Review by SneakTheSnake

Reviewed: 01/30/06 | Updated: 04/05/06


Alleyway was released, if I'm not mistaken, as a launch title for Nintendo's first portable, the Gameboy in 1989. Along with Baseball, Tetris, Super Mario Land, Jimmy Connors Pro Tennis Tour, Golf, and Tennis, the pocket system had a fair selection. Pickings were slim, but each game had its own charms. Alleyway serves its purpose as a quick diversion, and certainly some good classic gameplay.

This game hearkens back to a time of simpler gaming. It can be rather refreshing to play a game such as this, with no complicated gameplay concepts, violence, or gratuitous content. Alleyway serves as a reminder of gaming foundations.

Alleway, Arkanoid, Breakout, Kirby's Block Ball, Woody Pop, Super Breakout, Quester, and so on...

Alleyway plays simply enough. Without too much explanation, Mario (!) runs and jumps into a block-breaking paddle, and then the player is thrust into several stages of breaking bricks with a small ball. Influenced by Pong and the Breakout concept as a whole entails players moving a paddle left and right along the screen, using a ball to break bricks apart along the screen's top. When all bricks are broken, then the player proceeds to the next stage of breaking bricks.

In this Gameboy variation, however, certain gimmicks are in place to produce some good level variation. Beside the traditional layout of bricks seen in standard versions, the blocks in Alleyway may be moving slowly downward, or constantly moving to the right. Each block variation shows itself originally, then under these two alterations. There are twenty-four stages total, excluding the bonus rounds.

It should be pointed out that not every block has to be broken in order for the player to complete the round; in the stages involving the blocks constantly coming down on the player, there are certain exceptions to the rules. Depending on the conditions and success in the stage, blocks come down one row for every five or six hits of the paddle, unless the player is able to break several bricks with one bounce. Blocks only come down to a certain invisible limit; if a block or a barrier comes down to this invisible limit, then it simply vanishes. These blocks must not be broken; instead, a repeat pattern comes down, and it is these blocks that must ultimately be broken. It is a lot simpler in-game than it is to explain on paper.

Each different block color is of a different color – the darker the block, the more points it is worth. A score is racked up from breaking bricks, and extra lives are awarded at certain benchmarks. If a player earns more than 10,000 points in a consecutive round of play, then a Fire Flower icon is shown to represent 10,000, since the points marker can not go to the 10,000’s digit. Space limitations on the screen, I suppose.

A bonus round, which comes after every few regular rounds of play, consists of players hitting as many blocks as possible within a given time limit. In these special conditions, the ball can go through blocks, meaning that the only barriers limiting the ball’s travel are the paddles and the walls. Block arrangements in these stages resemble creatures or things from the Mario universe, including Piranha Plants, Bowser, Cheep-Cheeps, and so on. These come every handful of stages, and are a rather interesting change of pace. If a player is lucky enough to bash every block within the time limit, then the player is rewarded with bonus points, which is proportionate to how much the player has progressed. Every bonus level awards 500 more points for completion than the one before it.

An Arkanoid-type endeavor has its own pluses and minuses, and these are only embellished in Alleyway. Nearly every gamer who has played a game such as this has fallen victim to hit the last elusive block on the screen. No matter what angle the player tries hitting the ball with in order to obtain that perfect shot, the last block can not be reached.

Alleyway, in some cases, does not make the situation any easier. Sometimes, this block might be hidden in an enclosure or behind a barrier. When the block is moving from one side to the other, this is last block is not a problem, as the block almost always comes into contact with the ball almost randomly, and more important, quickly. Players will no doubt be frustrated when the last block, for example, is at the top of the screen, and four barriers along the bottom prevent the ball from even making it beyond that small area. Add the fact that the paddle halves in size during play, and the experience may be over too soon for some.

At least none of the mistakes can be blamed on the ball's physics, for the ball's action off the paddle is understandable and predictable. This ensures a consistent ball movement, and the player can easily determine an angle and trajectory for the ball. The "last block" lament may be for those who play these games, not expecting to use any complex thought processes - like me.

Just a lazy, block-breakin’ afternoon…

Alleyway, as one would expect, is a simple game in terms of graphics and sound. Of course, a complicated array of visuals and sound effects is not required for a game like this, and considering the limitations of the Gameboy, not much more could be expected than what is presented. Blocks look like blocks, the ball looks like… well, a ball. This is all rather obvious. In regards to the music, there are a few tunes which play, including an opening theme, a bonus level theme, and an ending diddy. These, along with the standard basic sounds for any given action, are acceptable.

It is interesting, though, that each color of block makes a different tone. When a ball is trapped in a small enclosure of blocks and barriers, a symphony of sorts is played out as the ball collides quickly and haphazardly with different-colored blocks and unbreakable barriers. It makes for a quirky aural experience, but this is simply coincidental.

All in all, the experience is over rather soon, but many players will not make it very far. For what it is, Alleyway is a quick diversion, but players will more than likely find it much easier to search for a Java port of what is essentially the same game.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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