The player controls a paperboy on a bicycle delivering newspapers along a suburban street which is displayed in a cabinet perspective view. The player attempts to deliver a week of daily newspapers to subscribing customers, attempts to vandalize non-subscribers' homes and must avoid hazards along the street. Subscribers are lost by missing a delivery or damaging a subscriber's house.
The game begins with a choice of difficulty levels: Easy Street, Middle Road and Hard Way. The object of the game is to perfectly deliver papers to subscribers for an entire week and avoid crashing (which counts as one of the player's lives) before the week ends. The game lasts for seven in-game days, Monday through Sunday.
Controlling the paperboy with the handlebar controls, the player attempts to deliver newspapers to subscribers. Each day begins by showing an overview of the street indicating subscribers and non-subscribers. Subscribers and non-subscribers' homes are also easy to discern in the level itself, with subscribers living in brightly colored houses, and non-subscribers living in dark houses.
The paperboy begins his route at the start of the street (bottom of the screen) and progresses towards the end. The player can control the paperboy's speed, but the paperboy is in constant movement and cannot stop moving forward until the level (day of the week) has ended. Should he slow down or stop for more than a few seconds, bees will appear (arcade version only). For each paper that is delivered to a subscriber's mailbox, the player receives 250 points. If the paper is delivered to the subscriber's doorstep, the player receives 100 points. Points are multiplied x2 for playing 'Middle Road', and x3 for playing 'Hard Way'. Points can be gained for breaking plants, running over flowers, or throwing papers into windows of the non-subscriber houses.
The primary objectives of the game are to keep as many subscribers as possible and to stay alive. Secondary objectives include vandalizing non-subscribers' homes and hitting nuisances with newspapers.
Keeping subscribers is fairly straightforward: the player must deliver a paper to them. While the player may deliver more than one paper to each customer, they have to avoid accidentally damaging their homes, such as by throwing a paper through a window. Delivering a newspaper directly into the customer's newspaper box (or mailbox, as the voiceover calls it) earns bonus points. Accidentally damaging a customer's home or failing to deliver a paper causes the customer to cancel his subscription and may cause him to set traps for the paperboy the next day. In more advanced rounds, the homeowner may immediately run after the paperboy after the house was vandalized.
The player must stay alive by avoiding obstacles that appear along the street. Some obstacles include everyday nuisances such as fire hydrants, storm drains, break dancers, cars, skateboarders, drunks, kids with radio controlled toys and even rather bizarre foes such as a tornado, oversized house cats, and even the Grim Reaper himself. The player must also cross street intersections successfully (which gets harder each day). Some obstacles can earn the player bonus points. For example, the breakdancer and some men brawling in the street can be "smacked" with a newspaper for extra points. Running into any of the obstacles with the bike results in the loss of a life.
There are two types of collisions possible from running into obstacles, "%#@*!" and "SMACK!" The former results from hitting obstacles that are integral parts of the landscape, such as fire hydrants, fences, and signposts. The latter collision type comes from obstacles not integral to the landscape; cars, people, dogs and bees.
Along the way, the paperboy can pick up extra bundles of papers since he can carry only a limited number. These are sometimes located in difficult to reach spots.
A 'Perfect Delivery' is achieved by successfully delivering to all current subscribers, and this awards double bonus points for each house delivered to, as well as reinstating one lost subscriber, up to a maximum of 10 out of the 20 houses being subscribers. If a 'Perfect Delivery' is achieved when the player already has 10 subscribers, double bonus points are still awarded, but no further subscribers are added.
The end of each level contains a "training course", with unique music, which the player can traverse within an allotted time for bonus points. In the training course are various targets to be struck with papers, jumps, water and other hazards. Riding over a jump replenishes the paperboy's stock of papers in addition to earning points. As with the rest of the level, the difficulty of the training course increases over the week, with new hazards added each day. Crashing on the course or running out of time ends the day, but does not result in the loss of a life. Successful completion of the training course rewards the player with a bonus for any remaining time.
The next day begins with the neighborhood overview again, highlighting new subscribers and any unsubscribers. A flawless delivery record for the previous day results in a new subscriber. The next day through, the street is harder with more obstacles and faster cars.
The game concludes with the Sunday delivery. The road is the hardest version of whichever road the player has selected, and the Sunday edition papers are heavier and fly more slowly. Successfully delivering papers on this day ends the game, but with a newspaper headlined "Paperboy Wins Award For Outstanding Paper Delivery", complete with a picture of the paperboy holding a trophy.
Losing all lives also ends the game with a headline reading "Paperboy Calls It Quits." Causing all subscribers to cancel their subscriptions by either failing to deliver their paper or vandalizing their houses results in a headline reading "Paperboy Fired", along with a digitized voice which states "You're fired!"
The arcade version of the game included a number of voice clips, used both as voiceover commentary at game start (e.g. "Paperboy... stopping at nothing in his valiant effort to save this land from TV journalism,") and as the voice of the paperboy himself when tossing a paper into a mailbox or losing a life. Hitting a few particular obstacles could trigger voice clips specific to the obstacle (for example, a satirical "Let's see you hang ten!" when struck by a skateboarder, or when struck by a tricyclist, he replies "I hate that kid.") Voice clips from collisions only result from the "SMACK!" kind.
The cabinet of this game is a standard upright but with custom controls. The controls consist of a bicycle handlebar with one button on each side, used to throw papers. The handlebars can be pushed forward to accelerate, and pulled back to brake