The days of 8-bit gaming are reminders of where we came from; simpler, sometimes brutal game design; and terrible localization. Games may have advanced in the last two decades, but for some of us, sometimes nothing hits the spot better than a few minutes of retro gaming. Retro Game Challenge attempts to provide us with varied chunks of nostalgic gaming, wrapping together a variety of original retro games–wholly authentic in their representation of that bygone era–but there’s a slightly tough, not entirely delicious candy shell to break through in order to fully enjoy what this game has to offer.
The driving concept behind Retro Game Challenge is actually a fantastic one. Its backstory serves as a framework to throw at you a variety of old “Famicom” games and issues of a gaming magazine–both fictional, of course. You’ll split your time between playing the games and flipping through the magazines for gameplay tips and tricks on your way to completing the various challenges that get thrown your way. The challenges vary greatly in difficulty and time spent, from scoring a certain amount of points in a space shoot-em-up to grinding in an RPG to get your characters to level 10.
The challenges are nicely varied because the games themselves span through different genres. The four genres represented are racing, space shooting, role-playing and action platforming. Each of the games are also expertly-crafted to capture the spirit of the mid-to-late 80′s, complete with pixelated sprites and blippy music which evolves with every game, matching the progress games saw from year to year. Let’s not forget to mention the terrible yet lovable localization we all remember from that era. Of special note are the space shooter Star Prince; the role-playing game Guadia Quest; and the Metroid-style action platformer Super Robot Ninja Haggle Man 3. Though not full-length games (as with the rest of the titles within), these titles still take a lot of skill, time and dedication to fully explore, and are just great to play in their own rights.
The problems start to trickle in when you look at how everything progresses within Retro Game Challenge’s main construct. The challenge concept very closely resembles the Achievements and Trophies concepts of today’s modern games. However, challenges and games open up in a completely linear fashion, with the next challenge not becoming available until you beat its predecessor. As a result, you can’t choose to turn on one of the games and play it straight through in an attempt to complete as many challenges as you can in one go. I realize this is called “Retro Game Challenge” and not “21st Century Game Challenge”, but regardless, this makes it more difficult to enjoy the games within the natural flow of gameplay.
As a further disruption, once you complete a challenge, the game halts and you’re greeted with some “All Clear!” fanfare–then you’re booted out of the game. To complete the next challenge, you’re then made to “boot up” the game again and start it from the beginning (unless it was “made” with battery backup saves). Here’s an aggravating example: In Rally King, the top-down R.C. Pro-Am knock-off, the first three challenges are to complete two drifting power slides; complete the first course; and complete the second course with a ranking of 5th or higher. Ideally this set of challenges would be easily attainable in one sitting. But no–with the way Retro Game Challenge handles progression, you end up having to sit through course 1 at least twice (once to beat it, once to race through it en route to beating course 2–and arguably, once to complete the first power-slide challenge depending on how long it takes you).
I suppose that the act of completing a challenge boots you out of the games you’re playing so that Retro Game Challenge can dole out issues of GameFan one by one, but there’s also somewhat needless dialogue stuffed in between each completion. See, the backstory of the game reveals that Game Master Arino has sent you back in time to beat these challenges alongside a younger version of him, which is fine for setup purposes, but the conversations that take place between you and young Arino are inconsequential and can’t be skipped. Indeed, upon first booting up the game, it took me minutes of reading incessant dialogue and backstory before I even got to my first instance of actual gameplay. This is irritating, considering that this game that aims to bring back the feel of the mid-80′s, when you were often thrust right into action-packed gameplay within seconds.
The final insult to injury is that many of the games repeat themselves. Rally King appears a second time, when it’s called “Rally King SP” instead. The most significant changes? Some bumps and puddles are added to the same courses you already raced through, and some of the colors change. That’s it. Robot Ninja Haggle Man’s sequel, Haggle Man 2, contains nearly identical in gameplay, with the key difference being its difficulty. In addition, a few of the games have a second loop–in other words, to truly “beat” it, you have to play through all the stages a second time. It would have been nice to see either different games instead of sequels, or noticeably different gameplay or level designs in said sequels.
It’s really somewhat of a shame that Retro Game Challenge offers such linear progression, repeats itself one time too many, and sits you through pointless chatter. These all blemish what would otherwise be a fantastic homage to the NES era. Nonetheless, there is an attention to detail that makes these games look and play exactly like you’d expect an 80′s game to, and some of the creations are good enough to warrant sitting through this game’s issues. Just be prepared to grit your teeth and roll your eyes as you do so.