Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Released: October 1991
US Cartridge ID: NES-6N-USA
Genre: Graphic Adventure
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 2 megabit
Mapper: MMC3 (128k PRG, 128k CHR)
Home video game consoles have always played host to a slew of shoddily produced, bug-riddled titles based on popular licenses. The great majority of these games, however, do offer something of offer to the fans that they target: the allure of reliving a favorite show or movie by becoming an active participant in the action is often enough to keep a player engaged. Rambo, Die Hard, and The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants are all prime examples of less-than-stellar license-based games that capably provide entertainment.
Home Alone is not one of those games.
John Hughes, Hollywood’s preeminent comedy writer and director of the 1980s, unleashed Home Alone on unsuspecting audiences during the 1990 Christmas season. Its star-studded cast, light-hearted humor and universal appeal guaranteed its success, and it has since been officially recognized as the highest-grossing live-action comedy film of all time. Unfortunately, as was the case with Atari’s 1983 debacle E.T., developers relied far too heavily on the strength of the movie’s license in creating their companion games. Home Alone was showcased in titles for the NES, the Super NES, the Sega Genesis, popular handhelds, and PCs between 1991 and 1992; the NES version, developed by Bethesda Softworks and published by T*HQ, was not only the worst of the games produced under the license, but one of the worst official NES releases of the 1991 calendar year.
Loosely based around the plot of the film, Home Alone for the NES puts the player in control of eight-year-old Kevin McCallister, a boy accidentally left at home alone when his scatterbrained family takes off for Paris without him. The large and well-kept McCallister home, now seemingly vacant, becomes the target of the “Wet Bandits,” a criminally-minded pair of idiots that seek to relive the family of their possessions during their absence. Kevin must booby-trap the house, keeping bandits Marv and Harry at bay until the police can come to the rescue.
At the start of the game, Kevin is standing in the front hallway of the house. From here, Kevin can run and hide anywhere in the house’s four stories or in his treehouse, and he must successfully evade the bad guys for twenty real-time minutes until the police arrive in order to succeed. The house is littered with objects that Kevin can use to defend himself: dropping things like Micro Machines and Buzz’s pet tarantula in the path of the enemies will stun them, providing Kevin with an opportunity to get away temporarily. He may also hide in a few pre-determined spots, though these are only effective if the robbers aren’t in the same room to watch him conceal himself.
Similar in concept to Pac-Man, Home Alone is a maze-based chase game that, according to the instruction manual, features “extremely intelligent villains, in that they are modeled with actual human behavior. Being ‘smart’ enables them to track Kevin down in a way that is unique to the [NES] library of enemy characters.” Following rudimentary (and easily exploited) A.I. routines, Marv and Harry actively search the grounds for Kevin, though the truth of the above excerpted statement is questionable at best: if one of the robbers sees Kevin, he will run at him at full-speed. This is logical, however, the enemy will never take note of trap placement, and as a result, will never attempt to avoid any hazards in his path. While the desire to brutalize a defenseless child might explain the single-mindedness with which Kevin is pursued, if Kevin is in view while leaving a trap, the enemy will ignore it while sprinting headlong into it.
The primary problem with Home Alone is the control’s lack of responsiveness. Kevin will often move sluggishly and in directions that the player did not intend. The precision with which Kevin must be maneuvered in order to successfully climb stairs is extraordinary, and his ability to escape from close-situations (especially in the last five minutes of the game) is greatly diminished as a result. A map showing the layout of the house and the trap locations is available in-game, though it serves little practical purpose but to tell the player how much more of the chase must be endured before the police arrive, ending the game.
The graphics are appalling. Garish and ugly wallpaper patterns have been plastered haphazardly across the backgrounds, and while some of the objects feature a fair amount of detail, many of them have been excessively reused across several rooms, robbing the place of any sense of identity or character. The animation is extremely awkward and stilted, leaving each of the characters to lurch about in a rather inelegant manner. The music is equally pestiferous, assaulting the player’s ear drums with overly intrusive attempts at melody, occasionally interrupted one of the game’s three sound effects. Standing among the most hilariously inappropriate effects ever featured in a game, the trio in Home Alone consist of heavily distorted digital effects that in no way evoke images related to the on-screen action: the worst offender is a chime effect somewhat like that emitted by an opening elevator door that rings whenever Kevin drops a trap on the ground.
Home Alone for the NES represents little more than a desperate and cheap attempt to make a quick buck off of Hollywood’s biggest properties. The game’s core gameplay mechanic is somewhat novel, but its execution is so inept, sloppy, and devoid of fun that any potential it had hardly matters. Like the great majority of THQ’s products on the NES, this one should be avoided at all costs.