The series Nintendo is Great will explore every game ever released for a Nintendo console/handheld, beginning with the Famicom.
RELEASE DATE: 06/12/1984 (JP), 10/1985 (US), 12/15/1987 (EU)
ALSO ON: Arcade, Wii U Virtual Console
If you’re like me, you’ve been playing Hogan’s Alley for years without asking why the game is called Hogan’s Alley. As a kid, I always assumed that Hogan was the scruffy gun-toting dude on the cover, and the “alley” was where he and his cronies met up for cigars, gambling, and illicit crimes. Even as an adult, I never questioned this assumption. Hogan’s Alley was always a lesser NES game in my eyes anyway, so I had no reason to probe further into the game’s origins. Now that I’m reviewing (and in many cases re-reviewing) every game released on a Nintendo console, I have no choice. Onwards to discovery!
Every story has a beginning…
According to Wikipedia, “Hogan’s Alley is a tactical training facility of more than 10 acres (40,000 m2) operated by the FBI Training Academy. Hogan’s Alley was opened in 1987, and was designed to provide a realistic urban setting for training agents of the FBI, DEA, and other local, state, federal and international law enforcement agents” (Hogan’s Alley (FBI)). So there you have it! Nintendo of Japan created a Zapper shooting game based on an FBI training facility. The training facility even has its own website, which you can visit here.
The movie theater built for Hogan’s Alley.*
There’s just one problem: Hogan’s Alley debuted on June 12th, 1984 on the Famicom, three years before the modern FBI facility was opened. Turns out, the name “Hogan’s Alley” has been in use for training courses since at least 1926, when the NRA established the Special Police School at the National Guard’s Camp Perry, Ohio. At this Police School was a tactical course referred to as “Hogan’s Alley.” The course “consisted of makeshift buildings with reappearing silhouettes to simulate urban shoot-outs” (McLellan). Sounds familiar!
“You’ll barely take me alive, coppers!”*
The “Hogan’s Alley” training courses received their title from the 1890s comic strip of the same name by Richard F. Outcault. In the comic, the place known as “Hogan’s Alley” was a “fictional New York City slum” populated with all manners of colorful characters (Shilling). As far as I know, the 1890s comic strip is where the history of the name “Hogan’s Alley” begins. Perhaps there’s some dingy alleyway in Westminster named “Hogan’s Alley” that dates back several centuries, but I doubt it.
The Yellow Kid is front and center.*
Hogan’s Alley honors its namesakes by offering fake dingy alleyways, a simulated training course, and cans. Lots and lots of cans. “Hogan’s Alley A” starts you at an indoor training course with three cardboard cutouts. Does the cutout have a gun and an ugly mug? Shoot to kill. Does the cutout look like a woman, a bewildered old man or a cop? Please refrain. At most, two of the three cardboard cutouts need to be shot, and the amount of time you have to shoot them typically varies between 1.2 and 2.5 seconds from round to round. The rounds progress until you miss ten times or throw the Zapper through the television from boredom. The least enticing of the game’s three provided options.
As far as I’m concerned, you’re all guilty.
“Hogan’s Alley B” puts you on-rails into a shoddily constructed urban area. You’ve got the Gun Shop, a construction site, an alley that may or may not be Hogan’s, and some condemned buildings. Yum! Enemies and innocents appear at random around these areas. Fail to shoot in time and you’ll miss. Miss ten times and the game is over, as with “Hogan’s Alley A.” Because the backgrounds change over time, “Hogan’s Alley B” is slightly more appealing than “Alley A,” but only slightly.
Yup, gettin’ drunk at the ol’ gun shop.
“Trick Shot” is where real gunslingers get their wings. Here, you shoot tin cans to keep them in the air until they can land on the opposite side of the screen in one of three areas. These areas all have different point values, from lowest to highest in descending order. Basically, trick shot the cans into narrow areas for maximum pointage. “Trick Shot” is more fun than the other two options combined, and with nary a gangster in sight.
Juggling cans is what good FBI trainees do.
Hogan’s Alley is nothing special. Then again, neither are Duck Hunt or Wild Gunman. The early Zapper games – heck, the majority of Zapper games – aren’t compelling enough to keep most of us playing beyond 15 minutes.
That said, by playing the early Zapper games in chronological order, I’ve noticed slight increases in both quality and quantity. Wild Gunman offers the same five bad guys to shoot, either out in the desert or in front of a saloon. There is no variation to these two scenarios and no real progression, just ever more shooting. Duck Hunt provides more personality and difficulty. Your loyal snickering dog, the ducks’ wild flying patterns, and the inclusion of clay shooting make for a more well-balanced experience. Hogan’s Alley is the darkest of the three, and its emphasis on shooting the same cardboard cutouts over and over resemble Wild Gunman more than Duck Hunt. Still, all three game options offer different environments and “Trick Shot” is far and away the most engaging Zapper mini-game thus far.
And don’t you forget it.
I’m not sure if I prefer Hogan’s Alley grease to Duck Hunt‘s charm, but I appreciate that with each Zapper release, Nintendo provided more content for our currency. Plus, it’s the only Nintendo game named after both an FBI training facility and an ancient comic strip! I’ll wager this never happens again.