Hello Gamers and Glancers! Today on The Spac Hole we look back fondly at one of the most successful games of the Arcade Generation, one which was subsequently ported to every home computer and console in existence. Paperboy was released in 1985 by Atari Games, and its blend of fast paced action, dog-avoiding, slapstick humour, camp Batman exclamations, and media delivery was an instant hit.
The Arcade version had a fancy cab to simulate the thrill of riding a bike whilst… sitting down… and featured a lot of humour which didn’t make its way oer to home versions due to hardware limitations. I remember seeing the Arcade version when I was younger, and I’m fairly certain there was a less expensive version which ditched the cabinet and the handlebar controls, but I can’t (be arsed) find (ing) proof of this. A few of my friends and family members had the game on various systems, ranging from Commodore 64 to NES to Master System, but I owned the Spectrum version and can say without any slither of doubt that it was the best port.
Converted by those geniuses at Elite, the Spectrum version provided me with hours of fun and frustration. I’ll be honest here and state that I never completed the game – in order to complete the game you had to complete 7 levels (one per day of the week) of successful newspaper delivery to subscribers, without crashing and losing all your lives. I only loosely grasped this concept when I was young, but I remember struggling to work out exactly who it was I was supposed to be delivering to, and instead simply chucked newspapers at every house – through windows, onto lawns, and otherwise missing wildly. If I’m super-honest, I can’t confidently say I completed a single day successfully, delivering to those who I was supposed to.
But the fun of Paperboy, especially as I wasn’t forever pumping pennies into an Arcade machine, was simply racing around on the BMX, avoiding all manner of obstacles, and causing as much carnage as possible with my newspapers, Rampage style. Getting to the end of your cycle route meant you were presented with an obstacle course where you could rack up extra points – could you win back lost lives here too? I can’t recall, but again back then it didn’t matter, I just enjoyed tearing about on the jumps. You see, as a young boy in the 80s, I had a BMX. I had a skateboard too. Hell, I even had a baseball cap and backwards-wore the shit out of it. This was not only escapism, but it was an extension of those long summer days of freedom, cruising the neighbourhood with friends on our bikes, our only concerns whether or not tonight was bath night. While we may not have been launching weaponized newspapers through exploding tombstones, or decapitating the elderly as we wheelied past, the neighbourhood remained our warzone/play area, our sandbox, our Vice City, and the BMX was at once our Ferrari, our Harley-Davidson, and our trusty steed.
Looking back at my childhood, I can remember a very small number of 2nd and 3rd tier friends (you know, not your best buds, but either ones you sometimes messed about with in school or outside of school if your besties were unavailable, or those in higher or lower years in school, or even those neighbours of your friends who would occasionally get integrated into your group… you know – Gingers) who had a local paper round. I don’t recall any of them ever using a bike, instead logging around a bright orange satchel which seemed to be almost the same size and weight as the kid carrying it. Sometimes some of us would accompany the friends, or meet them unexpectedly at our local garage (Gas Station) where they would be collecting their paper round, and follow them on their route whilst talking about football or Eerie Indiana, or boobs, or Predator.
It wasn’t as exciting as either the game, or Hollywood made out. Furthermore it always seemed like a very American thing to be doing – racing about on BMX in perpetual sunlight, dropping off papers to early risers in their slippers who stood High Noon style surveying their meticulously preened little corner of suburbia, always on the merge of stumbling across some pirate mystery or cute alien orphan you needs your help. Where I grew up, it was dull and wet 80% of the year, there were no cute aliens, papers were always delivered in the evenings, and the only pirate was old One-Eyed McDrunky, who would sooner give you the mysterious treasure of herpes than rubies.
While I’m reminiscing rather than reviewing, another semi-related recollection returns to me – that of our local milkman. Sometimes the paperboy route would overlap with the milkman route at the same time and place (I have no idea why the milkman was still driving around at that time of the day, but anyhoo). As we were on speaking/thieving terms with the milkman, we would often hitch a ride on the back of his truck and help ourselves to cartons of juice. We tried this with the local ice cream man, but he wouldn’t allow it. A warning for any kids reading – it is generally ill-advised to talk to strangers, but even more so to go out of your way to interact with them, especially when they own a multi-purpose getaway vehicle – it’s probably best to stay inside and play videogames than go outside and be exposed to such dangers as living.
Back to the game; I remember that the controls were quite difficult and sensitive, which when coupled with the many obstacles meant that frustration levels were constantly of the joypad teethmark level. The area of the screen which you could traverse was quite small, the pace of the game was high, and the pavement/sidewalk was littered with enemies who seemed hellbent on keeping you from your minimum wage bounty. There were old guys on wheelchairs, drunks wobbling towards you, sentient tyres, kids on karts, and suddenly reversing cars. The pavement would curve and bend meaning you had to slow down to get round the slight bend successfully, and there were sections where you had to cross a busy road too. There was always a lot going on on screen, and I remember it got more chaotic with each progressive day. I’m not sure I questioned why there were so many drunks on the street every day, maybe it’s because I’m old enough to remember armed soldiers walking down streets during the day and thinking nothing of it. I did question why every garden seemed to have multiple tombstones.
The game didn’t have a soundtrack during levels, just some jingles before the start of each level, but there was an assortment of standard computerized blips and blaps to exaggerate the fact that you’d just plopped a paper through someone’s bathroom window. The colour pallet wasn’t too exciting, with only black, blue, and white making up the bulk of detail, yet the screen border was a little brighter. Such things didn’t concern me back then, as I’ve never been much of a graphics fiend – as long as it plays well and looks reasonable, I’m happy.
I thought I would have more to say about it, but the more I thought about it the more I remembered that it was a fairly linear game that I wasn’t very good at and probably spent more time watching others play than actual play myself. So that’s all I have to say about Paperboy – a game that I had a lot of fun with in my youth, and one which I’ve had a lot of fun remembering.
For a cool comparison video showcasing around 20 different versions of the game (with a special WTF for the N64 version), check out Gaming History Source’s channel here:
As always, my screenshots have been taken from the gods at World Of Spectrum.org, and the Spectrum cover has been taken from spong.com.
And finally, if you have any thoughts and memories you’d care to share on Paperboy – which version you played, if you ever finished the game, please drop a comment below. Check out some of my other retro memories here: