Right now there are slim pickings when it comes to choosing a new Game Boy game. Luckily the included copy of Tetris is sure to keep many players happy for months to come, but if we’re being honest not all gamers are going to be fond of the puzzler. The Game Boy is designed to be taken with you on the go, and because of that there is a need for games that offer short bursts of entertainment. This is especially true of Alleyway.
Thirteen years ago Breakout hit the arcades and became a smashing success. There have been countless clones over the years, with Arkanoid probably being the most well known amongst NES owners. Alleyway is the newest kid on the block and Nintendo’s first crack at the brick-breaking genre of games. Perhaps it’s a bit too on the nose because there’s very little here that could be considered new or innovative. You have a paddle at the bottom of the screen that you use to hit a ball into bricks stationed at the top portion of the playing field. Your goal is to break all of the blocks without letting the ball pass by the bottom area of the screen. Once you’ve cleared all of the blocks you move on to the next stage.
The ball will bounce about the side walls and ceiling and often will be able to take out several blocks at once by skipping along them. Hitting the ball at a certain angle will allow for strategic bounces to try and clear more blocks more quickly. The game features 24 different stages with bonus stages thrown in. Some Nintendo flair, such as a huge Mario sprite made out of blocks are sprinkled in for good measure. As you progress further in the game you’ll come across more challenging levels. Things like scrolling blocks bring some excitement to the standard ho-hum gameplay. Panic can start to set in when you get to some of the areas where the blocks start to move down the screen toward you paddle, not unlike the aliens in Space Invaders. You have a limited time to break the blocks before they get too close and begin to disappear, putting a huge damper on your score.
Despite these tweaks to the various stages, the biggest problem with Alleyway is the lack of power-ups. Perhaps Arkanoid has spoiled us, but we expect more from this style of game in 1989. We’ve been there and done that and unless something exciting is introduced to liven things up there’s just not much point in rehashing the past. I sort of give this game a slight pass because of the very fact that it’s on a portable machine and so in essence it sort of is the first of its kind. It also lends itself to the on-the-go mentality of picking it up for short periods of time to have a bit of fun. That being said, I can’t imagine the kids of today who have grown up playing vastly more complicated NES and PC games are going to find much here to keep them occupied for more than a few hours.
Conceptually Alleyway should be the perfect portable game to throw in your Game Boy and have a great time. Unfortunately it brings almost nothing new to the genre that has already run its course. I’m sorry, but shoehorning Mario into a decidedly non-Mario game doesn’t automatically make the game any better. If anything, it shows that Nintendo knew it needed some marketing muscle to try and get kids to buy it, and that really says it all.
- Graphics - 5/105/10
- Sound - 4/104/10
- Gameplay - 6/106/10
- Lasting Appeal - 5/105/10
Final Thoughts: MEDIOCRE
Is Alleyway a bad game? Not at all! However it’s decidedly average and doesn’t bring any new ideas to the saturated brick-breaking genre that has clearly run its course. It’s not a bad game to kill a few minutes while waiting for an appointment, but very few will find it captivating enough to get their $20 worth.
Craig has been covering the video game industry since 1995. His work has been published across a wide spectrum of media sites. He’s currently the Editor-In-Chief of Nintendo Times and contributes to Gaming Age.