There was a time in the 1980s when some really fun games could be made out of fairly mundane activities. For example, a frog crossing the street (Frogger), serving drinks (Tapper), and cleaning a sink (Bubbles). Perhaps one of the most memorable of these involved delivering papers.
Of course, I’m talking about Atari Games’ Paperboy. The concept sounds boring, but the game succeeds due to its strong style, humor and personality. You play as a rather ugly looking boy, and your goal is to ride your bicycle across a couple of blocks, delivering papers to active subscribers, vandalizing non-subscribers, and trying to avoid getting hurt by any of the numerous deathtraps along the way. At the end of each level is a “training course” where you can rack up bonus points. The game begins on a Monday, and if you can survive through Sunday, you win the game. If you lose all your lives, you end up quitting, and if you lose all your subscribers, you get fired.
The game takes place in what is apparently the most exciting street in America. There are burglars trying to break into houses, stray cats, break dancers, kids on skateboards, drunks, swarms of bees, heavy traffic, two guys having a fistfight, pot holes, and numerous other obstacles littering the neighborhood. Even the Grim Reaper is after you. There’s certainly nothing boring about this paper route, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the pay still sucked.
The perspective is set at a rather unusual isometric angle that’s apparently called a “cabinet perspective.” It makes the game look interesting, but also makes for some rather awkward controls and hit-detection. In addition to that, the Paperboy tends to constantly drift a little bit to the right, which forces you to always readjust your position, and that can cause you a lot of needless trouble.
Where Paperboy really shines, however, is in its presentation. As previously stated, there is a lot of humor in the game, both in its environments and characters. There are a lot of funny voice samples, particularly when you run into things. That charm is what really makes the game an enjoyable experience overall. It also has some catchy music with awesome percussion.
The original arcade version of Paperboy featured a set of bicycle handlebars as its controller, and that really helped enhance the feel of the game. It has also been ported to and emulated on numerous platforms – way too many to list here. It spawned two sequels, neither of which ever appeared in the arcade. Paperboy 2 was on numerous home consoles in the early ’90s, and Paperboy 64 appeared on, you guessed it, the Nintendo 64.
I enjoyed playing the original Paperboy a lot in the arcade, and I still find it entertaining today. It’s certainly far more fun than an actual paper route.