Time sweeps up his bicycle
A job that kids once had before the rise of the internet was one as a delivery boy. You hop onto your bike, ride to the store or wherever the newspapers are, take a sack or two full of them and throw newspapers at peoples' doors. Hopefully, you don't throw them at their windows, lest you incur the wrath of an abruptly awakened mother bear. At the end of the week, you get a few dollars to spend on candy, oven fresh pies and whatever else kids bought with their money before it became commonplace to pester your parents for iPhones and video game consoles and other such overpriced gadgets. Paperboy is essentially a delivery boy simulator, only the neighborhood seems to be filled to the brim with obstacles such as trash cans, tyres, fences, manholes, dogs, breakdancers, cars, motorbikes, angry mothers, self activated lawn mowers, tornadoes and the grim reaper. However, you aren't phased by any of this... well, technically, you are if you come into contact with them, but mentally speaking, this just seems like a perfectly ordinary week. What, you mean your neighborhood doesn't have any of this? Sounds like you live in Dullsville!
Oh wait, this game IS Dullsville! My mistake.
Sadly, Paperboy's audio and visual qualities aren't much to speak of. That isn't to say that it looks or even sounds bad, but there isn't much that sticks out beyond its semi-iconic tune and the neighborhood not looking half bad. While there are limited house models copied and pasted ad nauseum, they at least look nice. Perhaps a bit too nice – is this suburbia or the rich side of town? At the very least, there's a distinction between subscribers and non-subscribers. The pavement, grass and roads consist of simple solid colors with the occasional lines to give some semblance of detail to the environment. I have to say that the paper boy looks a bit squished in whenever you make a right turn, but otherwise, the model looks about right in terms of the somewhat isometric perspective. Everything else looks alright, but again, it just doesn't scream “awesome” or even “good”. With nary a detail in the environments and objects that aren't houses, it just looks... bland. Oh, but then there's the song that everybody who has played this version of the game knows of, and while it's catchy, it's not a great tune. It being short and repetitious is one thing; it being virtually the only song in the game is another. The bonus stage's song is essentially the same as the neighborhood song, so what it boils down to is that the presentation is boring.
The idea is to deliver newspapers to subscribers. However, there are two things that give this game the potential to be exciting. One is that the paper boy is always on the move, only slowing down whenever the powers to be allow him to, but never letting him stop to check if he delivered the newspaper. The other is that you throw at something of a diagonal angle. The slower you go, the less of an angle you throw it at and the faster you go, the more of an angle it's thrown at, but it's never dead straight from the player's point of view. It takes some getting used to, but after a few tries, you'll understand how it works. In order to make a successful delivery, you must hit either the garage door, the front door or the mailbox, and you'll get more points for hitting the mailbox than either door. However, you aren't given infinite newspapers; you begin with a stack of ten and have to find a pile of newspapers in order to replenish your sack.
Keep in mind that if you miss a house, they'll unsubscribe... you could pay them back by throwing a newspaper at their windows and getting some extra points, but it may not be worth it when you realize that you can gain extra points as well as a new subscriber if you successfully deliver newspapers to all of your subscribers that day. You can get bonus points for hitting breakdancers and other human-like obstacles with newspapers, but when you realize that lives are not replenished by points, you have to wonder what the point of them is. High scores? I suppose if you were to invite a friend over for either 2 player alternating play or just to see if he can beat your score, that could be a thing, but other than that, they're worthless, making the end-of-road training course bonus stage where you hit targets with newspapers seem rather odd. Not quite unnecessary as, for a bonus stage, it is fun to go through, not to mention that it serves as a nice break from the monotony of delivering newspapers, but just odd because the points don't matter.
The main problem with Paperboy is that it's redundant – you're really doing the same level seven times before Paperboy announces his retirement... oh sure, each day presents more obstacles, but it hardly feels like you're going through different levels. Now, you could argue that that's essentially all that a paperboy does; go through his neighborhood on a daily basis, seeing the same houses over and over again. You could even argue that video games are all repetitive by nature, and I know for a fact that I do. Sadly, that makes Paperboy look worse, because in order to feel like a game is redundant, the game itself cannot be good. Paperboy is the perfect candidate – its graphics are neither good nor bad, its main song is catchy yet redundant, and the gameplay offers very little to commend and yet not much to criticize.
Being honest, Paperboy is the kind of game I'd expect these days – mediocre, bereft of any real standout qualities and yet with little to no real flaws. It may not help that this is a game with quite a reputation... well, the arcade version can take most of the credit due to its handlebar controls on the cabinet. The NES version did have a slice of the cake as it was one of the very first games released for the NES, but boy oh boy, it really shows due to its lack of depth. We were still reeling from the crash of 1983 and the idea of porting simple little arcade games to consoles worked well with the Atari 2600. Unfortunately, the NES became a different beast over its time in the market, and as such, Paperboy just doesn't quite cut it.