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Paperboy 2 (NES) artwork

Paperboy 2 (NES) review

"If Paperboy was John Candy, then its sequel is Chris Farley. The colors are gaudy, they clash ridiculously with even themselves, and yet somehow they look bland and unremarkable unless they're throwing themselves in your face. The cartoony look from the first title is mostly gone, yet the NES can't really handle the new visual direction. As a result, it's almost depressing."

Today, I was looking at the cartridge for Paperboy 2, and the most obvious of thoughts came to mind: ''Wow, I wish I could be a stud like that guy.'' Unlike the original Paperboy game, which had a cartridge with a cartoon character, this one has a real-life person riding a bike into the air and tossing papers. The guy is a hunk, an icon. A pimp, even. Too bad the game doesn't entirely match.

If you're familiar with the Paperboy franchise, you probably know about what to expect here. Invariably, your job is to ride a bike along streets, tossing newspapers at subscriber mailboxes and doorsteps. There's a certain range you have to hit, or you'll fail on that delivery and your subscriber will let some other pansy deliver his papers. Bad for business, bad for your score, bad for your oh-so-necessary stock of extra lives (more on that later in the review, when you've become bored and started skimming).

Of course, not every person on a given street is so enlightened as to subscribe to your services. Because of this, you should also save some papers to smash windows. That'll teach people not to spurn you!

Your glee will likely be diminished the second you realize you only have so many newspapers. Though you can pick up bundles of them scattered throughout the neighborhood, it's still not uncommon to go long intervals without replenishing your stock. Because of this, the intelligent player will watch his reserves and abstain from smashing windows if it's looking like he'll run out of papers before satisfying current customers. It's like the saying goes: ''The customer is always right.'' And the customers on these streets have convinced themselves that timely, professional delivery is key.

When you take a look around the areas on your route, you might wonder why it's even such a big deal. Houses look so crappy that you'll be tempted to smash windows out of sympathy, just to improve their appearance. There are broken, rotting chain-link fences, haunted old houses, graffiti-sprayed parks, and clubhouses that look like they were made out of cardboard boxes. Everywhere you look, the neighborhoods are the sort of thing comedian Jeff Foxworthy would use as fodder for the worst of his jokes. There's even a guy that rolls tires onto the street.

Speaking of the street, there's an improvement worth noting this time around. Rather than being restricted to one side of the street like in the first game (which had you riding along a sidewalk and consistently throwing The Daily Sun only to your left), you are required to switch sides at various points during your route. This can be dangerous because you might run into cars or the dalmations that chase them, but there's also the added benefit of what feels strangely like the halftime show. On Easy Street, you might get the opportunity to stop a convenience store robbery. On Middle Road, you'll get to crap on the dreams of an aspiring artist and cut short a deviant's plans to lift a purse. Oh, and you'll also have to watch out for the clown on the unicycle.

Some of you who played the original Paperboy are likely scratching your heads and wondering about this whole 'street' and 'road' thing. And really, the easiest way to explain it is to say the main difference is difficulty. The game starts you out on Easy Street, and you'll have to survive a week of obstacles in order to make it to Middle Road. Once you're there, you can continue anytime you like by selecting the appropriate route number. And if you survive that week, then you unlock the third and final week, where you'll have to deliver to the people of Hard Way. As I already said, the main difference is difficulty. However, there are other aspects of interest. Each of the new streets presents its own attractions. This means that sucky players will never get the chance to knock the fat diver into the pool (splash!).

Getting to the later stages proves to be the main attraction in Paperboy 2. Somehow, it feels more satisfying to see new sight gags than to watch your score eclipse 'The Top Five' pathetic performances on the cartridge. You'll need that satisfaction, too, like an elephant's butt needs a shave. That's because despite the more advanced mechanics this time around, Paperboy 2 just isn't as much fun as its predecessor.

I blame that on two things. The first is the graphics. I've already mentioned that the neighborhoods are Redneck heaven, and that is part of the problem. However, even that would be only a small factor if the visuals were charming. Alas, they are not. If Paperboy was John Candy, then its sequel is Chris Farley. The colors are gaudy, they clash ridiculously with even themselves, and yet somehow they look bland and unremarkable unless they're throwing themselves in your face. The cartoony look from the first title is mostly gone, yet the NES can't really handle the new visual direction. As a result, it's almost depressing.

However, the visual defects aren't so irritating as the basic flaws in the gameplay itself. The game feels very difficult, which at first is a welcome change from the cakewalk that was Paperboy. However, you'll soon discover that this increase in tension is due to cheap tactics the game farts out at random moments. For example, imagine a scenario where you're driving along the street and the next house recedes from the street, with a grate in front. Now, early on you would be able to ride along the street to the right, throw the newspaper, and watch it bounce off a sign and into the mailbox. Slick as snot. Unfortunately, you're now four days into the week. As you chuck the paper, a monster's hand reaches out of the grate and bats the paper away. It flies over the roof of the house and you've missed the mark. Even if you wipe out on purpose, the game will begin you just past the house, with nary a mailbox in sight. You've screwed up, you bum!

Messing up is bad because there are other cheap moments in the game that will deprive you of your extra lives. The worst offender is the haunted house, which forces you to dodge mummies, ghosts, grate monsters, and the stupid raven. The cocky bird sits on a tombstone, and as you glide past, he'll often decide to chase after you. No matter how fast you're going, you can't out-peddle him. Therefore, you have to toss a paper just in front of him, so that if he takes off to chase you, he'll knock himself out. Later in the game, when you're dodging three things at once, this becomes nearly impossible. Which means you lose a life each time you go down the street.

Fortunately, there is a way to get extra lives and prolong your enjoyment of the game. Deliver your ten papers perfectly and you get an extra life at the end of the route. That's one more chance to let the raven peck at your butt without seeing the 'Game Over' screen. However, if you pass through the neighborhood on Monday and miss one house, a perfect delivery on Tuesday will gain you only a resubscriber. Then you'll have to follow up with a perfect delivery on Wednesday if you want to gain an extra life. While it's true that this system makes you work for each of your lives, it can be frustrating when the game snatches them away so cheaply.

Yet for all of its flaws, Paperboy 2 remains an enjoyable niche title that you may very well enjoy. It's challenging enough, you can play it with a friend (for some alternating joy), and it's even politically correct enough that you can ride down the street on a bike wearing pigtails. There are a few good hours of gameplay here if you're interested in challenging yourself, and I'd even go so far as to recommend the game to those looking for a pleasant switch. Just don't expect to be playing an undiscovered NES gem. Damn you, hunky boy biker on the cover. Damn you!

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Staff review by Jason Venter (Date unavailable)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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