In the early 90’s Home Alone was everything: it was a full on hit of a movie, a cultural phenomenon, and an inspiration for young kids everywhere. Watching a pre-pubescent kid not just evade but outwit two evil adults using toys, weapons, and inventive objects of malice was the greatest thing any of us had ever seen.
I distinctly remember soon after this came out someone calling my house when I was… home alone. They asked for my dad, and when I said he wasn’t around the guy on the phone said to someone in the background “don’t worry we’ll get him,” and then hung up. Surely he was just a contractor trying to see when my Dad needed plumbing or something, but my little imaginative mind went wild. I grabbed all the Micro Machines I had and set them up around every door and window in our house. I’ve never been more terrified that someone was trying to hurt me and I’ve never been more disappointed by the fact that I wasn’t able to maim any bad guys with my awesome traps.
Home Alone was so popular that it spawned a number of video game adaptations for the NES, SNES, Game Boy, Sega Genesis, etc. If you’ve ever played any of those games, they’re well… woof, Buzz’s girlfriend. They’re the definition of shitty movie ports, a series of banal platforming levels, random enemies, and terrible controls. While separated slightly by graphical limitations, all these games are relatively identical and terrible… except one.
The Sega Genesis version of Home Alone is a strategy/resource management/platforming hybrid that is wholly unique in ways that no movie port should be.
You play as Kevin (duh) and you navigate your sled around a map of your neighborhood. You can slide around this screen destroying snowmen for an eternity or you can stop at one of five houses. Assuming the Wet Bandits haven’t entered the house yet, you are given a chance to set various traps for them to spring. You can also wander around the house and collect items, but you’ll have plenty of time for that later.
Eventually, Harry and Marv’s van shows up at one of the houses and they get to work looting. Your goal is to cause enough pain to them (either with traps, weapons, or the hazards of the house) before the Wet Bandits loot everything. Whether you succeed in doing so or not, the bad guys will leave and you’ll have a chance to set up at another spot before they arrive. Thwart them enough and the cops come and save the day. Let them loot too much and your neighborhood is soaked!
There’s a few gameplay ideas in Home Alone that are worth discussing. The first is the houses, as each of them has a different layout, theme, items, etc. There are also unique hazards to avoid/exploit in each place: the country house has a cat, the futuristic house has a robot, and the colonial house has a ghost. Each location also has little obstacles and features that make exploring them to look for items a lot of fun.
The second thing that makes Home Alone on the Sega Genesis stand out are the traps. Just like in the movie, you start the game with a variety of items that you can place in the houses. You’re given a blueprint that shows where you can place everything with some hazards like the flamethrowers going in the doorways and some like tacks placed on the floors of the hallways. You only get a certain amount of these for the whole game and you can’t place more once the bad guys enter the houses, so you have to strategize how best to use them. Honestly, your best bet is to load up the first couple houses you find with the traps and then rely on the weapons to get you to the finish line.
Speaking of weapons, they’re really what make Home Alone stand out. Kevin starts with a BB gun and can find additional ammo throughout the house and the map screen. Simple enough. However, as you wander around you’ll also collect things like coal, rubber bands, glue, cans etc. What the hell is all this for — points?
Naw mane, little Kevin’s a baby MacGyver and he uses all these raw materials to make a bunch of awesome weapons! For instance, if you’ve got a blow dryer, some balloons, and pepper you can make a pepper bazooka which is strong but slow to use with the added bonus of making those Wet Bandits sneeze uncontrollably for a few seconds. Swap out the blow dryer for a crossbow and the pepper for snowballs and you’ve got a snowball bazooka which isn’t as strong but fires faster and also makes the bad guys turn into snowmen!
There’s tons of different combinations to try, with more and more options opening up as the game progresses. Not only that but in hard mode you can use more scientific objects to make even crazier weapons like flashbulbs, magnets, and oh shit a CD PLAYER?! Now we’re talking! It really is a well-designed game mechanic and makes what would otherwise be just an okay game into a true hidden gem with some real replay value.
Seriously, I probably never would’ve guessed that this game would be good had I not played it a ton as a kid. The SNES had altogether more polished and memorable games in its library, but the Sega Genesis had way more quirky titles with novel (if sometimes one-note) gameplay mechanics. Home Alone most definitely fits that bill and I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone looking for a 16 bit deep cut.