Review: Hogan’s Alley (NES)

By Drew Wilson

What may be one of the most recognizable NES games that employed the Nintendo light gun, Hogan’s Alley would test your ability to quickly identify friend or foe and shoot accordingly. While it is merely a first person shooter target practice style game, this game also tests your reflexes in a somewhat unique way. We check this particular game out.

This particular game was released in 1985 and would be one of a small handful of games that utilized the light gun. One of the only games that used the light gun that was more famous than this game would be Duck Hunt which was released both separately and with the ever-famous Super Mario Bros game which played a role in the name recognition.

Hogan’s Alley is a lot like those police firing ranges where there are moving targets of people flying around. Players must identify between friend and foe before pulling the trigger. In this game, there are six different targets. There are three gang members and three civilians which are the woman, the professor and the police officer. Miss shooting the gang member within whatever time constraint is placed on you and you’ll have a “miss” counted against you. Shoot any of the three civilians and you will also have a “miss” counted against you.

Players are greeted with a simple menu which allows you to play one of the three games featured on this particular game. Those three modes are “Hogan’s Alley 1”, “Hogan’s alley 2”, and “Trick Shot”.

Hogan’s Alley 1 features a very simple set-up. You always have a set of three targets that make their way onto the shooting range “stage” (for lack of a better term for it). You cannot see what each target is until they turn. From there, you are given a limited amount of time to shoot the gang members without hitting any of the civilians. Every set has at least one gang member, so you’ll always have to be firing the gun at least once in an effort to not get a “miss” counted against you. Whether you hit or miss, you’ll keep moving up a round until you accumulate 10 misses. If you accumulate 10 misses, the game ends and your score up to that point is added to the top score that is featured on the main menu if you manage to get the highest score. Each set of 3 targets is a single round, so rounds will go by the fastest in this particular game. If you complete round 15, you’ll get a message that says “Sharpshooter!”. Every 15 rounds after that, you’ll get a “Super Sharpshooter!” message displayed on the screen. As you get through each round, the time displayed on top is how much time you have to shoot the gang members. Each round, those times gradually decrease overall. We should point out that the time limit is somewhat erratic and often, you’ll notice the times increase and decrease for seemingly no reason at all. The overall trend, however, is that the game gets gradually more difficult as you’ll find yourself having to make those decisions faster and faster until you eventually accumulate those 10 misses.

Hogan’s Alley 2 differs a little from Hogan’s Alley 1. While you have the same targets to shoot at (or not) and the same 10 miss limit, the setting is vastly different and more akin to an urban environment. This is complete with a gun store, a large four window brick building and a fenced area with the ever welcoming “Keep out” sign plastered to the side of it. You start with the side of the brick building and the side of the gun store. Targets either wander out and then flip to reveal which target they are or they appear fully revealed before stopping and turning (emulating someone running out and firing at you presumably). There is a set number of targets that come out at you before the chaos dies down. After that, you’ll be able to progress further down the street for your next set of targets that appear in different, yet very specific, locations. You progress a round every time you manage to walk through the entire street and start walking past the brick building. Every two rounds, the color scheme changes to seemingly simulate the time of day. It takes substantially longer to get through each round and, generally speaking, I found this mode to be a much bigger challenge – though it is visually more impressive than the first Hogan Alley mode.

Trick shot is the final mode featured in this game. It is substantially different than the first, but is quite creative with how to utilize the light gun. Instead of cardboard targets that you fire at, you are firing at large, and apparently bulletproof, cans that fly through the air. The object of the game is to shoot the cans so that they gain altitude in the air. Gradually, the cans will make their way to the other side of the level. The lower the level those cans land on, the more points you earn for each can. In addition, there is a floating ledge part way across the levels. If a can lands on that, you gain 100 points for that can. While it requires fewer shots to get the can over there on average, the amount of points you get per can landing on that ledge is the smallest amount on screen. So, landing cans on that may only be a last resort. If a can falls below the screen level, then it counts as a miss. Like the other two games, if you get 10 misses, the game is over. While this game is rather physics defying, I thought that this was an interesting take on a game that puts a toy gun in your hand.

The one flaw I find in this game is that there’s nothing taking into account how far away you are from the screen. Whether you are propping the monitor up on a desk and standing a short distance away or dragging the light gun along the glass screen hoping that you won’t end up scratching it makes no difference in the score or how far you progress in each game. All I can be thankful for is the fact that LCD screens didn’t exist when I first played this game because who knows how much damage I would have caused on it in my youthful excitement in the process.

The fact that there were three modes really helped to keep this game interesting. If I got bored with one mode, I could try a different mode and give that other mode a try. By the time I was finished with the third mode, I found myself certainly willing to give the first mode I tried another shot.

Graphically, this was actually a really well done game for something that pre-dates Tetris. You could make out the characters decently enough and the settings were simple, yet effective. I thought the color pallet for the targets were well done because if you were relying on color alone, you couldn’t easily distinguish between the officer and the gang member with the top hat or the brown-haired gang member and the professor. This added a level of challenge which I thought helped make the game interesting. The only character that really stood out from all of the others was the lady in the pink outfit. So, this game was well done on that front.

The audio was also well done. While most games have wall to wall music or folly sounds playing in the background, this game has pure silence whenever you found yourself trying to fire the gun. Yes, there were dabs of music sprinkled on, but those were simply reduced to simple jingles between each round, leaving a short song that plays on the title screen. This is one of the few games that balances the need for silence with the need for a simple tune or two to add to it’s personality. The sound effects were also nicely designed for an early NES game. The sound of a miss really does sound a bit like a gun firing even though that’s not what a gun actually sounds like. The clang sound whenever you hit a can was also really well done. I also liked the sound that is made when the cardboard characters turn to reveal themselves as well. I thought that added a nice kick to the gameplay. The rest of the sound effects, I thought, were nicely done.

Overall, this was a well-produced game. It’s not one of those games that gets you playing for days on end, but it is one of those games that can bring a certain level of fun while you are playing for an hour or two. While the most notable flaws simply fall on the hardware itself, the game itself was decently crafted. The only disappointing part is the fact that scores are wiped whenever the power is turned off, so you won’t likely see an absurdly high score linger on the front screen for extended periods of time.


Furthest Points in game:
Hogan’s Alley A: Round 66
Hogan’s Alley B: Round 6 (“Keep Out” fence area)
Trick Shot: Round 19

General gameplay: 16/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 70%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85

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