Listen, shut up. I have a soft spot for Paperboy on the N64 and I won’t be judged for it. The Paperboy series is something my family has shared going way back to maybe the NES version; the NES days are hazy to me. Particularly my mother and I played a lot of Paperboy 2 on the SNES to the point where I can’t believe we didn’t own a copy. The N64 version, however, that doesn’t carry the same nostalgia.
The N64 title was something of a reimagining by High Voltage Software; a company that is still around to this day, mostly handling port work and licensed games. Reimaginings of arcade games were pretty prevalent in the early-3D years. I rented this back in the day because I was stupid and young. It later found its way into my rapidly growing N64 collection in adulthood, where I have no excuse for my soft spot.
ALLOW ME TO EXPLAIN WHAT A “NEWSPAPER” IS
These days, the concept of Paperboy seems a bit quaint, because the profession is slowly fading out of existence along with the newspaper. In another 20 years, I’ll likely have to explain the concept of the newspaper along with the mechanics of the game. For now, though, I won’t treat you like you’re 8 years old. You’re welcome.
Being a newspaper delivery person was the first job of many youth in the past. The arcade’s Paperboy was a harrowing exaggeration of that simple task. Instead of just thanklessly dropping the newspaper on the doorstep (or the end of the driveway, as the particularly lazy paperboy of my youth would do), you ride your bike down the sidewalk of the most dangerous neighbourhood in existence. Along the way you dodge distracted lawnmowers and even the spirit of death. It was pretty wacky, but it’s still a pretty good arcade title.
Paperboy on the N64 brings that concept into the realm of 3D, and a lot has changed in the transition. Instead of just delivering to subscriber houses on one side of the street, you roam an entire neighbourhood and attempt to make your deliveries. The change has a rather profound impact.
RIGHT ON TIME
Think about it: Paperboy was on-rails, so obstacles could be laid out along the path you take. It was randomized, so you couldn’t just memorize the neighbourhood, but different obstacles acted in predictable manners. You could go off the sidewalk, but this left you at the mercy of traffic and made it more difficult to aim your newspapers. It was static and easily readable.
When you move this to a fully 3D environment things become chaotic. A lot of the same obstacles show up here — fire-spewing gargoyles, dudes throwing tires into the street for some reason, death — but they’re easier to avoid when death is just hanging out on the lawn and you have unlimited space to bypass tire dude. They’re just not as effective when they can attack you from off screen or you can just go around.
For that matter, Paperboy was the sort of game where if you got hit once, you lose a life. Great for munching quarters, not so much for console style progression. As such, on the N64 you’re given a life bar. On the early stages, it’s practically impossible to exhaust this, but it’s something to watch in the later neighbourhoods.
Speaking of which, Paperboy gave you one neighbourhood that you hit day after day until you’ve delivered the Sunday edition. Again, that works in arcades, but consoles necessitate a certain amount of progression. As such, rather than hitting the concrete on a single neighbourhood, you advance through a variety of them; everything from a typical suburb to an active volcano.
You advance by gaining subscribers. Each stage has a growing number of them, and you obtain new ones by passing a certain threshold of deliveries. The max you get is 3 for a perfect delivery, which means, at the very least, you’ll be running each neighbourhood a few times. That may sound repetitive, and it can be, but more delivery locations means more chances for harm, and in later neighbourhoods that can be almost overwhelming. Unlike earlier Paperboy games, you can’t lose subscribers by missing a delivery or smashing their windows, so that’s nice.
Similar to the earlier games, you have two options for making a delivery: the doorstep or the mailbox. The mailbox gives you more points as it’s a smaller target, but in a panic it can be hard to hit it. For that matter, the aiming system can take some getting used to, and even then, it’s not necessarily dependable. You’re aided by an arrow when you hold down the button, but unlike the 2D game, the world isn’t perfectly flat so you can be thwarted by a hill. Sometimes, you’ll just find yourself doling out newspapers like they grow on trees until you hit your target.
THE SUNDAY EDITION
It’s definitely not a perfect execution of the formula in 3D, but it isn’t hopeless either. The variety in obstacles and neighbourhoods is pretty wide. There are boss battles, but they mostly suck. You can find coins by hitting things in the environment, but I found the bonus levels unlocked by them were pretty underwhelming, and I just didn’t bother in the later stages.
The graphics were poorly received at the game’s launch, but we’re over two decades removed from its launch and everything looks bad on the N64 at this point. More troublesome, however, is the fact that the sound quality is absolutely dismal. I’m not talking about the music either, which is weirdly enjoyable, it’s the sound and voice samples. They’re so heavily compressed that they come out as muffled. Some of the speech is so incomprehensible that I still don’t know what they’re saying after multiple playthroughs.
I think what I’m trying to communicate is that Paperboy on the N64 isn’t particularly good, but it isn’t a total loss. Paperboy to begin with wasn’t the best arcade game, but it was certainly a memorable concept. That same creativity carries through to this 3D version, it’s just the gameplay doesn’t translate as well.
I think Paperboy would make a decent on-rails style shooter in this day and age. The absurdity could be ramped up, just as it was in this game, but by curating the obstacles a little better it could become a much more solid experience. However, for that to happen, whoever owns the rights would need to show interest. My original guess was WB, as I thought it was originally developed by Midway, as they released later ports of it, including this one. Also, later ports were removed from digital marketplaces when Midway was shuttered. However, Atari originally developed the arcade version, so do they own it? I hope not, because that wouldn’t bode well for a new title.
Either way, Paperboy on N64 is an interesting curio to check out for an afternoon. It was largely forgotten, but for some reason it is stamped in my mind. It’s worth checking out because there isn’t a lot out there like it and it stands as the only attempt to translate the classic arcade gameplay to 3D. I don’t expect you to walk away impressed, but it’s at least deserving of a tip.
This review was conducted on an N64 using a cartridge copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.