Retro Game Challenge
System: Nintendo DS Publisher: Xseed Games Developer: Indieszero
Genre: Action Type: Arcade/Mini Games Circa: 2009

There have been numerous attempts to recreate the look and feel of classic 8 and 16-bit games on modern gaming systems, often with mixed results. Far too many times games of this sort utilize modern gaming sensibilities (eg, complicated control schemes or playing to win in one credit) so that they ultimately end up feeling like modern games that are merely posing as retro. XSeed Games's Retro Game Challenge, a Namco Museum-style collection of mini-games, not only mimics games of the Vintage Era with much more success than some previous efforts I've encountered, it also goes a step farther in emulating the entire experience, and did more to take me back to those days than anything else in recent years that I can recall.

The game stars Japanese TV personality Shinya Arino from the mega-popular TV show Game Center CX (aka Retro Game Master) - a series in which he attempts to finish classic games within a time limit. Although much of the show's humor stems from things not always going as hoped, in Retro Game Challenge, Arino is more iresome about always losing modern games to his peers.

His frustration has caused a frighteningly-rendered polygonal version of his disembodied head to materialize inside the DS's of game players everywhere (or at least of those who own Retro Game Challenge) that desires to make them play the types of games he grew up with. Thus, Arino transforms the player into a kid and sends him/her back in time to the 80s to play NES-style games with his child self. This is odd for two reasons - first, because it must mean the game is aimed at adults since the player wouldn't need to be turned into a kid if they were already a kid. Second, because those who are most interested in playing Retro Game Challenge are likely those who want to play retro games. But, never mind, let's just run with it.

Upon arriving in Child Arino's home in the past, Adult Arino will issue challenges based on the games he has most recently "purchased". (Although the game's dialogue and voiceovers have been thoroughly Americanized, Arino's game console looks suspiciously like a Famicom.) Beating all four challenges for a single game will move the player forward in time a year, and thus onto the next game.

While the first few games hearken back to vintage arcades, the further you progress, the more they evolve with the times - going from a single screen Galaga clone on up to a fully-fledged sidescrolling adventure game.

Cosmic Gate

Cosmic Gate is the first, simplest, and easiest game you'll face on Retro Game Challenge. It's essentially a Galaga clone with bonus asteroid-shooting stages in-between the standard bug-shooting levels. Though it has 64 stages, warps make it easy to get to the end, and as such, I finished it without continuing.

Robot Ninja Haggle Man 1 & 2

Robot Ninja Haggle Man is a parody of general 8-bit "martial arts" games (Legend of Kage and Kung Fu came to mind) and, more particularly, satirizes Capcom's Mega Man series (a blue robot hero, mad scientist villain, and its statements on similar game sequels), as well as Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. (hero can jump on enemies, a princess that's always getting kidnapped). However, it plays more like an arcade game in that, although it scrolls, you're limited to one small area per level and must eliminate all the enemies before moving onto the next (like Namco's Mappy). Haggle Man 2 is almost the same as Haggle Man 1, except that it has a completely new - and actually somewhat difficult - final boss.

Rally King & Rally King SP

The bird's-eye-view racing game, Rally King, is what I'd cite as the low point of Retro Game Challenge. While the game isn't too bad the first time around, the problem is that you have to play it twice. Child Arino eventually wins a "Special Edition" of Rally King from a contest that is completely identical to the original game, with the exception of a palette change for the graphics and interstitial ads for the (fictitious) Cup Noodles soup. I believe this to be a parody of Archimendes Gradius - a version of Konami's NES shooter, Gradius, that could only be won through a contest and whose only difference from the normal game is that the powerup sprites were changed to Ramen noodles. While I get the reference, it would have been nice if they could have at least given you new tracks or some kind of change other than a graphical update.

Star Prince

Star Prince is a vertically-scrolling shooter in the vein of Zanac, Life Force, and similar titles. Child Arino buys a rapid-fire controller that is usable with only Star Prince which makes the game easier to deal with. The graphics and music are particularly good on this title. Although it is very short, it is significantly harder than Cosmic Gate, so continue codes will come in handy, especially against the final boss.

Guadia Quest

One of the most impressive games on this collection, Guadia Quest, believe it or not, is a fully-realized, Dragon Warrior-style RPG. Although it is faster-paced than most typical 8-bit RPGs and consists of only two dungeons and an overworld, the amount of work that went into it is mind-boggling. The dungeons are complex enough, the music is competently composed, and the enemies are varied and designed well enough that it could almost be a stand-alone game. Guadia Quest is also chock full of humorous pop culture references. Keep an eye out for a certain infamous line of dialogue from Konami's NES classic, Metal Gear, and the Chimera Man's quote from a popular U2 song.

Robot Ninja Haggle Man 3

Haggle Man 3 is far more advanced than its two predecessors. It's a true sidescrolling adventure that takes cues from a number of oldschool classics including Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi, Rygar, Mega Man, Kid Icarus, and even Blaster Master. Though it only has three stages, they are large and expansive. Along with having a decent amount of action, you have to thoroughly explore the worlds to find powerups that allow you to advance past obstacles. Surprisingly, there is even a small amount of puzzle-solving involved. Much like Guadia Quest, the graphics and music are amazingly well-crafted, and had it been just a little longer, it would've made a decent stand-alone game.

The games themselves aren't the only element meant to invoke a sense of nostalgia. Child Arino's dialogue was clearly written by someone who either lived through the era or really did their homework. He constantly references the types of experiences many oldschool players can easily relate to, such as the time he bought a used game and it had the previous owner's initials carved into it, or his resolution to fixing the infamous "blinking screen" that NES players will be all too familiar with. No oldschool stone is left unturned as he talks shop about strategy guides, rapid-fire controllers, game tournaments (think: the Nintendo World Championships), and even the late 80s video game movie, The Wizard. Child Arino's knowledge and penchant for cheering you on while you play make him an easily likable character.

Child Arino also subscribes to a video game magazine, GameFan, which is fictitious, though based somewhat on actual game magazines that existed in the 80s and 90s, like Nintendo Power and GamePlayers. Before the era of the internet, if you wanted information on video games, you had to read gaming magazines. By perusing Child Arino's collection, you can learn helpful codes and tricks for more easily beating the games and Adult Arino's challenges (and you'll want to - the continue codes definitely come in handy). Longtime fans of The Simpsons might also get a nostalgic chuckle out of the references to Bart's prank tavern calls in the "Q&A" sections (some of which, I'm surprised were allowed in an E-rated game. Nintendo's censorship policies are certainly more lax these days.)

Though Retro Game Challenge is, at its core, a cleverly-disguised mini-game collection, the level of thought, depth, and care that went into them, and the game as a whole, is nothing short of remarkable. No other game in recent memory has made me want to bust out an old console, hook it up to a big TV, and play like it was only yesterday as Retro Game Challenge has. That Shinya Arino and the game's developers feel that not only are classic-style games still worth making and playing, but that the entire culture of the era deserves to be respected and preserved is truly admirable. I may never have seen an episode of his TV show (yet), but I like the guy already.





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