The third Nintendo light gun release, largely forgotten by history but still good fun.
Japanese title: ホーガンズアレイ • Hogan’s Alley
U.S. release date: Oct. 1985 [NES-HA-USA]
Japanese release date: June 1984 [HVC-HA]
European release date: June 1987 [NES-DH]
Genre: Shooting (Light Gun)
Alternate versions: Vs. System ; PlayChoice-10 [Arcade, 1985]; Virtual Console [Wii U, 2016]
The Nintendo Entertainment System debuted alongside no less than three light gun games on day one in the U.S.—games that had been rolled out in Japan the previous year, one at a time. Of the trio, Wild Gunman has the strongest general pop culture foothold thanks to its prominent role as a Chekhov’s gun (or rather, Chekhov’s light gun) in the second Back to the Future movie. Meanwhile, Duck Hunt remains best-known among older Nintendo fans thanks to its amusing personality, enduring cast of animal characters, and the fact that it was packed in with various version of the NES hardware up into the ’90s.
But what of the third game? What of Hogan’s Alley? The third of Nintendo’s internally developed light gun creations, Hogan’s Alley suffers from two problems. One, it lacks much in the way of a personality. And two, its play mechanics feel like a half-hearted fusion of Wild Gunman and Duck Hunt—it doesn’t really stand apart from its predecessors.
The game, of course, takes its title from the a long-running tradition of law enforcement firearm training grounds called Hogan’s Alley. These gun ranges in turn refer to a 19th century comic strip by the same name. In fact, “Hogan’s Alley” wasn’t just an early comic strip — by many accounts it was the first comic strip. Written and illustrated by Richard F. Outcault for the New York Journal, Hogan’s Alley commands quite a historic legacy. It was produced under the auspices of luminaries like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.
“Hogan’s Alley” standardized word balloons as the contained for spoken words in comic art, and its breakout character—a bald, gnomic child called the Yellow Kid—not only became the first comic star, but gave the world the term “yellow journalism” thanks to his association with Hearst’s politically subjective approach to news. So really, considering the roots of history and cartooning behind Hogan’s Alley, there’s a certain irony to be found the game’s less-than-memorable personality.
Hogan’s Alley simulates in turn a simulation: A shooting range in which players strive for quick decision-making more than total accuracy. Rather than using blank paper targets that reward shooters for precision shots, Hogan’s Alley uses six different cut-outs of people; it tests decision-making rather than aim. Three targets depict various gangsters, including a street hood in a bomber jacket and a Prohibition-era mafioso in a pinstripe suit, while the other three depict “good guys”: A beat cop, a civilian lady, and an elderly professor. Your must take out the bad guys as quickly as possible while trying not to kill the innocents.
In the game’s A mode, you’re presented with three targets at a time. These slide onto the screen facing sideways, so all you see initially are three identical narrow lines. Once they take their position, though, the targets flip to face you in tandem. You have just a second or two to identify friendlies and foes, take aim, and shoot the gangsters.
So, the challenge basically amounts to the B mode of Wild Gunman, in which you have just a brief instant to register which cutouts are valid targets. Hogan’s Alley gives you three possible choices rather than two, but otherwise it’s functionally identical to the other game.
The secondary mode of this game proves to be more interesting, with a design that livens things up considerably. Rather than taking place in Mode A’s standard firing range, Mode B puts you in the eponymous alley, scrolling automatically along a simulated town in which the character cutouts appear more chaotically. Here, the targets and civilian effigies can move along rails while you yourself slide from scene to scene. They can appear on the streets, through windows, atop balconies, and within structures, sometimes coming into view sideways, sometimes facing you.
This mode is by far the more challenging and entertaining of the two, thanks to its variety and unpredictability. It can also be quite difficult, as some of the gangsters give you as little as half a second before they fire on you—an incredibly narrow window in which to parse the nature of a target, take aim as you and the target scoot along your respective paths, and open fire.
As with its launch-day Zapper siblings, Hogan’s Alley also includes a radically different third mode: In this case, a trick-shot mode in which you blast tin cans to cause them to bounce through the air to land on different ledges, which are worth varying amounts of points. Once you begin juggling three or more cans at a time, this mode becomes remarkably challenging.
Still, that’s about it for Hogan’s Alley. Perhaps the most interesting thing you can say about it is that a year after the NES’s mainstream release in the U.S., the FBI opened a target training facility called Hogan’s Alley that closely resembled the game’s Mode B… though given the legacy of the nickname in law enforcement shooting ranges, that’s probably just a coincidence.