This January I finally completed my North American Nintendo Game Boy launch lineup. I have said in the past that I have been collecting games for the original Game Boy since August of 2015, though that's only half-true. In August 2015 I bought my first DMG Game Boy game on 3DS Virtual Console. Not a physical cartridge, though since I did pay money for it, it sort of counts in my eyes. The first game I got on 3DS was not any of the GB NA launch games, rather it was a very late release, Game and Watch Gallery. Later in September I bought the amazing Metroid II: Return of Samus (Lots of backstory about that game) and Super Mario Land, the latter being a launch game.
I didn't get a means of playing official Game Boy cartridges until Christmas Eve of 2016 when I got my Super Game Boy. Earlier in August while on vacation at Blue Harbor in Sheboygan, WI we were shopping at the only retro game store I knew of at the time. I believe it was called Freaktoyz or something. Anyways they had an SGB there for $15, the exact amount of money I had brought with me on vacation. I was seriously considering it. My dad used to have an original Game Boy in college that my mom sadly threw out in the early 2000's. I assumed he had some of his original games with him still somewhere in the house. I had been on the lookout for them for years since I have always been fascinated by the original Game Boy. I was pretty sure they were somewhere, but as I had been snooping around for them for years at this point I didn't want to risk it, so I opted for StarTropics on NES instead. I kid you not, two days later we were cleaning the basement and what did I find? A cloth bag thing filled with Game Boy games. I couldn't believe it. I had been looking for these for years, and right after I saw a Super Game Boy I found them! Only one of the games my dad remembered wasn't there, that being Centipede and Millipede. I assumed that one was in the Game Boy when my mom threw it out. But all of the other games were there. Here are all of the ones I remember being there:
- Play Action Football
- Sports Illustrated Golf
- The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
- F-1 Race
So right off the bat I had two of the launch lineup. Plus at that point I had Super Mario Land on 3DS.
I didn't get another physical Game Boy cartridge until last year because I was never around any game stores (or at least I didn't think I was), but I did get a few more games on the VC, including Tennis. When I discovered my new regular game store, Game Trade in DePere, WI, I had recently gotten a Game Boy Advance system and was getting in to collecting for the Game Boy DMG, Color, and Advance, though mostly the OG. I had gotten some money for Christmas to fuel my collecting. Some of the first games I got were games I had loved on the 3DS VC and wanted to play them on somewhat original hardware. In the clearance bin I saw a very beat up copy of Tennis, so I decided to pick that up. I had enjoyed the game quite a bit on the 3DS and since it was so cheap, why not? When I got home I got on the list for a physical cartridge of Super Mario Land. That was the last physical cartridge I picked up, but today's game, Alleyway, was the last of the GB launch lineup I actually played. I picked that up on maybe my second or third Game Store run for five bucks.
Anyway, let's actually talk about Alleyway.
Alleyway was a launch title for the original Game Boy in North America, Europe, and Japan. Here in the states it launched in 1989. Alleyway is a breakout-style game. Note that I did not say Arkanoid style game. Though this game came out several years after Taito's 1986 classic Arkanoid, which heavily expanded upon the format seen in Atari's Breakout and Super Breakout. Arkanoid added things such as powerups, weapons, and enemies to the mix. Alleyway does away with many of these, though it is still obvious that it was inspired by Arkanoid. For instance, each level is distinct in its layout. Super Breakout had some distinction, but that game did it very differently. Super Breakout's level design was much simpler in comparison and a lot less varied. Plus, to my knowledge you couldn't progress from level to level like you could in Arkanoid and Alleyway. I believe if you beat, say, the cavity screen for instance, you didn't transition to the progression or regular Breakout screens. At least I don't think you could. I've never been very good at the arcade version of Super Breakout or on any home system.
Like Arkanoid and the earlier Breakout games, different shades of blocks earn you different amounts of points. In this case, the darker the shade of puke-green the more points you will get. The darker blocks also increase the speed of your ball, though it is nowhere near as noticeable as it is in some other block-breaking games. Also like the original Breakout, starting on the fifth stage, if your ball hits the top of the screen, your paddle will shrink in size.There are also some indestructible blocks in the game like those seen in Arkanoid. In short, Alleyway is like a midpoint between Super Breakout and Arkanoid.
The game's progression consists of three stages using the same basic structure followed by a timed bonus stage. The four-level setup is reminiscent of the world layout of the original Super Mario Brothers on the NES. The first level in an Alleyway "world" is a basic level with nothing going on. The blocks stay still for this level. On the second stage they wrap around the screen horizontally. In this mode it is easy to get the ball stuck in a pattern and wipe out many bricks at once. The third stage appears to not move at first, but occasionally the blocks will descend another step towards your paddle. Nothing bad happens if they reach the bottom; they just disappear. This mode is a straight ripoff of the progression mode in Super Breakout. The fourth mode, as I previously mentioned, is a timed bonus stage. These stages feature cameos of Super Mario characters and items in block form. The player has about a minute (in real time; the seconds on the clock move way too fast) to clear out the entire field. This is much easier than it sounds; the blocks disappear in a Breakthrough style. Though it still can be a little challenging at times. The game sessions in Alleyway tend to last pretty long as I can play for quite a while without Game Over-ing.
The sound and music in this game are quite nice. This early Game Boy title takes full advantage of the stereo headphone jack, providing some great musical ditties. The title theme especially gets stuck in my head. I also enjoy jingles between levels, before the bonus stage, and during the bonus stage. I really dig the music in this game. The sounds are your typical Breakout sounds. The Game Boy tries its best to provide an echo effect on some of the block-breaking sounds. I thoroughly enjoy the music and sound in this game and highly recommend using headphones while playing.
The packaging of the game is also very cool. I like the behind the paddle perspective and the stellar color palate. It really gives of that intergalactic vibe. I don't know what it was with Breakout games and outer space. Super Breakout was about the interstellar adventures of... was it Captain Jack Chang? I remember it was Captain something Chang. Arkanoid also has a space theme, where you control the spacecraft Vaus jettisoned from the mothership Arkanoid after it was destroyed and caught in a space warp. This game appears to take place in outer space as well, though with a twist. The pilot of the spacecraft is none other than our man Super Mario. Or maybe just Mario, as the opening cutscene of the game shows a sprite of Mario hopping into the paddle that appears to resemble his pre-Super Mario Brothers appearance. He looks like a bootleg version of himself. Oh, early Game Boy graphics with your tiny, creepy little sprites...
Game Theory time: What if this game was the inspiration for Super Mario Galaxy? I mean, they both take place in space. Maybe that's a bit of a stretch.
Even when this game was first released in 1989 it was an incredibly basic and simple take on the genre. It didn't have the little nuances that made Arkanoid so great. It didn't even have a single powerup in it. If this game were released at any other time than at the very start of the first mainstream portable game system's life, it would have been laughable. But the Game Boy was a new concept for most people. Sure, the Microvision and Adventurevision predated the Game Boy by several years, and the former predated it by a good decade, but those consoles were for the most part failed attempts at bringing the console and arcade experience on the go. Plus, I feel that Alleyway was a good way at getting more casual non-gamers to play the Game Boy. Compared to the NES, Nintendo's handheld system offered a much more all-inclusive experience with typically easier and simpler game experiences. Tetris sold many systems to the non-gamer crowd, and Alleyway probably had a few copies bought by those Tetris players.
So why play Alleyway now? This game has nothing to set it apart from the crowd. There are much more complicated and engaging Breakout style games out there nowadays, so why pick this one? I'll tell you why:
In all of my life, I have never played a better controlling Breakout style game that uses a D-Pad. The controls this game has are second only to the paddle controllers seen on the 2600 and other potentiometer-based knob or dial controller. The control you have over the game's paddle is exceptional. I have played many other Breakout games with digital-style controllers, like Arkanoid on NES, 1001 Blockbusters for DSiWare, and others, but nothing comes close to controlling better than this game. The paddle moves at the absolute perfect speed for the game. It's honestly hard to explain how good it feels; you need to play the game yourself. If the paddle's base speed is too fast or too slow for you, never fear. The face buttons are here! In this game, the A button will "accelerate" the paddle while the B button will "break". That's how I remember their functions. Though I don't often use the face buttons in the game, they can come in handy in the later levels.
So how would I rate this game out of ten for the system it's on. Sadly, I have to put it pretty low as there are so many better games on the system like Metroid II, Link's Awakening and Super Mario Land 2. If I had to I would probably rate it a 6/10. The game is really good, but there are so many other games on the Game Boy that are better. Though I rated it somewhat low, I still recommend picking it up. It's not in very high demand. The controls are exceptional enough to make the purchase worth it. The controls alone turn this game from yet another boring Breakout clone I played to one of my favorites in the genre. All in all, Alleyway is a game I love to "Breakout" and play a few rounds of from time to time.