Rewinding the gaming clock.
Being born in 1989, I never experienced the 8-bit era of gaming. While my collection consists of classics from Bionic Commando to Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, I never had the pleasure of walking into a store and buying a brand-new NES game. I could preach about the Super Nintendo’s excellence all day, but the aesthetics of 8-bit games are undeniably charming and refreshingly archaic. Thankfully, the release of Retro Game Challenge on the Nintendo DS was more than enough old-fashioned goodness for my appetite.
The premise of the game is quite simple; Arino, a Japanese man tired of next-generation multiplayer games, decided to become a retro game master and becomes a digitized entity in a Nintendo DS game. Through a series of senseless events, Arino changed my character into a kid and thrust him back to the year 1984. In order to go back to the present, my character was tasked with completing a gauntlet of eight games with four challenges each.
Since Retro Game Challenge is a localized version of Game Center CX, a game based off a Japanese TV show of the same name, I was willing to forego the weird premise. More importantly, it did not detract from the gameplay or the feeling of being a child of the 8-bit era. Most of the game’s appeal comes from its ability to emulate the retro days of old. Honestly, I felt like a seven-year-old kid again, and that’s a good thing.
The developers held back no punches when it came to the nostalgia factor. Staples like cheat codes, magazine strategies and even turbo controllers make an appearance in some form. The games all played great (I’ll get to those eventually), but I absolutely loved leafing through the in-game magazines and reviews from parodies of my favorite Electronic Gaming Monthly editors. The little touches like those make the experience go above and beyond the actual gameplay.
However, the retro touches are just a side dish to the main course of eight individual 8-bit games. Rather than describe each game in great detail, I’ll list them below with a one-sentence depiction.
Cosmic Gate: A space shooter similar to Namco’s Galaga.
Ninja Robot Haggle Man: A platformer using aspects from Jaleco’s Ninja Jajamaru Kun.
Rally King: An off-road racing game like Konami’s Road Fighter.
Star Prince: Another space shooter resembling Hudson’s Star Soldier series.
Ninja Robot Haggle Man 2: A sequel to the original featuring larger levels and harder enemies.
Rally King SP: An upgraded version of Rally King with harder courses.
Guadia Quest: A turn-based role-playing game similar to Enix’s Dragon Quest.
Ninja Robot Haggle Man 3: An improved take on the Haggle Man series combining elements from Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden, Konami’s Castlevania and Nintendo’s Metroid.
Each of these is stupidly simple and satisfactory across various situations. Cosmic Gate and Star Prince kept me occupied on train rides while Guadia Quest was a game I looked to for a more wholesome experience. Other design choices, like the ability to pause and check in-game manuals, help streamline the whole ordeal. Additionally, the challenges require very little skill and, as a result, minimize frustrations. Right from the start, it seems the focus is enjoying the ride and not beating the various objectives.
Retro Game Challenge gets a bit repetitive at points, but given the nature of 8-bit gaming, it’s a minor blemish on an otherwise excellent package. The developers did a high-quality job of capturing the essence of 1980’s gaming and it’s a welcome sight in my eyes. It’s a smart take on nostalgia and I can easily recommend this to anyone with a Nintendo DS.