Retro Game of the Day! Alleyway
Alleyway, by Nintendo - a 1989 launch title for their new GameBoy portable system. Designed by Gunpei Yokoi himself, the Father of the GameBoy, it's a historic little game, if rather uninspiring-
Simplicity is perhaps overstating things here. Alleyway takes the formula originally established by Breakout (player-controlled paddle at the bottom of the screen, hit a ball into bricks, don't let it slide past your paddle - like in pinball - or you lose a life), which had been improved upon in Taito's beloved classic Arkanoid (different brick layouts, board effects, specialty "unbreakable bricks,") and remove the sugar (powerups, color). This is how Alleyway was described in magazines at the time, "Arkanoid without powerups." Well, wow. Why not just remove the controller well you are at it, as well..
In spite of how it sounds, Alleyway was actually a rather fun little diversion at the time. The lack of powerups really crippled it, but what was there was engaging enough to hold one's attention when a player needed a break from the other offerings at the time (Tetris, Baseball, Tennis, Marioland). In some way it was nice to have a game like this where you could just relax and play somewhat mindlessly, although the game did reward with a gratifying feeling of progression as you made it through several rounds of play.
It is hard to look back twenty years at a game like this and feel particularly nostalgic, as this is merely a skeleton of a game - though it was fun, and if they'd put another month or so of development time into it, perhaps we would have seen a few more Alleyways (especially if they'd taken advantage of the 2-Player link cable, this could have been something rather special!) Ah well, that is for the historians to decide. In the meantime, the rest of us can stick with Arkanoid and the myriad of knockoffs of that game..