Study in the mind of a game freak.
Retro Game Challenge is about the Game Master, a man who drowned his sorrows in 8-bit video games to suppress his self-esteem issues. The levels of his party in Final Fantasy would rise inversely with his dipping grades, and he had an anger problem pent up from a libido no woman would want to satisfy. Ultimately, his parents would delete his World of Warcraft account, and this leads the man taking his own life using a controller wire.
However, the ESRB would never give an E rating to such a concept, so instead he just embeds himself in the digital world. In turn, he traps you in the past, and forces you to play 8-bit video games with the young version of himself. Can you be the Game Master’s savior by being the friend he never had?
This is a faux compilation of games that look like they could’ve existed in the good ol’ Famicon era of gaming. The games are believable enough in their presentation that they feel like NES games that fell through the cracks of obscurity, despite how the game presents them as “mega popular, era-defining classics.” Like how Super Mario Bros or Zelda 64 or Grand Theft Auto 3 or no game from this console generation were earth-shattering Sgt. Pepper-esque releases, so too is…Super Robot Haggle Man?
In each segment of the story mode, Game Master will have some kind of goofy monologue about how you’ll never beat his next challenge. Then you’ll be ported to the 80s, where his younger self plays the kind of consumerist child that geeks out with joy over the latest releases. In other words, he represents the childhood of your local Gamestop manager. The first flaw in this game concept is the sheer amount of dialogue you’ll be forced to endure. The characters speak an awful lot more here than the average attention span of the children depicted in the game.
Anyone that played games prior to the WWW boom will get a kick out of some of the references: rapid-fire controllers, strategy guides, friends at school making up codes, The Wizard, annoying game magazine editors and so forth. They make the game feel authentically retro, but aren’t quite as amusing as one would hope them to be. The retro gaming culture has been spoofed to death, whether on overpriced “vintage” t-shirts or websites like ScrewAttack, so the nostalgic vibe here is treaded ground. It has been surprising how lame meta-games like this or Eat Lead have turned out to be (and in turn, how surprisingly strong the Simpsons Game was at the same brand of geek humour.)
Unofficially, there are 7 fake games here, though you may as well only acknowledge 5. Cosmic Gate is a straight Galaga clone, surprising in that a game of its kind being treated as a million-seller on the NES seems rather unlikely. Super Robot Haggle Man is a Mappy-like platformer that hams up on both Japanese cheesiness and Engrish wonder. Rally King is a top-down racing game with only four tracks and a focus on a strange drift-boosting technique that only make sense in a video game. Star Prince is a scrolling space shooter akin to Gradius, but with more overpowered weapons and all of two bosses. Then, in what appears to scream “magazine spoof” while whispering “artificial game lengthening”, there’s the game magazine’s special edition of Rally King with so few tweaks that the mock magazine has an article trying to justify its unique existence. Afterwards, there’s the sequel to Super Robot Haggle Man, which makes incremental improvements to a game that you’d rather not play again. Finally, the main event is Guardia Quest, which the magazine spends a whole lot of time and text hyping, advertising and subsequently crying over its numerous delays. This is the Dragon Quest-like RPG, complete with slow-toggling menus and level grinding, a combination that may be nostalgic for some but was also the point of which I stopped caring about the Retro Challenge.
I’ve made mention earlier to a certain mock magazine, GameFan. Each one only has a few sentences worth of text, including hints and codes that are actually helpful. So in that regard, Retro Game Challenge makes a successful rib at nostalgia. But that said, these games sure seem to have a lot of codes. I knew NES games had their share of hidden cheats, but these poser games seem to have everything short of the Big Head cheat intact. Not that you’ll need them, as these games are a combination of old school graphics and new school difficulty…which is to say they have no difficulty at all. Anyone who owned an NES will have little problems making their way through each of the game challenges.
Operative word being “challenges”, which right there is Retro Game Challenge’s greatest flaw. You’re not asked to finish these games. Rather, you’re asked to complete challenges akin to Achievements or PS3 trophies. These can vary from “stomp on the heads of two enemies” to “finish the second level without using a continue” but the one common denominator is that each game has four challenges. You can’t save between challenges, either. With each challenge, you’re always made to restart the game from the beginning, and you always have to deal with the same waves of text between challenges. Imagine playing Gears of War, and you get the achievement for chainsawing your first enemy. (I might be imagining this achievement exists, to be honest.) Afterwards, the game reboots, and you have to play through the entire first level. You get another achievement, the game reboots again. As a result, you’ll get very sick of each of the included games very fast, and have no desire to revisit them in the included Free Play mode.
Much like the included games if they existed back in the day, Retro Game Challenge is destined to occupy a bargain bin near you. And therein is where you should let the game rest. Odds are that standing next to it in the bin of old game releases is The Simpsons Game, a much better parody of the industry and one you should look into instead.
2 ½ stars