do it is to not grab any money at all except for the boss treasures and one of the two large hidden treasures. That leaves Scrooge with $6 million that can be spent on two health refills. The downside is that each level needs to be played perfectly and each level must end with less than 10 seconds remaining on the clock because every 10 seconds turns into $1000 at the end of the stage. With that method there is perfect playing combined with a lot of waiting, so I chose a different strategy. I played the game normally and had my money set up to be close to $6 million right before the boss of the last regular stage. From there I would time the treasure grab after the boss is defeated so that I would end with the exact amount I need. I had it all set up and it would have worked out, except that I died at The Moon boss on my last life. I guess I should have paid more attention to grabbing extra lives along the way!

DuckTales was remade in 2013 by Wayforward as DuckTales Remastered. Now I have no experience with the remake at all, but it came out on a bunch of platforms and I’m sure I will spend some time with eventually. I bring it up because it has an interesting tie back to the NES. Capcom sent out some promotional material for the release of DuckTales Remastered consisting of a lunchbox with promotional paperwork inside along with a gold DuckTales NES cartridge. It’s not just some kind of showpiece but rather an actual working copy of the game. There were only 150 made so they are hard to come by and expensive, and it makes for some interesting discussion among NES collectors whether or not this game is an official release.

Simply beautiful

Simply beautiful

DuckTales on NES is really a charming, fun game that looks to be relevant to the source material. It was a great cartoon series and an equally great game. It is also coming back to relevancy. Not only did it receive a recent remake, but also there is a new DuckTales animated series in production slated for a debut sometime in 2017. I suppose the saying is true that everyday they’re out there making DuckTales!

With DuckTales completed, I have now finished the first ten games of Take On The NES Library! Hooray! Now the real fun will begin as the project shifts from games I specifically chose to games that are chosen at random. If you want to know more about how I designed my master list, check out my Methodology page that explains the overall selection in far too great of detail. My list has been set for many months but by now I have mostly forgotten where certain games reside in the list. I’m excited to start jumping into the unknown. The blog posts may take a different tone for games I haven’t played. This is always a work in progress and I hope you’ll stick around to see where we go from here!

DuckTales - Best Ending

DuckTales – Best Ending

#10 - DuckTales

#10 – DuckTales