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.
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.