Push To Start.
Review writers tend to play the nostalgia card whenever they feel a game has taken them back to the glorious 8-bit days of yore... or whenever they are stuck with the intro paragraph: “Remember when you were…”, “This harkens back to…”, “It’s just like that time when…” Whether it is out of laziness or inspiration, we have a soft spot for laying in front of the television, sprawled on the floor or couch or bed, while playing games that had such an effect on us that we would rather write about games than have a “real job”. Even now, before holding a brand new game in our hands and furiously tearing off the clear plastic wrap off the case, we give a unconscious prayer that it will recapture the thrill of experiencing something we have yet to know, of grabbing the controller with both hands and never letting go.
[image1]Retro Game Challenge doesn’t need such a prayer. If just by title alone, it unashamedly throws the ever-constant demand for innovation back into our faces and hopes that it smacks us hard enough that we remember why we love games so much in the first place. Such is the idea behind Retro Game Master, a television series known in Japan as GameCenter CX, where Shinya Arino plays the role of an employee of the titular GameCenter CX Company. There he sits down with the most popular video games in the heyday of the 80s and attempts to get as far as he can for a day, getting promoted on how well he has completed his job. In other words, it’s the fantasized drama of speed runners and Achievement/Trophy addicts played out on Japanese reality television. (Where can we sign up?)
In this handheld interpretation of this zany show, Arino has transformed himself into a “Game Master” inside the interwebs and dares you with a set of challenges based off those he would face in his fictional work-life. Floating omnipotently as a polygonal head that is unsurprisingly modeled after DOH, the boss of Arkanoid, he turns you into a kid and sends you back into time, straight into his living room. To return to your normal self, you must work with Arino’s past self as a bungling video game nerd and prove that his petty challenges are no match for your retro gaming prowess.
Just like Fry in the Futurama episode “Anthology of Interest II”, where he discovers what life would be like if it were a video game with the help of the What-If Machine, you too have to run through a gauntlet of classic gaming. Each title is treated as a GameCenter CX original that is essentially, if not completely, based off a landmark title in the ‘80s: Cosmic Gate (Space Invaders), Star Prince (Star Soldier), Haggleman (Shinobi series), Rally King (Road Fighter), and Guadia Quest (Dragon Quest). None of them are meant to be bona-fide remakes of their progenitors, but meant collectively as a whole to be a breakfast sampler of genres, a tasting tray of Famicom’s greatest hits.
Each game has a set of four challenges that come in all shapes and sizes - beating a certain level, passing a stage without using a certain technique, accumulating a certain number of points. None of them are all that difficult to complete and that’s not just coming from the perspective of a hardened gamer. If you can reach the fourth level of Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., or most any popular twitch title back when arcade games were casual but unforgiving, then you shouldn’t have any problems conquering each challenge within three tries.
[image2]Despite how threatening Arino tries to sound when he presents his challenges, the underlying point of Retro Game Challenge is to have players of all ages appreciate what retro gaming is all about and what it has to offer, even in light of how modern gaming has improved on the formula. Yes, some of the enemies and bullets in Star Prince seem to appear out of nowhere, the menus in Guadia Quest don’t give you much information on what each item and spell actually do, and all of the games require a lot more memorization than would be necessary with better design. But if these are criticisms against these remakes, then they are also criticisms of the originals, which is like faulting something old for not being new. (Or in this case, faulting something new for not being old when it's supposed to be old.) It’s just not right.
However, given that nostalgia is the essence of Retro Game Challenge, the easy difficulty doesn’t conjure up the days of throwing my glass of Kool-Aid at the television. It shouldn’t take only 10-12 hours to get from beginning to end, and that’s counting the fact that you are often forced to restart the game you're playing every time you complete a challenge. Guadia Quest and Haggleman 3 have the right idea of offering an optional final challenge (that is, simply beating it), but every title on the roster should have had an additional hardcore challenge that though perhaps not required to complete for the sake of the story, would satisfy masters of the 8-bit era - beating the game under a certain time, earning a godly amount of points, or not losing a life once.
Otherwise, Retro Game Challenge captures the spirit of what it was like being a kid gamer in the 80s, for the most part. There are some awkward moments in localization which may be intentional, with such treasures as “The Adventure Is Not End!”, “Try to the Next Course!”, and “Don’t you feel asleep?” I also imagine that the average American was never a Japanese boy playing video games in a Japanese living room with another Japanese boy in Japan.
[image3]But that aside, the presentation is spot-on, from the 8-bit sound effects and retro-styled font to the pixilated graphics and being reprimanded by a mother who just doesn’t understand how you can be so excited about frying your eyes in front of the television while grasping that strange plastic device as if your life depended on it. (Mom! I can't! I have to save first! Mom!!!) The only annoyance is that Kid Amino doesn’t seem to know when to shut his trap while you're playing. In perhaps a nudge at us editors, you can also read GameFan magazines that provide “In-Depth Game Coverage!” ranging from cheat codes and strategies to previews, Q&A sections, and editorial columns. Ah, a game after my own heart.
Retro Game Challenge may not be as genuine as an actual 8-in-1 retro game collection by Namco or Atari, but what it lacks in authenticity, it makes up for by successfully bringing everything that’s awesome yet simple about the classics. It pays tribute to an exciting time when blowing the dust out of the cartridge was just as much a part of the geekery as the pouting over game delays (wait, we still do that), abstaining from strategy guides (that too), complaining about used games (umm...), and explaining to your mom that doing what you love is better than having money (…). Heh, that reminds me, it’s just like that time when…