Retro Gaming – Paperboy

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.

Holy Shit, Batman!

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.

Gaze upon my face and weep
Gaze upon my face and weep

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.

My attitude to virtual careers has since translated to real world careers
My attitude towards virtual careers has since translated to real world careers

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.

Save me, Obi Wan Nightman, you're my only hope!
Save me, Obi Wan Nightman, you’re my only hope!

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.

My house only had two
My house only had one

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.

Plays well, looks reasonable – 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, and the Spectrum cover has been taken from

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:

Retro Gaming – Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior

Before we get started, I feel like I should be setting the scene via some apt eye-sights:

For those who don’t understand, let me explain – the 80s were a different time; a stranger time. Men were MEN and women were women, and some other men were women.


It’s not like today. Our heroes could pull your head from your shoulders (one-handed) whilst simultaneously ravaging your wife and looting your kitchen cupboards, before taking down a military jet by throwing your decapitated head 12000 feet into the air causing catastrophic damage to the jet’s chassis. They were tough, get it? And as boys in the 80s, this is what we aspired to. If your arms weren’t the circumference of a beta-max, there was no point in living. If your hair wasn’t longer than your mum’s, you were a sissy. If you didn’t play Barbarian, you were an outcast.

Not In A Cool Way Though

Barbarian was probably the first one on one beat-em-up I ever played, long before Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. It doesn’t have the rosters of any of the 8-16bit console fighters, featuring instead the same pair of fighters in every fight, but it did have a variety of attacks, a sick sense of humour, and it was pretty vicious – that head-chopping spin move was an instant win – you didn’t have to wait until a certain amount of damage had been delivered, you could just whip it out at a moment’s notice. This of course led to a Peace Treaty between those who played the game – that this decapitation move was a War Atrocity and must never be used, or at least could only be employed once both fighters had lost a certain amount of energy – but, unfortunately this Treaty was frequently mocked and many heads were removed from shoulders in a moment of hilarity and tears. In a case of life imitating art, many real life fights erupted because of this, and a few times we received a beating from the parents due to screaming at each other.

There was a single player game on one side of the cassette, and the 2 player on the other side. If I’m honest, I really don’t remember playing the single player myself, and only have vague memories of my brother playing it. Looking at Wikipedia and World Of Spectrum I can see the plot saw a nameless Barbarian rampaging through a series of battles before facing the evil Wizard Drax in order to save a prehistoric page 3 model

Behold, my huge, thirsting...sword
Behold, my huge, thirsting…sword

Naturally, if you are going to go pouring through a Wasteland relieving swordsmen of their heads, you want to do it for a good reason – looking at the cover above, it seems there are two. Sorry. But the game was a huge success for Palace Software, and I’m guessing a lot of the success was down to the artwork for each system.

An 80s Miley Cyrus

Before Barbarian, most game artwork featured in game-esque graphics, wacky writing fonts, or bizarre blocks zooming about. With Barbarian, artist Steve Brown basically said ‘lets tits this thing up’ and lo and behold, Maria Whittaker gave a legion of gamers their first power-up (erection) and Palace Software a tonne of money. Not that this was only a case of clever advertising, but the game itself garnered mostly positive reviews and remains a revered title to this day. It’s still fun to play over 20 years later. The movements of the fighters are smooth, the fighting is suitably ugly, the effects and music are great, and there is a heap of gore. The backgrounds are one of my favourite things about the game, eerie, freak show coloured wastes, like a wreath of corruption has fallen over a land, giving the sense of anything which lives in this place being sickly, dying, or outlandish. As previously mentioned, the humour gets high marks – my favourite moment being the little goblin creature who comes out to kick away a beheaded fighters skull and retrieve the carcass for Lord only knows what purpose.

So there you have it – one of the first and finest beat-em ups to grace the Spectrum. I’ll close by saying that I would highly recommend the game to any retro fiends, and give you a few links where better people than me give better information:

World Of Spectrum Barbarian Page with emulators, pics, and sounds galore:

Youtube walk-through:

Youtube Title Music:

Retro Gaming

Let me take you back; hold on tight – nostalgic rides are often the most bumpy. Imagine the 1980s, yourself as a child. Endless summer afternoons and sunsets which clung onto the last shards of day like slime on Man-E-Faces many faces.

And the smell still lingers in my nostrils
And the smell still lingers in my nostrils

Every Sunday evening you were guaranteed to catch The Goonies, one of the Karate Kid movies, or Temple Of Doom between episodes of Blockbusters and Bullseye. Those were family moments, sitting down on the bean-bag and imagining you could swing your legs like Short-Round and Daniel-san, and knowing that the following day after school you would be trying to swing between branches like Indiana Jones with a whip fashioned from your friend’s sister’s skipping rope.

But the 80s wasn’t all about emulating your big screen idols by barreling down hills on your skateboard/bmx, taking out countless baddies like Commando, or convincing your friend’s sister to steal pic’n’mix from Woolworth’s for you. No, the 80s was also the decade when everyone’s favourite wife-avoiding past-time of today was truly born – video games. Arcades sprung up like a Piranha Plant from a pipe, and slots were filled like a Shannon Tweed movie. Everyone I knew had a Master System or a NES, but most of my friends also had an Amiga, an Amstrad, an Atari, a Commodore 64. I had a Spectrum. A Spectrum +3 128k to be precise.

This Guy
This Guy

Or more accurately, my older brother had one. I was allowed to watch, and help out with the 2 player games. Over time I worked out how to switch the thing on myself, and entered a world of a thousand games, a million dreams, and a billion loading-failed nightmares. Rainy weekends were spent in front of this thing, experimenting with primitive programming, cursing the unforgiving loading times and difficulty of some games, and playing hour after hour of games both wonderful and awful. Waiting for the new edition of Crash or Your Sinclair to see what free games were included, heading down to the Saturday Market to hunt through the cardboard boxes of 2nd hand Spectrum Cassettes,  or screaming until Daddy drove you over to the next town where they had an actual ‘Computer Games Shop’ to pick up some of the newer releases. All you Call Of Duty, High Definiton, online-gaming chumps of today don’t know what you’re missing.

Over the next few weeks, months, and years, I’m going to ‘review’ some of my most fondly related Spectrum experiences and hopefully will spark a few memories in some of you. And for the younger reader, I’m also going to cover all the other consoles of my youth from 8-bit era to today. Feel free to share your gaming memories, whether they be about the games themselves, or even your memories of buying them, sharing them, talking about them.