Now these are the exact moments that make me glad I began this project. I went into this thinking there was no way this game was going to have any kind of history other than being a memorable Black Box title and left my research blown away. Ladies and germs, I present to you a game steeped in more links from the past than just about any out there, Hogan’s Alley.
Let’s dig into the history for a moment because it’s so damned captivating to me. The original Hogan’s Alley was presented back in the 1890’s and starred one of the country’s earliest comic strip stars, The Yellow Kid. The strip was written and drawn by the famed Richard F. Oucault and featured in the pages of New York World, owned by publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who is presently more well known for the Pultizer Prize, an award for journalistic excellence. Hogan’s Alley was popular enough to be on billboards and a ton of merchandise for the time but quite a bit of legal wrangling between Pulitzer and another famous publisher, William Randolph Hearst caused the Kid to quietly fade away.
Fast forward to 1920, two years removed from the World War I, and the FBI learned through a survey conducted throughout the major police departments at the time that marksmanship was becoming a lost art. Out of the all cities surveyed with over 25, 000 residents, only THIRTEEN had marksmanship programs. Obviously, this needed work so Hogan’s Alley was established at Ohio’s Camp Perry by the Army and the NRA.
Beginning in 1924, there were national contests held at the camp for sharpshooters and the like. There was no blank ammunition laying around so instead they opted to use real live ammo on cardboard cutouts set up around their virtual city, hence why the game’s targets are presented as they are. World War II brought an end to the contest but in 1954, the camp re-opened and in 1987, they took it a set further and went absolutely batshit with the idea, creating an actual small town for simulated combat.
But yes, there IS a game to discuss isn’t there? Hogan’s Alley was one of the first Light Gun games (or “Zapper” if you will) to be released and like most Black Boxers, was released to the arcades prior to the NES launch date. There are 3 modes you can get your Elliott Ness on with, which seems to be par for the course for the Zapper series, but who’s going to bitch when they could’ve easily put out one mode and called it good?
Game A is your standard 3 target shooter. This would be one of the rare times I enjoy no kind of musical track because if you’re an FBI agent trying to concentrate, the last thing you want is bouncy chiptunes blasting in your ear. There are 3 types of townsfolk in the sim you can shoot and 3 you can’t or else it registers as a “MISS!” and your game is over at ten. The tricky part is that the professor is colored just like a baddie and the grunt with the shotgun is colored like the stand-alone ‘stache sporting policeman, so it does take a bit of skill not to accidentally send Professor Sad-Shit to hell.
My favorite was always Game B. It takes you right into Hogan’s Alley and feels trickier and better paced. Still a lack of music except for a groovy little number in between rounds which is fine by me. If you’ve ever played this mode, the words “fuck!” and “shit!” will enter even the cleanest vernacular after you just pumped poor Miss Nobody full of lead. Second verse, same as the verse, 10 misses and it’s ce la vie!
The third option is lame compared to the rest of the awesome goings on. You simply try and bounce tin cans into a side wall with point values. Not too easy but not impossible either. When compared to the other 2 modes, this will be the one most likely to collect virtual dust.
THE FINAL VERDICT
8/10 A really great launch title and on a personal level, I always enjoyed Hogan’s Alley more than Duck Hunt. Not the popular opinion, but three very distinct modes when DH only adds an extra duck and some clay pigeons make this one rise above. The controls seem a bit sharper here as well as there aren’t as many cases of “OH BULLSHIT, I SHOT THAT FOR SURE!” going on. Pile those onto a fascinating history and Hogan’s Alley is a title that shouldn’t have been looked over.
For more information about the Yellow Kid and the origins of Hogan’s Alley, check out Brian Cronin’s INCREDIBLE blog at CBR here:
And for the most surreal site I’ve seen in awhile here is an actual link to the FBI’s real life Hogan’s Alley. It exists to this day as a training facility and I’d sell my soul to Zarathos to walk through here one good time: