I am not the only one who cannot hear the swell of computer-generated
old-people-voices growling out the words "now you" and
"well, I never" without just a little nostalgic glee. But much
has happened to our paperboy since we last saw Billy working to increase
readership, cruising neighborhoods, and hitting the local obstacle course.
While it would have been possible to market this installment as a trip
back to yester-game for folks like myself, it is a radically different
game aimed at the next generation of paper carriers. In this post-first-
person-shooter world, "Paperboy" has donned a 3-D look and upped
the stakes to include spear-toting natives, a fleet of zoo animals, an
alien invasion during delivery time, as well as the option to play as a
girl and employ an arsenal of nifty bike-tricks, in order to convince
kids, riddled with ADD and a slew of fast-paced games where stuff blows
up, that doing a paper route can still be the adventure of a lifetime.
That in mind, the game is allowed a certain measure of simplicity. Like the first, your only real objective is to deliver the morning news to your customers. Again like the first game, the more papers you deliver, the more customers you get, which in turn earns you additional routes under your control. While the objective stays the same, the routes increase in absurdity, moving through zoos, national parks, and live volcanoes. The final difference between this and the original is the inclusion of bosses that require some cognitive work with your paper tossing unless you get Nintendo Power.
Despite this simple premise, the game works. The increasing chaos, certainly a common theme in video games, actually becomes increasingly interesting instead of just being a showcase of oddities. The premise, also not unusual, in which the game gets incrementally harder is done so evenly that you are always left feeling like you are capable of delivering all nineteen of your papers, even on Mount Kablooee, which, especially for younger players, is really important. Even if boss levels are always a bit of an anti-climax and do not always hang onto the skeletal plot of the game (Dr. Tesla is attempting to take over the world), they are a minor blemish and soon enough, Dr. Tesla or no, you are back to doing what you came to do: get the papers there on time.
With a lack of graphic violence and a visual look more cartoonish than representational, PB64 serves its younger audience well. On that note, however, the game exhibits much colonial gusto and not so subtle hints of class-ism including a trailer park route that is pockmarked with fistfights and cop cars. Additionally, in a departure from the original, where your readership would suffer, there is no penalty for destroying friendly property or even running over your customers baby. It is possible to argue that this game, though not overt, is advocating a more realistic kind of aggression and anti-social behavior than games with any amount of blood and shotguns. When Billy or Suzy run out of time they hurl the mangled bike to the street, an attitude I, as a certified grown-up, had a hard time not copying with my own controller.
Regardless, as a game, the setup is good. More like a Mario game than the original Paperboy, in that you can save progress and return to old worlds at will, PB64 is the kind of game in which beating it has as much to do with being stubborn as it does with being good. Individual boards allow you much choice in terms of strategy and, again unlike the original, you get to go back if you miss a house. The levels of game play are pretty accurate and the different worlds are truly different. Additionally, the bonus courses are always a surprise, moving from the old-school obstacle course to brain hunts and levels in which you need to put down a zoo-break lead by the lions. This is to say that the game is cute. Really, it is. The game creates rich worlds populated by people and children doing interesting and strange things. In one maneuver of reminiscence, Midway has used the original sound bites from the first game so that, while there are still some crotchety folks who attack you without justification or any sense of character, they at least exist as a reference. Ultimately, even with a few of those characters, there is much to look at, or avoid looking at, while building your Daily Times empire.
In terms of game play, PB64 is a great deal of fun when you are doing well and incredibly frustrating when you are not. While Easy Street (you cant beat the whole game on easy) and The Middle Road are manageable, I, as an old man with slowing reflexes and cataract troubles, am here to tell you that The Hard Way really is the hard way.
If you are tired of your kids beating their games within twenty-four hours, PB64 could offer you at least a few more nights of relative serenity. The controls take much getting used to and the game finds a number of complicated ways, including the very simple solution of cutting your time in half, to make the expert level truly expert. Additionally, the Mario 64 setup means that you must play the same worlds again and again as they get incrementally more difficult. Though one could think one would not tire of delivering papers in the haunted village of Dr. Tesla, while dodging frog-people and werewolves who snort fire, such things do indeed get old. At the same time, as I said earlier, one always feels like they are at the cusp of greatness, like it really should be possible. Consequently, even though I was often frustrated, I found it very hard to give up on.
Even if the game is marketed for a younger audience, I found myself actually wanting to become as good as the game asked me to be. The better you get, the less stuff you break, and I found myself (even if the game could have made it more clear that I was supposed to) feeling bad when I broke a good customers picture window or did some other heinous thing to someone who was not a bad guy. As a result, I took a strange kind of pride in my work and at times stopped thinking about it as a game. It is possible, I have discovered, to become an artisan, a veritable maestro de paper delivery, which is more exciting that one might think.
The only major drawback PB64 can not escape is that one is left with a hard time, as one walks the dog or drives to school, resisting the temptation to hurl things at ones neighbors.