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Of all the movie tie-in games out there, 1990's Home Alone may just be the most prevalent. There's a version of Christopher Columbus' holiday opus for an almost absurd amount of consoles, including the PlayStation 2! And even more impressive than their ubiquity is that nearly every version is a unique game rather than a port. Released across nine different platforms from six different developers, the various versions of Home Alone only share the plot of the movie, a handful of mechanics and the fact that they're all widely considered to be terrible.
To their credit, most Home Alone games make an admirable attempt to design unique mechanics shaped around the plot of eight year-old Kevin McCallister having to defend his family's home and valuables from two robbers during Christmas Eve. So while all the game's broadly feature similar ideas such as harming the self-proclaimed Wet Bandits, guarding loot and setting traps, each game goes about it in very different ways. And calling out any Home Alone game for being bad isn't exactly breaking new ground; nearly every C-list and higher Youtuber has put out their take on at least one of these games, most commonly the Nintendo and Super Nintendo versions, but one that hasn't gotten much commentary is the Sega published Genesis and Game Gear version, both developed by Brian A. Rice, Inc. It's a shame because of all the different variations on the Home Alone concept, this is the only one that could be considered ahead of its time and even comes the closest to being a good game.
Similar to the Bethesda helmed NES version, this game operates under a strict time limit at which point the police will arrive and arrest the bandits. However, rather than just defending the McCallister's home, Kevin is tasked with defending his entire street. There are five different houses, each with a unique look and theme, which you can enter in at any time from a simple world map screen that's traversed on Kevin's sled. Though you're free to come and go to any of these houses, the bandits will only stop at one at a time, at which point they'll only leave once either their pain meter (representing how much damage has been done) or the loot meter (how much goods have been stolen from that particular house) has filled to the top. If the loot meter fills, the house is then considered flooded. The game ends either when the cops arrive and apprehend the bandits or when all houses are flooded.
If Kevin enters a house that the bandits aren't in, the player is taken to a blueprint of the house where they can put down a finite number of traps along the floor or in between doorways. There's no way to get new traps, so the trick is to go to each house at the beginning of the game before the bandits arrive so that you can disperse traps evenly across all households. Once inside the house, the game switches to a platforming side scroller where Kevin can collect various parts that allows him to create new weapons with a sort of rudimentary crafting system; each weapon aside from the starting BB gun has a main part, an operator and an ammo type. By matching three items that go together and hitting the wrench icon, Kevin can make new weapons such as a glue gun, pepper spray, electric grenades and more. While the traps help hinder the bandits, guns are the main way to deal out pain to get them to leave the house. Between setting traps, crafting weapons and platforming, a case can be made that Home Alone for Genesis and Game Gear is one of the earliest examples of a tower defense game outside of the 1990 arcade game Rampart.
Yet for all of its interesting ideas, Home Alone more than misses the mark of greatness due to some unfortunately messy execution. Although making a good initial impression with great presentation and controls in the top-down map section, the sidescrolling segments suffer from some bafflingly abysmal controls. Kevin slips and slides around the floor when running, almost as if the entire game took place in one big ice level. Meanwhile, the jump controls are almost too hard to describe; when facing up or down, Kevin can hop fairly high into the air but has nearly no air control, just barely inching his way to the left or right. This is especially frustrating because so many weapon parts are put up in high, hard to reach shelves that require both standing on the edge of some kind of raised platforming and very careful inching else you miss the item, fall off your platform and forced to start over from the top. And if Kevin's facing left or right while moving, he can make a fast but extremely short hop which is difficult to time, ultimately meaning he'll end up jumping into and falling on his own traps more often then successfully reaching the other side. Though there's no lives or health (getting caught merely puts Kevin up on the nearest coat hook, wasting valuable time), falling on your own trap after a couple times will cause it to disappear forever, especially frustrating since there's no way to get more traps.
The finite nature of regular items proves to be a hassle as well. Sometimes it can be difficult to find correct item combinations in the house the bandit's are in, requiring venturing into other houses so Kevin can get the proper ammo to resume his assault on the bandits. While that kind of exploration and freedom is a unique experience to this kind of game, the bandits will waste no time clearing the house out while you're gone. This can make expert mode, where weapons are not auto assembled for you and has a 40 minute time limit, seem like a harrowing experience.
While all of the many games based on Home Alone make an effort to replicate the action of the movie into a gameplay experience, this pair of Sega titles come the closest by far and are also the only ones that are somewhat entertaining beyond simply being a curiosity from another time. If it weren't for the ill-advised controls, the fussiness of the design and guilt-by-association with the more infamous versions, these games wouldn't only be remembered today as decent licensed titles but possibly as part of the progeny to an entire genre. As it stands today, they are barely remembered footnotes in a series of infamously crappy games, a tragedy if there ever was one.