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Monday, September 30, 2013

NES Replay: Hogan's Alley

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: October 1985
Hogan's Alley is a simple game that uses the NES Zapper. Two or three cardboard cutouts appear on screen, and you have to shoot the ones that are criminals while not shooting the innocent people. Shoot an innocent, and you lose a life. Take too long to shoot a criminal, and you lose a life.

All Hogan's Alley is about, then, is facial recognition. The cutouts don't move around. They don't do anything beyond sneer at you with a gun drawn or stare at you innocently. It's the gaming equivalent of pointing at a piece of paper and saying, "That one." There's a second game in here, too, that has those cardboard cutouts moving from behind cover and then turning toward the player. It's a little more fun, but just barely.

Why would Nintendo pick such a basic game as a launch game for the NES? The answer was simple: Familiarity.

Light gun games had been around for a while, even before video games existed. They were common parlor games, so people knew what they were all about. Since Nintendo was introducing a video game console at a time when video game consoles weren't welcome in most homes, they needed something simple that people could wrap their heads around.

For that reason, they were releasing games that were familiar at a glance to users. Hogan's Alley was well-known, as was Wild Gunman, which we'll get to later. Nintendo was aiming for simple, well-known concepts that wouldn't require a lot of explanation at a glance. For example, the game they made about hunting ducks was called Duck Hunt, and had a picture of a duck along with an explosion behind it. That's easy enough to understand for anyone.

That's why Hogan's Alley was released. The concept of "pick which one is the bad guy and shoot him" is easy enough for anyone to understand, even if it didn't hold up in the long run.

There's a far more interesting minigame in Hogan's Alley called "Trick Shot." In Trick Shot, tin cans fly onto the screen from the right. In order to keep them in the air, you shoot them. If you've kept them in the air long enough, they'll land on one of the platforms on the left. Nintendo has returned to this minigame concept repeatedly in other games, and for good reason: It's pretty fun.

The same can't be said for Hogan's Alley in general, though. It's so simplistic that it can't be recommended for modern gamers, but it served its purpose at the time.

Final Rating: