Based on an obscure Japanese TV show, Retro Game Challenge is a very specialized title that old school gamers are going to LOVE. You're transported back to 1985 to play through the games of the era, with the disembodied, polygonal head of the host, Arino, dishing out gaming challenges you must complete to get sent back to the present. There are eight full games included - at least "full" by NES-era standards – each brand new but a loving tribute to the games of old.
The game utilizes the dual DS screens in a remarkable way. The bottom screen shows the living room, where the young Arino of the 80s hangs out with you as you play his games. The top screen shows his TV, and therefore the actual game you’re playing. Starting with the first game, a well-realized Galaga homage entitled Cosmic Gate, everything plays exactly like the games of the time. And we just don't mean 80s style or 8-bit in general. Cosmic Gate is from "1985" and plays very differently from a title you play in "1988." You see game design and graphics mature as time goes on in the game world and you beat challenges, triggering the “release” of new games.
These new games run the gamut from shooters like Cosmic Gate and Star Prince (a sort of Blazing Lazers style vertical scroller) to the Haggle Man series, which starts out emulating Mega Man and evolves into more of a Ninja Gaiden clone in its sequels. There’s even a fairly huge RPG called Guadia Quest that’s a dead ringer for a Dragon Quest game. They all feel fresh because they’re so new, but familiar because they so carefully emulate the games of old.
Through it all, young Arino offers his support and his living room for your challenges. He offers funny asides and even hurls support and heckling as you play. As the faux-NES games play out in the top screen - the TV screen - all the spoken and written dialogue from your copilot of sorts reminds the player of all the friends you’ve played games with over the years. You can even pause the action to look up cheat codes in Arino’s gaming magazines and write them into each game’s virtual manual using the DS touch screen, making this virtual time-machine feel even more accurate.
That's where a few problems come in – Retro Game Challenge actually recreates the games of yesteryear too well at times. For example, when playing a parody of Ninja Gaiden, satirically cheap enemies become as hair-pullingly annoying as the real thing. We didn’t know whether to applaud the accuracy or yell at the screen, though we usually chose screaming.
However, those situations don't pop up that often, and they’re never as infuriating as the real thing, thanks to the fact that all the games are full of cheats. Yes, it seems the creators knew this might be too much for the average player, so there are some pretty simple tricks and exploits in each title you can use at your leisure. Plus, Arino’s gaming magazines not only have tips and codes, but previews of games you'll play later as well as lots of cute extras and appearances by well-known members of the games media - though we suppose well-known is a relative term.
Ultimately, how much you'll like this depends on the player. It works on several levels, but Retro Game Challenge is more enjoyable the nerdier and possibly older you are. The games are fun enough to play, but if you recognize a Ninja Gaiden parody just by playing for a minute, have played Galaga enough to tell the subtle differences in what they chose not to emulate or chuckle at the phrase "feel asleep," this is absolutely the game for you. But younger or more casual players shouldn’t avoid it either, because they can use it to experience a time they've only heard about.
Feb 12, 2009