PUBLISHER: U.S. Gold (Master System), Tengen (Genesis, Game Gear)
DEVELOPER: Atari Games (MS/GG port by Tiertex, Genesis port by Motivetime)
Master System: 12/90 – (EU), 1990 – (US)
Genesis: 02/92 – (US, EU), 06/26/92 – (JP)
Game Gear: 07/92 – (US), 09/24/92 – (EU)
The tale of a young vagabond trying to earn his keep from a dangerous paper route truly hails from a different era. You won’t find many (any?) 14-year-olds today who would be willing to bike through untold layers of suburban detritus just to deliver a paper. The money sucks, papers are heavy and leave ink smears, and middle-class homes like the ones featured in Paperboy, canceled their subscriptions long ago.
The paperboy in Paperboy doesn’t care about the future, though. His world is one of a thriving middle-class, scary self-driving lawnmowers, and stacks upon stacks of thick newspapers. His mission? To launch papers at bright, colorful houses, while avoiding the darker, gloomier abodes. Sounds like an easy task, but in order for the paper to register, it has to land in just the right spot. If the paper doesn’t slam into the front door or wedge firmly in the mailbox, you won’t get points and the homeowners will subscribe to a less incompetent paperboy.
On top of that pressure, people in the neighborhood really don’t want you to deliver those papers. Little kids on tricycles will try to knock you over, while older teens skateboard down the sidewalk towards you. Dogs chase you, motorcyclists run you down, grates stop you in your tracks. Even Death shows up on front lawns just to scare the crap out of you. If you crash once, you lose a life. Three crashes and your career is over.
Your goal is to make it through an entire week of work (Monday through Sunday) without losing all your subscribers or running out of lives. If you miss any of the homes on your route (or accidentally throw a paper through their front window), they’ll cancel their subscription on the next day. If, however, you deliver successfully to all subscribers, you’ll gain another subscriber on the following day. When you make it to the end of the day, an obstacle course where you throw papers at targets for extra points is your reward.
Success on your route depends on how well you can tame the Paperboy. Once he starts biking, he doesn’t stop for anything. The most you can get him to do is brake, which you’ll need to do often. Sharp brakes and swift turns are particularly essential for later stages when the aforementioned obstacles overflow onto your biking path. Sometimes an unexpected left turn into someone’s flowerbed is the only way to save yourself from a total wipeout.
The Master System version is one of the better Paperboy ports you’ll find. The animation is smooth (shout out to whoever animated Paperboy’s shirt flapping in the wind) and the colors are sharp, especially compared to the drab NES version. Paperboy’s controls do take some getting used to, but he can turn and brake on a dime when necessary. This version of the game also allows you to choose from three different difficulty levels. The harder the difficulty, the more ruffians the game puts in your way, the more points you’ll get for successful paper delivery. It’s a nice way to extend the length of an otherwise short game.
Younger gamers may not be able to relate to the game’s bizarre depiction of neighborhood life, let alone the notion that teenagers were once hired, en masse, to deliver news to people’s doorsteps. For me, the game exudes a surreal nostalgia that reminds me of my own fragmented suburban upbringing – a thing that few games, save for powerhouses like Earthbound, can replicate. And even if you don’t have emotional ties to the game’s content, it’s enjoyable just to bike down the sidewalk at top speed while trying to land a paper in the mail slot. Paperboys certainly don’t run the world anymore, but Paperboy remains a classic.
You want to know what 8 extra bits of processing power will get you in the Genesis version of Paperboy? Gargled dialogue from the ‘boy himself. “Don’t tell my boss,” he mutters after crashing into someone’s car. “Just lost a customer…” he sighs after breaking a window. Silent all these years, and now that he can speak, remarks full of woe and regret.
16-bits also gets you additional rabble-rousers to bike around, including drunken businessmen who just got laid off, dudes fighting on the sidewalk Urban Champion-style, and hearses that block your path.
With all the exciting new neighbors, it’s a good thing that Paperboy doesn’t seem as anxious to deliver his papers as he did on the Master System. Rather than starting each day at full speed like in the latter, you begin slowly and pedal faster or brake depending on the situation. If you’re not moving forward or backward, you automatically cruise at a reasonable, less hurried pace. Perhaps this could be seen as making the game easier, but I appreciated the more laid-back approach
I’m sure a poor adaption of Paperboy exists on some console or computer out there, but this is not it. Unless you hate scratchy, ennui-laden dialogue, or prefer reckless biking over careful cautiousness, Paperboy is just as fulfilling on the Genesis as it is on the Master System.
One would think that Paperboy‘s already cramped ¾ viewpoint would suffer under the Game Gear’s small screen, but the game transitions to the handheld well. To account for the limited screen size, the game reduces the amount of enemies on-screen at any given time – a necessity, even though it makes the Easy difficulty even easier than the Master System and Genesis versions. Apart from this slight change, the Game Gear version replicates the Master System version in every way, from the improvised theme music to the looser controls. A surprisingly solid port.
15 replies on “Paperboy (MS/GEN/GG, 1990-92)”
Geez, the Game Gear version even looks better than the NES.
Yeah… yeah, it does.
Love Paperboy -it’s one of those simple arcade games like Pac Man that you can lose hours too.
Paperboy is the sort of game the Master System excels at – arcade games that don’t depend on great graphics (Gauntlet, Rampage, R-Type, Fantasy Zone) so I’m not surprised by the high grade.
In defence of the Mega Drive version, Paperboy’s speech hasn’t aged well at all. I had the arcade port on X Box Live and the speech was pretty poor then. I guess the game was old (1982?) but still…it sounds like the sample was recorded via tape recorder!
It’s true, Paperboy’s speech sounds pretty awful, but it didn’t take away from the game for me.
“Paperboy is the sort of game the Master System excels at – arcade games that don’t depend on great graphics”
I had the game gear version, but as a little kid just didn’t have the patience for it… Still, I remember how much I looked at the different obstacles.. and breaking the windows!
Being a Paperboy in my younger days this game has always resonated with me. I enjoy the surreal, simple premise of the game, as the saying goes “they don’t make them like this anymore”.
Will have to try the Sega ports out as they sound pretty decent as my experience is with the monochromatic and mostly silent ZX Spectrum port (which was still fun to play).
So cool that you used to be a paperboy, Sut! Well… I think it’s cool anyway. Was it a pretty cut-and-dry job or did you encounter weird people/goings-on on your route?
Oh gosh yes.
There was an older lady who used to come to the door everything morning to make sure I closed her garden gate correctly. She watched me like a hawk and always shook her head tutting, a very stern lady.
Most Paperboys will have stories of being attacked by dogs, me however somehow got my hand savaged by a psycho cat ! It jumped me from behind a bush and was literally hanging off my hand with teeth and claws sank deep. A trip to hospital followed for stitches and a tetanus jab during which my mother decided to pass out !
My overiding memories are having to hump a heavy bag of newspapers in inclement weather conditions along with dreading every Wednesday as I had to deliver both the daily’s and a weekly paper that day (so basically a double round). I used to take the family dog with me as well killing two birds with one stone.
Unfortunately there were no hot chicks or bored housewife’s trying to seduce me, but my round had good tippers at Xmas.
Good stuff. Thanks for sharing!
I spent sooo much time playing that Master System version growing up.
I don’t think I ever lasted more than maybe three days. :p
The Master System version is particularly tough.
I will always remember the Master System version of Paperboy as one of my brother’s favorite non-sports games. I was more the arcade guy, and we played just about 2 player game we had, but this was one that I distinctly remember him being a fan of after playing the arcade game on vacation. It’s a fantastic port — I will have to dig it out of the giant bin of games in my attic and give it a whirl again. I imagine it will look pretty sharp on the Power Base Converter with the AV Out from the Genesis.
Thanks for the fun write up!
Yeah, compared to the paltry U.S. Gold/Tiertex collaboration on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, their MS port of Paperboy is really strong. Thanks Luke!
I’m always a little disappointed that Macaulay Culkin doesn’t grace the cover of this. Seems like it would have been ripe for a crappy movie crossover.
Culkin would have been great in a Paperboy movie.