Review: Retro Game Challenge (DS)

Blowing in the cartridge. Schoolyard rumors about secret levels or modes. The Konami Code. If you were a gamer raised in the “8-bit era” – featuring the Nintendo Entertainment System, also starring the Sega Master System, PC Engine, and computer games – then none of this should be a foreign concept at all.

That sort of nostalgia is what XSeed’s Retro Game Challenge trades on to get you hooked. But once you’re in, the challenges keep you coming back for more. While the basic premise of the game is simple, the quality of the games found within make the title worthwhile – even if you don’t have rose-tinted memories of late-’80s gaming.

The simple premise behind the game is that you are sent back as a child to the mid-’80s to complete a series of challenges in games that you play. The Japanese version of the game was inspired by and developed in combination with Fuji TV show Game Center CX, in which Game Master Arino is tasked with simply playing through classic video games (mostly 8-bit NES or 16-bit SNES games) until he completes them. The American Retro Game Challenge loses the TV tie-in, but retains Arino – both as the disembodied head that spits out challenges to you, as well as the friend who buys the games you play and the magazines you read.

JRPG, I choose you! World screen from Guadia Quest, Retro Game Challenge's take on the classic JRPG. Image from 1up.com.

JRPG, I choose you! World screen from Guadia Quest, Retro Game Challenge's take on the classic JRPG. Image from 1up.com.

What holds the conceit together is that the games you play – eight in total – are actually quite good. They may be brief in scope, but definitely not short on depth – in both gameplay and presentation. From space-shmups (slang for shoot-em-ups) Cosmic Gate and Star Prince to top-down racer Rally King, platformer Robot Ninja Haggle Man and JRPG Guadia Quest, all of the games are well-crafted homages to revered genres. Some benefit from some 20/20 hindsight – Rally King features an entertaining drift-boost system that borrows inspiration from Mario Kart’s Nintendo 64 and DS iterations, for instance – but none of the games feel like throwaways.

That extends to the sound and graphics, too – all of which feel period-perfect. The music is catchy, and even the translation of the games has a period patina – “Don’t you feel asleep?” asks the innkeeper in Guadia Quest when you inquire for a room. Details like that pepper the game with clever inside jokes.

The magazines your character and the young Arino collect, too – GameFan, no relation to the real magazine with the same name – aren’t exactly throwaways, either. Much like real magazines from the heyday of video game print media, they’re full of useful tips and tricks for each of the games – including cheat codes and secrets – as well as previews and reviews. Of course, for hardcore game industry followers, take note of the in-game magazine’s editors and writers – yes, those are supposed to be lookalikes for certain former Electronic Gaming Monthly editors.

The dialogue between your character (left; can be male or female, too, to boot) and the young Arino takes you back to childhood thoughts on gaming. Image from 1up.com.

The dialogue between your character (left; can be male or female, too, to boot) and the young Arino takes you back to childhood thoughts on gaming. Image from 1up.com.

I’m loath to keep on using the word “nostalgia,” but the game is a trip back in time. As a kid I grew up spending many a long weekend gaming in the basement, blowing into cartridges and scouring magazines with friends for Game Genie codes. The 8-bit generation is intertwined with my childhood, as are so many memories. Simply seeing the two polygonal gamers laying in front of the TV on the bottom screen of the DS lets me know that, yes, this is a game that gets it. It’s not flawless – many of the challenges are simplistic, and the game pulls you out to re-start the first level again and again after each of the challenges. The difficulty ramps a bit too rapidly in Guadia Quest and Robot Ninja Haggleman 3, too. But small worries aside, the game is highly recommended. A sequel is already out in Japan; here’s to hoping it makes its way across the ocean and receives as lovingly crafted a translation as Retro Game Challenge did.

Recommended for:

  • The great collection of small games collected within
  • Gamers reared on 8-bit platforms in the mid to late ’80s
  • Older gamers looking to give their younger siblings or children a glimpse at what the scene was like back in this period

Not Recommended for:

  • Gamers looking for an incredibly tough challenge – only the last two games provide tasks that put up a real fight

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