Giant Bomb Review


Retro Game Challenge Review

  • DS

Retro Game Challenge has some awesome concepts behind it, but it gets painfully repetitive in spots, which throws a wet blanket on an otherwise-charming game.

Cosmic Gate has a lot of Galaga in it.
Retro Game Challenge has an awesome premise. Sent back in time and returned to your youth by an evil game master, you're forced to play a set of faux-eight-bit games to get back to the future. It's neat because the developers have created a bunch of new games that feel like old, lost NES-era releases. But rather than playing these games straight, you're basically forced to grind out achievements in each title to move from one to the next and, ideally, get one step closer to freeing yourself from the evil game master's grip.

So it's like a retro compilation of games that never existed, with enough structure to give it all some meaning. The game quality is decent, but the variety is where I started to lose interest. You're presented with one game at a time, and you must complete four challenges, in order, before moving on to the next. So you'll be seeing a lot of the same game over and over again as you complete one challenge, then have to start your game over to work on the next. I usually found myself bored after completing half the challenges in a game, but still had to drag my way through the rest. Most of the games have cheat codes that are revealed to you through an in-game magazine, which can make progressing through the challenges a bit easier. But since most of the games aren't good enough to play outside of the challenge system, cheating through the challenges sort of defeats the purpose of the entire product.

Guadia Quest will remind you of Dragon Quest in spots.
The games themselves are funny and clever enough to work on their own for a bit. Your first challenges come from a game called Cosmic Gate, which is essentially a Galaga clone. From there you move through character action platformers like Robot Ninja Haggle Man, and a drift-focused racing game called Rally King. Then it's back to another shooter, this time a scrolling, Star Soldier-like game called Star Prince. After that, the game seriously lets you down by serving up Rally King again in a special "SP" format and then you're given Robot Ninja Haggle Man 2, which is more of the same. Rehashing concepts within the context of the game manages to serve as a bit of sly commentary on the sameness and sequel-focused nature of game design, but it doesn't make actually playing Retro Game Challenge any better as a result. The game does pick up a bit later on with Guadia Quest, a Dragon Quest-like RPG with appropriately clunky menus and dialogue.

The wrapper that sits around the classic games is what you'll see on the bottom screen of the DS. It's two kids, huddled around an old game console. You can go to your shelf to view the games you've opened up, read their manuals, or read game magazines that sometimes have tips on the games you're playing, previews of upcoming games you'll unlock, and a host of weird references to real-life game writers like "Johnny England" and "Dave H." Even the magazine itself is called GameFan. If you didn't see enough game magazines throughout the 1990s, the references will probably be lost on you, but the text throughout is reasonably clever either way.

Retro Game Challenge is a great concept, but the execution makes things more tedious than they needed to be. If it were a bit more open-ended about which games you could play at any given time and didn't double-up on some of the games, it'd be a pretty cool little collection. But once I got finished playing a game I really didn't want to play anymore only to be faced with a "new" version of a game I had already unlocked, the spell was broken and the rest became simple, repetitive grinding.
Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
22 Comments Refresh
Posted by Venatio


Posted by ahoodedfigure

Sounds like someone could easily capitalize on this premise and make something ten times better... :)

Posted by RHCPfan24

Looks interesting, but I just bought the Sega Classic Collection. It seems like a better deal to me.

Posted by Diamond

I think most of the appeal of the game does lie in nostalgia.  There is a lot of dialog in the game that reminds me of things my friends would say back in the day.

Edited by iAmJohn

Wolf619, you are a bad fucking person.

Anyway, Jeff, I agree with you about being forced to play one game at a time, even though it makes sense in the continuity of the game, and that some of the games are kind of duds (though the second one is better than the first, Haggle Man can go to fucking hell), but I've been thoroughly enjoying the games.  They just, for the most part, feel really well-designed and interesting.  Star Prince, for example, is a game that I'd totally buy on Virtual Console if it was real.  And even when some of the games start to piss me off (Haggle Man 2, again, says hi), something about the game just doesn't frustrate me.  Maybe it's just that I have such a connection with the story and the charm of you playing these games with child Arino and being able to pause the games and check out magazines for cheats and have bizarre conversations with him.  It feels like reliving a bastardized version of my childhood.
Posted by OldManLollipop

Yeah, this game kinda bummed me out when I started unlocking the same games that I'd already played.

I'll be damned if I don't think that Rally King guy is cool though.

Posted by Irishjohn

I get the problems, but I'm still pretty excited about this game.  Travelling soon and stocking up on DS games, this is making the list!

Edited by DukeTogo

There are plenty of shitty Famicom games that fill up 100 in 1 carts since 1989.  If I want to play said shitty games, they are free on the interweb, and are enjoyable for about as long as it took me to type this.

I appluad the idea, but it could have (and has) been done better by a company that has a large backlog of old console games.

Take for instance the Genesis Collection for PSP, it has cheat codes, unlockable bonus games, and extra features, all unlockable via in-game achievements.

So the only thing this really has going for it is the obscure game mag references, which are super niche.  I bought every issue of Gamefan, I've met the man - the Mullet - Dave H back when Gamefan was a store in Tarzana.  They had a sweet Willow cabinet in the shop.

Posted by ReyGitano

I never really understood the point of this game. If I wanted to play old NES games, I'd bust out my NES.

Posted by Kraznor

Whatever, premise is enough to prompt me to give it a look.

Edited by Endogene

The sequel to it is already out in Japan in my understanding, i wonder if they changed the way missions are given in it. looks like GB does not yet have a page for it, will make one tomorrow.

edit: might be wrong about there being a sequel, could have been that i've mistaken the US release as a sequel.

edit2: There is actually a sequel coming.

Posted by Kohe321

Sounds like an interesting concept... Too bad the gameplay was so repetetive. Good review!

Posted by killawogg

i like the game and jeff is right about the repetitiveness of the the nes clone games, i think that if they had more game s on the cart it would make for a better experiance. over all i would suggest renting firt.

Posted by XAMS

Lol, why do you guys review these unknown DS games and ignore all the big/good ones?

Posted by MichaelBach

Nice to see the DSis getting some more screen time on  GB

Posted by strangeling

Thanks for the review.  I'll probably still pick this up, just not right away.

Posted by PGmighty

It seems that being forced to play just one game at a time too is testament to the '80s. Two games a year for most during said decade. Am I right, or am I right am I right?

Posted by Jecrell

No mention of Game Center CX? I love the show, and this is a game that carried its name in Japan.

Posted by Media_Master


Posted by Roiland

 This might be one of the best concepts for a game ever. I am at the second version of the racing game, and I do agree that it is a shame that the games repeat, BUT it deserves an 8/10 for the concept alone. This thing is brilliant. I can't stop thinking about a console version with 25-30 unlock-able games spanning several console generations of fictional games. My god, it would be amazing. 

Posted by icedturtle

Retro Game Challenge was fun for about the first game and i lost a lot of interest in it after that. It was trying too hard with the floating green head

Posted by lind

JEFF RULES so do the rest of the reviewers