Name: Home Alone
Year Released: 1991
As you must know, today is Christmas, which means it’s a time for family, eating lots of food, opening presents, listening to holiday tunes, and perhaps even watching a Christmas movie or two. Since I love the holiday season, and it seemed like an appropriately topical thing to do this week, I decided to review an old-school game based on one of my favorite holiday films. Since there is no It’s a Wonderful Life game in existence (YET), and my copy of Die Hard Trilogy for the PS1 has been missing in action for years, that only left one option: Home Alone for the NES.
When the first Home Alone movie came out in 1990, I was seven years old, but even I understood how big of a deal it was. It was the first movie I remember seeing more than once in theaters, and would go on to become one of the highest-grossing films ever. It also still holds up pretty well; I picked up a copy on Blu-ray recently and had just as much fun watching it last weekend as I did eighteen years ago. It was only natural for games based on the movie, which eventually became a franchise, to make their way to consoles. There were two versions of the Home Alone game, and it seems like almost no one I know has played this one. The more popular version was a side-scrolling platformer in which Kevin McCallister had to collect the family’s riches and get them all to the basement. In this adaptation, which I was surprised to find was developed by Bethesda Softworks, Kevin must collect and set traps for bumbling crooks Marv and Harry while surviving for 20 minutes in real time.
It sounds simple, maybe a little too simple, but this game is actually remarkably challenging and frustrating. First of all, you can only hold a certain amount of traps at a time, so you must keep moving and collecting, all the while running the risk of being captured by one of the burglars. Getting caught leads to an immediate Game Over; there are no second chances in this game. The McCallister mansion is presented in a dollhouse view, covering two floors, the basement and attic, and even Kevin’s treehouse. There are some places to hide, but if you do this within range of either Marv or Harry, you will likely get caught despite being out of view. Also, the two of them have a significant speed advantage, so if one gains on you when you’re out of traps, you’re also going to be out of luck this Christmas.
I certainly don’t mind a challenge, especially since this game would be far too short otherwise, but certain things just make Home Alone frustrating at times. First of all, the controls can be clunky if you’re trying to go in any direction other than left or right, such as climbing or descending stairs. Combine this with the almost unfair speed advantage of Harry and Marv, and you’ll probably give up long before the police ever come to arrest the criminals. The other problem is that the longer you survive, the more repetitive the game gets. I remember one of my strategies playing this as a child was to set up traps on either entrance of the treehouse (zipline or ladder) and then simply wait inside until the crooks stumbled upon them. It’s not a bad strategy presuming you don’t get double-teamed, but waiting just gets boring after a minute or two. However, one thing that can be said about Home Alone is that every playthrough will probably be different, so at least the game still has some replay value if you manage to stay safe for all twenty minutes.
I wish Bethesda had managed to develop an 8-bit Home Alone that captured more of the magic of the film, but unfortunately, that is not the case. It’s not a terrible game by any means, but borders on both repetitive and frustrating, which is never good for any game. Unfortunately, the other version of Home Alone wasn’t any more fun, and if I had to choose, this would probably be the one I went with. Bethesda at least tried to make a decent adaptation, and hey, it’s still better than watching Home Alone 3 or 4.