Spring of 1985 was a dark time for video games. The Nintendo Entertainment System was still 6 months from seeing the light of day in the United States. Atari mania and Pac-Man fever felt like ages ago thanks to the shift away from home console gaming towards computer gaming. But arcades were still active as THE place to play games that could still wow and astonish gamers hungry for the next big thing.
So who among us delivered newspapers as a young boy or girl in an effort to earn a little extra spending cash? Possibly not many of you, depending on your age and where you grew up. I, however, can claim to be a part of the paperboy brotherhood.
At the tender age of 12, you’re too young to get a “real” job, but old enough that you need a regular source of income if you want to be able to buy a slice of pizza, a soda and grab a handful of quarters to use at the local arcade with your friends. For me, signing up to be a paperboy for the local daily newspaper seemed like the easiest way to achieve that.
Developers at Atari must have had similar childhood experiences in order to faithfully recreate a week in the life of a paperboy with the release of Paperboy in arcades. The goal of the game is to get through a week of paper delivery on a suburban street by carefully delivering papers to all the subscribers on your route, avoiding hazards such as cars, skateboarders and toys among many other things.
You can also damage non-subscribers’ homes for extra points and earn additional points by making it through an obstacle course at the end of each level, before starting all over again the next day.
The arcade cabinet for Paperboy was notable for having a bicycle handlebar as a means to control your bike. Pressing forwards on the handlebars would speed you up, and pulling back was your means to slow down. Moving the handlebars from side to side would allow you to move back and forth across the screen from sidewalk to road and back again.
As I think back on my time as a paperboy, I have to admit that delivering papers wasn’t quite as hazardous as it was in the arcades as I never encountered some of the more unique hazards that Paperboy throws at our hero. Obstacles such as swarms of bees, mini tornados and grim reapers make the game challenging and quite funny. I also have no recollection of being greeted by a waving, cheering throng of kids and adults upon each day’s completed delivery route.
On the flip side, Paperboy does not attempt to recreate the blinding wind & bitter cold of delivering newspapers in the dead of a brutal Wisconsin winter. So with that I earned my paperboy badge, and still wear it with honor more than 30 years later.