Home Alone – NES
Release Date (NA): October 1991
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Genre: Puzzle/Trap Game
Nerd Rating: 2 out of 10
It’s been a long time since I’ve played a really bad game. I know what I like and I tend to stick fairly close to it. I might have a handful of games that I don’t particularly like, but that doesn’t make them bad games. And with all the time and expense that goes into modern games, it’s getting harder and harder to run into a truly worthless piece of software. But you know what? I sure as hell remember what a bad game feels like. Back when the NES was the only system I owned, I got a trip up to the video store every weekend to pick out a game to rent. If you’ve ever seen the boxart of an NES game, you know how misleading they can be. Being somewhere around the ages of 6 to 10, I had no fucking clue what to rent. I could read, but that was about it.
Oh man, do I remember the horrors and disappointments of blindly renting games. I landed on a few good ones here and there (The Addams Family, Faxanadu, Battle Chess) but by and large I was stuck with 48 hours of either insane difficulty or mind-numbing confusion. Part of this was the fault of the rental store by not including the instruction manual or some version thereof, but part of it was also bad design.
I wanted to join in the April spirit, and instead of digging through my stacks for something marginally uninteresting, I wanted to recreate that experience of renting a terrible game as best I could. So I went to browse some used NES games, and started thinking, “Ok, it’s the early 90’s, you’re a kid…toys, super heroes, movies, cartoons…what’s gonna catch my attention…” I couldn’t have planned it any better if I’d tried. Stacked right there in front of me, within 10 games of each other, was Home Alone and Home Alone 2. For a cool $9, I was confident that I had something to contribute to the April spirit. Who didn’t love Home Alone as a kid? It felt exactly like something I would’ve enthusiastically brought home on a Friday evening.
And I wasn’t disappointed. Or maybe I was. But that’s the point, right? So that kind of means I wasn’t disappointed, since disappointment is what I was in search of.
Home Alone is a lazy, misshapen, shamble of a game that strives towards the very antithesis of fun. First of all, it isn’t immediately clear what you’re supposed to do, but I’ll skip all that and get right to it. Home Alone is a “trap ’em” sort of game, more or less sub-genre of puzzle games. In these types of games, the player is pursued by an adversary. The player can’t outrun the baddie, so he or she collects and lays traps to keep the enemy off balance and at bay. It’s not a bad idea, and the mix of strategy and reflex could be fun, but Home Alone firmly and quickly squashes any such hopes.
You play as (surprise!) Kevin McCallister, you know, the cute kid that turned 18, married a 40 year old, and currently looks like some kind of emaciated Scandanavian troll. In fact, that actually sounds more fun. Anyway, you’re offered a cross-sectional view of the house and surrounding grounds, including 3 floors, a basement, and a treehouse. Peppered around the house are tiny little boxes ranging from light bulbs to Christmas ornaments to god-knows-what. Kevin picks up a box, and as Harry and/or Marv close in, Kevin drops the box and runs the other way. The goon will get stuck there for about 10 seconds, with this time grinding down as the game nears completion.
Ludicrous from the get-go is that Kevin can’t outrun these bumbling morons, but that’s the way it is. Also unfortunate is that there’s no way to hide, meaning you must keep moving. Well I guess you could stand still too, but that’s just asking for trouble. The object of the game is to survive 20 minutes in this manner, and believe me, those 20 minutes might as well be 20 years. Harry and Marv are able to creep up on screen freakishly fast, giving Kevin only seconds of warning, despite the fact that he’d have a far better field of vision in reality.
And that’s it. Like a deranged little hunchback, you take charge of Kevin, aimlessly wandering your own house trying in vain to escape murder. So what makes it so horribly horrible?
The first thing that comes to mind are the controls and their responsiveness. Sometimes Kevin would just flat out stop at the wrong moment, leading to capture. It was especially noticeable when I was running in one direction and had to quickly turn and go the other. While walking back and forth is otherwise pretty simple, going up and down stairs is not. Kevin has to be positioned perfectly, we’re talking like a hair of movement one way or another, to make it up to the third floor. The game also tries to give us a weird 2D perspective in the yard, leading to a situation where you can “get stuck” in a small space reserved for “up and down” movement. A small walkway or some stepping stones would’ve helped. Besides the obvious rooms of the house, the paths are never really made clear. What? I can jump out the window and shimmy down the drainage pipe? I can set a trap on the treehouse ladder? Makes me wonder if there’s more shit I don’t know.
Now all this is plenty bad, but it’s just details. The biggest issue I have with Home Alone is how utterly fucking pointless the whole thing is. There’s not even any room to strategize since Harry and Marv are off screen most of the time (if you can see them then it’s too late!) and so many open (yet not always obvious) pathways to choose from. All that’s left to do is run around…for 20…goddam…minutes…and hope that you’ve got the reflexive fortitude plus a moderate chunk of luck on your side.
You can actually stay alive quite awhile by skirting along the largest outside path of the playing area. It makes all the running a little more automatic so that you can focus on staying out of reach. It’s still a pretty far cry from fun though.
The graphics could be worse. Home Alone features pretty standard NES fare, but there ain’t much to look at it. All told, there are probably only 2 full screens worth of material; this counts the 3 floors, the small outdoor area, basement, and treehouse. With Kevin, Harry, and Marv being the only 3 moving objects, you’d think that the developers would have plenty of extra memory to play around with. Well, no. It’s about as unimaginative as it gets. First of all, Kevin can pick up a number of different traps. Most of them are too indistinct to tell exactly what they are (except the light bulbs, whatever the hell they’re supposed to relate to) but it doesn’t really matter because they all have the exact same effect. Second, nothing even remotely interesting happens if Marv or Harry is caught. By what can only be described as a sheer stroke of genius, the developers have our goons crumple up like a tissue down to their ankles. Makes total sense, right?
Music is pretty bare bones. The only reason I even mention it is because of rather random occurrence. Throughout the house 1 theme plays, but the second Kevin hits the treehouse ladder, it changes. Once he shimmies across the rope into the window of the third floor, it changes back. Not really a big deal, but it is an abrupt and random shift.
I really wanted to beat it at least once, but those 20 minutes longer than you’d think. Once caught, it shows you how much time was left; my countdown was never below the 13 minute mark – I couldn’t even survive for half of that z Home Alone a solid hour of my time.
So much for this adaptation. I guess it is better than trying to turn it into some kind of platformer where Kevin dispatches hundreds of enemies or something equally ridiculous. The developers may have been on to something with the whole trap thing, but evidently it didn’t pan out. Home Alone is barren, lifeless, unimaginative, and pointless.
Reviewed by The Cubist
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