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)


New Walkthrough: Ghoul School

I suppose I am all about starting up completely new categories on this blog!

I decided that I wanted to try my hand at writing up my very first game walkthrough. I had teased this idea in my Ghoul School blog post and today I made it a reality. I had mentioned this in that same article, but for my first playthrough of Ghoul School I meticulously mapped out each new room that I entered so that I could more coherently explore the school to complete the game. A walkthrough really makes sense as the next logical step to consolidate all of the information I collected while I played. This would be a good resource for someone who either got stuck in the game or for someone who wants to just cut to the chase and take the most straightforward way through Ghoul School.

Ghoul School Walkthrough

In addition to the walkthrough, I edited the Ghoul School blog post with a link to the walkthrough, and I also added a link to it in the Game List. That should give it enough visibility!

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Ghoul School Box Cover

#23 – Ghoul School

I’m willing to bet the name of the game was thought of first.

A nicely detailed title screen!

A nicely detailed title screen!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 4/16/16 – 4/22/16
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10

With a game library as big as the NES has there are sure to be several interesting games hidden away. Well, interesting is a word that can certainly be used to describe Ghoul School but I’m not sure it’s the best one. There is absolutely an intriguing game here that is pretty creative but ultimately it falls flat in a number of ways. However, just like several other games I’ve covered, it has grown on me and I’m glad to get to share it with you.

Ghoul School was released on the NES in March 1992 and it is exclusive to North America. It was developed by Imagineering and published by Electro Brain. I was surprised to learn that Imagineering developed several games for the NES but having looked at various lists online most if not all of their games are not regarded very well. Their best known games are the three Bart Simpson games on the NES. Electro Brain published six games on the NES and all of them are ones that could be consider obscure.

Ghoul School is a side-scrolling platformer. You play as a high school student Spike who finds a mysterious skull and brings it to school which ends up causing all sorts of nefarious creatures to take over the place. It’s up to you to both rid the school of evil and save the head cheerleader. You start off in the main hallway of the school armed with only a baseball bat, but you can explore the school freely searching for more weapons and items that will help you explore the school. It is very reminiscent of Metroid in this way. Each room is individually numbered and displayed at the top of the screen to help keep track of where you are in the school.

The ghouls look much more terrifying than they actually are.

The ghouls look much more terrifying than they actually are.

There are several weapons to find in the school and you can switch to any collected weapon you want. Everything has unlimited use so fire away. One of the first weapons you will find is the towel which has better range and is also somehow more powerful than the bat. There are also a number of guns that let you attack from a distance though they generally deal less damage. Some weapons fire downward to help you attack enemies on the ground. There is usually one weapon best suited for a particular situation so there will be lots of switching weapons around.

There are also a couple of different pairs of shoes you can equip. You start off with basic sneakers but you will also need to find the spring shoes and suction cup shoes. The spring shoes cause you to jump higher and they also make you taller. These are needed to pass by tall obstacles in order to explore further in the school. The suction cup shoes let you walk along the ceiling provided the ceiling is low enough to reach with a jump.

You will also find apples that restore your health. Green apples restore a quarter of your health and red apples fully restore your health. The best of all is the golden apple. There’s only one of these in the game but it is a permanent upgrade that cuts your damage received by half. Enemies don’t drop any health pickups so you will have to seek out these items as you explore the school. If you play the game for a little while you’ll figure out where you can generally find the healing items.

The school map contains a lot of areas that you would expect to find in a school. There’s a gymnasium, cafeteria, office, library, and so on. These one-off locations are the areas you want to search out because they contain the weapons and shoes you need to progress onward. These areas also feature unique ghouls that are tougher than the standard enemies and they often require specific weapons to take them out. Think of them like bosses. There are several of these unique enemies which is a nice touch.

Other than the deep void of darkness in the background, this does resemble a weight room.

Other than the deep void of darkness in the background, this does resemble a weight room.

Now all of this so far may sound pretty good, but there are a number of things that really hurt the game and make it hard to play. The biggest sticking point is the physics of the character. Spike feels very heavy to control. He takes some time to build momentum and takes even more time to slide to a stop. The jumping is very stiff and doesn’t seem to respect gravity. He falls down just as fast as he jumps, and this makes it very hard to make long-distance jumps. These movement problems are really evident early in the game when you have barely any attack range with the bat. You have to get really close to deal damage and more often than not you will run right into the enemy until you get used to the controls. Some of the early enemies attack really quickly as well leaving you with a small window to get in and hurt them.

The other physics related complication is that colliding with the enemy gives you really severe knockback. Trying to fight enemies with short range attacks is so frustrating in Ghoul School. Either you don’t get close enough to deal any damage or you get too close and get thrown backwards. Now for some reason the developers decided to place enemies right at the entrance to some of the hallways. What happens is that you try to get close enough to attack and if you accidentally touch the enemy then you get thrown back into the previous hallway. Now you have to start all over and try fighting the enemy again. This happens in several locations and it only provides unnecessary frustration. The only solace here is that once an enemy is killed it remains dead. It will only respawn after you travel many rooms away.

I'm pretty sure most of the classrooms are for teaching history.

I’m pretty sure most of the classrooms are for teaching history.

Along the same lines, there are some enemies that are too low for you to properly attack. One little recurring nuisance of an enemy is called Blinky. They scurry around at ankle level and they run super fast. You can’t duck in this game and the majority of the weapons attack too high for you to deal with these critters. The weapons that do reach down don’t shoot downward quickly enough to be effective. For example, the first weapon you will come across that can reach tiny ground enemies is called the Digestaray. It shoots a straight shot that curves toward the ground. To use it against Blinky, you need to have it already equipped and start firing off shots the moment you see it running on screen. If you wait too long you will shoot right over its head and now you have no chance of killing it. Blinky will never leave the screen instead opting to run around you just outside of attack range and it will bounce you all over the place with the knockback. They don’t do much damage at all, but they make it really tough to make any kind of forward progress in the room.

The whole game really boils down to exploring one giant maze. A large portion of the game map consists of similar looking hallways and similar looking classrooms that for the most part don’t hold anything of interest in advancing your quest. The hallways often have doors that lead to isolated classrooms, and the hallways link together via walkways and stairways at the end of the hall. Each end of the hallway can have up to three exits: Forwards, upstairs, or downstairs. Many of the hallways are just empty dead ends. It is very confusing to make sense of the layout. Having every single room in the game numbered is about the only thing that makes rooms distinguishable.

You will see your health bar on the top of the screen as well as the health bar of the enemy you are fighting. There’s also a scoring system that doesn’t really mean anything since there’s no high score keeping. It doesn’t show up during game play, but Spike has five lives in all and you see how many lives are remaining in between lives. There are no extra lives in this game. It’s not obvious but you do continue when you start over. You start back at the school entrance with all of your collected items intact. There’s no saving in this game and no passwords so you will have to beat it all in one shot.

As expected, the science experiment went wrong!

As expected, the science experiment went wrong!

The graphics in this game are more than adequate. It very clearly looks like a school. There are several interesting setpieces that are unique to the areas they are found in. For instance, the weight room has a huge, detailed exercise machine right in the middle. You can walk behind the bookshelves in the library and see yourself peeking behind the gaps in the books. The graphics may not be super great but they are interesting to look at. The character designs are really strange and creepy. Many of the enemy types look like people and they are generally drawn very tall and lanky. Spike changes visibly when switching weapons and shoes for a nice touch. The music isn’t too bad. Perhaps it might be grating to some but I didn’t really mind it.

I bought my copy of Ghoul School on eBay for $10 a couple of years ago. It was selling for around $15 at the time so it was a nice deal, but I missed that the fold on the label was completely torn off so that the end label and front label are split in two. It’s not awful but I’ll want to upgrade it at some point if I ever run into another copy. My local store had one for $10 for a long time but the end label was faded really badly so I kept passing on it. It eventually got bumped up to $18 and since then someone bought it. It’s not a game I’ve seen around much so I’m not surprised someone else snagged it.

Certainly this is punishment for severe misconduct!

Certainly this is punishment for severe misconduct!

This was my first time beating Ghoul School. I had only tried it when I got the cart and I pretty much dismissed the game as weird right away. When I started out this time, I wandered around and almost instantly got lost. I have a good sense of direction overall but this game made me at least question it a little bit! I realized the only way I was going to make sense of this school was to go old school and draw a map. The art of video game map making goes back a very long way but I believe this is the first time I have ever drawn a map for a game. It turned out to be a very good decision since I only had to hit the unnecessary portions of the map once. Each time I played I got a little bit further and it didn’t take that many attempts to complete the game.

Without spoiling a lot of the game, there’s not much more for me to say about Ghoul School. What I will say is that I found the game got more interesting the farther I went. The last quarter of the game in particular did a few things that I thought were really kind of neat. I believe I have almost all of the game mapped out in my notes. After I finished the game I combed over my map and tried to find all the rooms by number and there were some I did not account for. I’m not sure if these are rooms that I missed or rooms that were not used in the game at all. I think I developed a pretty good route through the school and now I can finish the game relatively quickly. I’m toying with the idea of writing up a more thorough walkthrough. If I ever do that, I’ll host it on the blog and link it here. I’ve peeked at a few walkthroughs online and I’m sure I could do a better job.

UPDATE 7/18/16: Indeed, I did create a Ghoul School Walkthrough. Check it out!

It’s hard for me to recommend playing Ghoul School, but after wading through the control difficulties and getting a handle on the map I really enjoyed this game. Metroid-styled platformers are one of my favorite types of games and so now I have a soft spot for this weird little NES adventure. One final thought: It’s too bad that this game didn’t emerge on my list around Halloween as that would have been most fitting.

#23 - Ghoul School

#23 – Ghoul School