Relive the good, the bad, and the downright awful with this nostalgic collection.
So many gamers today long for the simpler, more hardcore times of the NES. I used to be one of those gamers, and I still find myself longing for the days of yore now and again. Certainly, there’s been a retro revival as of late, what with Dark Void Zero and Mega Man 10 makin’ me all nostalgic. Retro Game Challenge invites you back to the 80’s for a wakeup call. And while you may revel in a few of the retro offerings, I imagine you’ll walk away happy that the industry has since moved in a different direction.
You, playing the role of the gamer, are given challenges by a giant crown-wearing head named Arino, who looks like a cross between Jobe from “The Lawnmower Man” and the Doctor Kawashima in “Brain Age.” Arino sends you back in time to the early 80’s to relive his gaming memories and complete challenges he sets out for you: four in each game. Between challenges, you’ll listen to Arino’s younger self talk endlessly. You’ll also be able to read instruction manuals for the games and certain issues of the fictional “Game Fan” magazine. There are eight separate games, which I’ll briefly describe below:
1) Cosmic Gate: This is essentially Galaga with some twists, like the ability to create warp gates and zip ahead several stages. It is very fun, and there’s some modicum of strategy to the bug-blasting.
2) Robot Ninja Haggle Man: A bizarre cross between Bubble Bobble and Boomer’s Adventure in ASMIK World, your character flips hidden doors to defeat enemies and uncover power-ups. The game is short and can be frustrating, but the concept is solid, and the character sprites are quirky.
3) Star Prince: The sequel to Cosmic Gate, this game is clearly based on Xevious, Solar Striker, and other top-down bullet-hell shooters of the day. It is insanely fun and full of strategy.
4) Rally King: Essentially a Micro Machines top-down racer with power sliding. I really hated this game, as drifting is unreliable and the track designs are full of cheap spin-out areas.
5) Robot Ninja Haggle Man 2: The same as the first game, but harder. The levels are larger, and Haggle Man can activate power-ups at his leisure now instead of upon collecting them.
6) Rally King SP: This lazy double-dip is Rally King with more difficult course designs and color swaps. This game made me curse a lot.
7) Guadia Quest: This is an old-school RPG in the tradition of Dragon Warrior. It is the longest and most impressive game of the collection. Lots of grinding is required, and random battles are never all that fun, but Guadia Quest makes you work for victory, and there seems to be an actual storyline in the background. If you’re an old-school RPG fan, this is a great game.
8) Robot Ninja Haggle Man 3: Almost completely different from its predecessors, RNHM3 is comparable to Ninja Gaiden and, bizarrely, Metroid. The level design is great, and Haggle Man suddenly has access to lots of new attacks and powers. The bosses are huge and impressive, and the graphics are right up there with the best on the NES.
Arino gives you four challenges per game, though you cannot attempt them in any order, and they do not stack. Once you complete one challenge, you are forced out of the game and must restart it for subsequent challenges. During games you dislike (like Rally King in my case), this is can be torturous, especially when one challenge asks you to, say, successfully pull off two power slides, and the second challenge requires you to beat the first course. These challenges could have been done in one playthrough, showing the game's poor challenge design. Guadia Quest and RNHM3 actually let you save your progress, though, so beating challenges isn’t a chore in those.
Despite the challenges, however, most of the games in the collection, regardless of which ones you find yourself fond of, are all wonderfully done. Each one feels like it could be a real, scrapped NES title, except for the games that act like expansions to other games, like Rally King SP.
Young Arino is likely to become a thorn on the player's side. He’s constantly yelling during gameplay, and between challenges he embarks on stream of consciousness diatribes. I understand what they’re going for here—actual gamer conversation—but there’s too much of it. On the other hand, the fake “Game Fan” magazines are great, offering tips and codes for the games in your collection, previews of upcoming games, and funny articles written by real people in gaming journalism.
The manuals are also helpful in figuring out the finer points of each game. I was stuck in Guadia Quest until I actually read the instruction manual (oh, there are six menu selections, not three). Ironically, it’s Demon Arino (head-dude) who’s not in the game enough. He exists only to give you challenges, and his speeches are short and to-the-point. If only his younger self was so succinct!
The real fun begins once you complete all four challenges in each game (which is never difficult), which opens it up in “freeplay” mode. This is the ideal way to play every game in the collection, where you can experiment with codes and generally move at your own pace. Unfortunately, young Arino is still omnipresent, cheering you on, and incurring your wrath.
If you’re a fan of retro gaming and can manage to wade through the filler, Retro Game Challenge provides ample challenge and enjoyment. Marred somewhat by its execution, though, I cannot recommend the game for everyone. It appeals to a niche audience, but that audience will find it to be very rewarding.