Retro Video Game Review: Paperboy (NES)

Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Mindscape was a developer company that, among other consoles, produced some video games for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). They were not exactly the most visionary or Earth-shattering of developers, as they preferred to work with license titles (Mad Max, Dirty Harry, Captain Planet, etc.), ports of games from pre-existing machines (M.U.L.E.), pitching in to cheaply manufacture sub-par cartridges on demand (Mario Is Missing), or make arcade ports, such as with Paperboy in 1988.


The premise is assumed: The player, or two of them, assume the role of the Paperboy. There is a paper route, about two blocks long and consisting of twenty houses, roughly half of which are subscribers. The breakdown of subscribers to non-subscribers is given on a screen before each day, and is further shown by the fact that the houses of all non-subscribers are red.

The player then assumes control of the Paperboy, riding his bike, and controlling movement with the directional pad. Left and right move the bike left or right, with it leaning accordingly; while pressing up speeds up, and pressing down slows down, complete with a needlessly obnoxious braking sound effect.

Pressing A throws a paper, of which the Paperboy has a limited supply, but can pick up random bundles to gain a maximum supply of ten again. The Paperboy and his bike are somewhat constrained to the right side of the screen, as the houses and other targets scroll downward on the left. Pressing A throws a paper. Points are awarded for successful deliveries, such as to a driveway or perfectly to a mailbox; or, oddly enough, for damage wrecked on non-subscriber homes, like knocking over lawn decorations or breaking windows.

There are numerous enemies and obstacles, though, and colliding with them will instantly kill the Paperboy, who begins with three extra lives. These challenges include cars, dogs, angry men in red robes, children at play, fellow bicyclers, wild lawnmowers, sewer grates, and even Death himself.

If Paperboy can successfully navigate the two blocks, he enters a “TRAINING ROUTE” area complete with targets to hit with a newly infinite supply of papers, and ramps to jump over partitions, until ending his run. At the end of the day, a status report is given of which houses canceled their subscriptions, possibly due to broken windows or failed deliveries, while there is even a possibility of gaining subscribers or re-subscriptions. This is a game in which the player aims for a high score, arcade-style.


The visuals, though very repetitive, are not terrible for an 8-bit piece of hardware. The houses indeed look like houses from a somewhat isometric perspective, the animations are smooth, and those papers sure do fly errantly toward windows and pets and such. The color scheme is not the most appealing, although this has to be somewhat intentional, since a stark difference in solid color indicates which houses are subscribers or not. The characterizations and course elements do lack detail, and could have used a bit more effort in their pixelated rendering.


The background music is underwhelming, even if meant to be so, akin to the subdued tunes of Rampage; barely there, merely for a hint of procedural whimsy. Paperboy does have its modest arsenal of arcade-flavored beeps and boops as rewards for papers thrown right into mailboxes, for example, but where its sound effects really shine, albeit weirdly, is in the braking effect and crashing sound when colliding with cars and stuff. These two sound effects sound like they really were recorded in a studio, then squeezed through an 8-bit filter. The startling efficacy of these noises is jarring compared to the mild-mannered music in contrast.


While the source material obviously pre-existed as an arcade cabinet, the concept itself is perhaps notably novel; after all, we are talking about a mundane idea (a paper route, seriously?) turned into a challenging high-score adventure. And challenging it is: Paperboy has a very deserved reputation as being rather tough, even compared to its other classic peers. It will take a patient, obsessed gamer with eclectic taste to bother mastering six-digit scores on Paperboy.

What saves it from the depths of bad ratings are its distinctive touches, like the fact that this maniacal Paperboy is actually awarded bonus points for breaking the windows of non-subscribers, and the appearance of bizarre characters, from the figure of the Grim Reaper to that crazy upside-down leg-kicking blue-pantsed guy. Nevertheless, while it is a decent port, it does not transcend any boundaries nor truly push NES gaming into any new dimensions. For providing a solid conversion and a worthy challenge, but also for its “meh” nature and a tendency to take a love-it-or-hate-it result from old-school players, Paperboy on the Nintendo Entertainment System gets two and a half stars out of five.

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