Paperboy – Sega Megadrive / Genesis Review

Retro Resolution Retro Review

System: Sega Megadrive /Genesis
Developer: Tengen
Year: 1991
Genre: Frustration

Paperboy - Sega Megadrive / Genesis - Mean Streets

Saddle up

To anyone with memories of the often cold and wet chore of the Great British paper round the digital recreation promised by Atari’s all-American Paper Boy is alluring. Grab your papers and hurtle along on a bmx throwing news-filled projectiles at your designated customers’ homes; apparently there’s none of your ‘actually walk up to the door and post the paper through the letterbox’ shenanigans for our Stateside cousins. Added to the thrill of (relatively) high-speed delivery is the positive encouragement to smash the windows of non-customers’ abodes, and to attack burglars, drunks, break-dancers, and wayward pets.

Despite the incredibly promising premise, Paperboy can be an insufferably frustrating experience, mainly due to the desperately uncontrollable nature of your protagonist’s transport; unlike a real bike the virtual incarnation proves harder to control with increasing velocity, forcing progress down to a snail’s pace to give a sporting chance of survival.

Whilst the coin-op sported a responsive handlebar controller (adapted from the Star Wars arcade machine’s analogue yoke), Tengen’s 1991 port of the 1985 Atari original is limited to the Megadrive’s lowly joypad; the resultant fight for directional precision engenders an experience making the execution of Ryu or Ken’s Dragon Punch seem simple in comparison.

Progress along the isometric streets of bright, colourful, cartoon-styled graphics is hampered not only by the shopping-cart characteristics of your steed, but also by the constant and merciless attacks from the neighbourhood’s inhabitants, amongst which are psychotic lawn-mowers, radio-controlled buggies, cats of quite terrifying stature, dust particles… well, maybe not the latter, but as seemingly everything on your route is lethal perhaps the title Paperboy refers to your titular character’s lack of fortitude rather than his occupation…

Sound as rendered by the Megadrive conversion is largely functional, with music which is noticeably inferior to the arcade machine, being reminiscent of very early 80’s coin-ops; this failing is not a limitation of the Sega machine’s Yamaha and Texas Instruments sound chips, however, which were capable of so much more, as evidenced by the the rich, full soundtrack delivered by Streets of Rage II. Nevertheless credit is due to the plentiful speech samples which surpass those of the original, however to make such a comparison is a little unfair given that the coin-op made innovative use of a speech-synthesis chip in the days before digitisation was commonplace.

Despite being a relatively faithful conversion, the inherent frustrations of the game mechanics leave the feeling that purchasing a copy of Paperboy would not have been a satisfying way to spend the proceeds from several weeks’ toil from a real-life paper round.

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