Review: Retro Game Challenge (Nintendo DS)

Retro Game Challenge
Publisher: XSeed
Developer: Bandai Namco Games
Genre: Anthology
Release Date: 02/11/2009


Long time readers know I’m primarily a retro-gamer. Yes I have my Wii and PS3 hooked up to my TV, but if you asked me what two systems currently get the most use at my house, I’d have to say the Sega Saturn and the Dreamcast. I still happily break out my Turbo-Grafx 16 and Genesis on occasion, or go into DOS mode on my PC to play The Bard’s Tale or an SSI AD&D RPG. So when Retro Game Challenge was announced, I was intrigued. When I saw the game used GameFAN as the name of the magazine, I was amused because it showed Xseed was fans of the original magazine that we took our name (and the legal ownership of the trademark) from. Then I see Dave Halverson (the original Editor in chief and co-creator of GameFAN) is in the game. This was a little bit of giddiness for me because it was a reminder of what got me into this whole thing we call, “Gaming Journalism” in the first place. Of course I’d have liked it better if one of the current Diehard GameFAN staffers were in the game, but I guess I’ll settle for the name recognition.

Retro Game Challenge is based off a weird little Japanese T.V. Show, Retro Game Master In this show Shinya Arino plays old video games like Mighty Bomb Jack or Final Fight. I’ll admit it’s not my cup of tea, but it’s got a nice sized audience back in Japan. This game features multiple new games that are designed to look and feel like old 8-bit games from the 1980’s. It’s a pretty outside the box idea, but are the games the type of quality we like to remember from the 8-bit era, like Phantasy Star or Gradius or are they more typical of the shovelware from that era like, Cybernoid: The Fighting Machine or Eliminator Boat Duel?

Let’s Review

1. Story/Modes

The story for Retro Game Challenge is a bit weird, to say the least. Once upon a time there was a man named Arino that really sucked at games. He always lost to his friends, but he loved gaming so much, his desire to be the best manifested itself into a virtual Arino that lived inside a Nintendo DS> This new “Game Master Arino” ends up finding gamers and sending them to the mid 1980’s where they have to take part in gaming challenges if they want to go home. Guess who is Arino’s newest target?

You are sent to the childhood home of Arino where together with young not insane yet child Arino, you play games in an attempt to pass Game Master Arino’s challenges. There are eight games in all:

Cosmic Gate – A Space Invaders meets Asteroids mash up that is fun at first, but goes on for way too long.

Robot Ninja Haggle Man A mediocre repetitive platformer mixed with Elevator Action.

Rally King – An awful, AWFUL racing game.

Star Prince – a vertical scrolling shooter that is easily the best of the games and fun for what it is.

Rally King SP This is a parody of slight game updates under what we call the Street Fighter II syndrome. Ooh. Slightly different colouration and ads. I get the joke, but why did they do it with easily the worst game in the collection?

Haggle Man 2 a harder, bigger version of Haggle Man 1.

Guadia Quest – A Dragon Quest like RPG. This is the second best game out of the set, and also the longest. It’s a cute reminder of how far RPG’s have come.

Haggle Man 3 This Haggle Man drops the platformer bits and plays for like the old Sega Shinobi games, of which I heartily approve. This is the third best game out of the set.

Each game has four challenges that you have to complete. Each of the challenges is pretty easy save for one challenge in Rally King SP. The problem is you have to play each game IN ORDER, making this a very linear experience. You also have to play each challenge in order and you can only beat one at a time, which gets quite annoying if say you end up having a later challenge which you already have beaten in your first playthrough of a game…and it didn’t count. Once you beat the four challenges, you unlock freeplay of these games, but to be honest, I can’t see anyone really wanting to replay any of these games as they’re very short and very easy. Guadia Quest might be it for most gamers, but for myself I might replay Star Prince since I love shooters, but man, it’s pretty easy and as the whole point of Shoot ‘Em Up’s is challenge…there’s no real thrill to touching any of these again.

I love the idea of RGC, and the story is both sweet and weird, but all of the games are mediocre at best, and as much as I get the parody and satire going on within the confines of this cartridge, it’s just not that much fun to play. I ended up playing more for the GameFAN magazines than anything else.

If Retro Game Challenge allowed you to complete challenges in any order or even choose from more than one game, I’d be a lot happier. Instead, this is an exceptionally linear game that ended up boring me more than entertaining me with some high quality 8-bit titles.

Story/Modes Rating: Mediocre

2. Graphics

I’m not going to judge this game based on the graphic potential of the Nintendo DS. That would be unfair as the eight games contained within are meant to look and feel like 8-bit titles. This is something RGC does quite nicely. Six of the eight games look like very early 8-bit games. They’re all pretty generic and aren’t up to the standards of things like Mega Man 2, Super Mario Bros. 3 or Castlevania II or III, but they’re on par with the average graphics of the day. Guadia Quest actually is a pretty spot on for Dragon Quest I or II, and was a lot of fun to play through. Haggle Man 3 is the best looking of the games and it definitely looks like a late-gen 8-bit game or day I say it…a very early 16 bit title at times! Oooh, powerful. The worst game graphically is Rally King as there were times when I couldn’t tell what was the front end of my car, and which was the back. This became especially annoying if I spun out on a water puddle or oil slick.

If you’re looking for a game that will blow you away visually, then I have to wonder why you would even be picking this up in the first place. If you’re looking for something that harnesses nostalgia quite well, and actually holds true to what 8-bit games looked like, then you’ll find Retro Game Challenge performs admirably.

Graphics Rating: Enjoyable

3. Sound

The music and voice acting of Retro Game Challenge is probably the worst aspect of the game, simply because at best, it is mediocre and forgettable and at worst, it is ear-bleedingly annoying. Now you’re probably saying, “Alex! It’s 8-Bit. How good can it be?” With that I refer you to the score of classic tracks from the Famicon Era from games like Super Mario Bros., CastleVania, The Legend of Zelda, the Final Fantasy “You just won a battle” tune, and more. In Retro Game Challenge, the music is well, pretty mediocre, even for MIDI’s.

There’s actually some voice acting in the game, but not in the playable games. The voice comes from young Arino who constantly makes comments while you play. Not only is the voice actor awful, but the commentary never stops and it’s inevitably annoying. Yes, I know I’m good at Shoot ‘Em Up’s, but I don’t need an Urkel-esque voice constantly telling me so every second of the game. I really wish I could have turned this off.

Sound effects are what you would expect from 8-bit games. Again, Star Prince and Guadia Quest blow everything else in the collection away, but even then, it’s only slightly above average for the time period these games are supposed to represent.

Overall, the aural aspects of Retro Game Challenge are easily the weakest and I’d suggest muting the sound as long as you’re not entering game cheats.

Sound Rating: Poor

4. Control and Gameplay

All of the games in Retro Game Challenge have pretty tight controls save for the two awful Rally King. That game handles as poorly as one would expect from a subpar 8-bit racer. The other six games are exceptional in terms of standard 8-bit gameplay. Star Prince is fast and furious, Cosmic gate is a fun update of Space Invaders and Guadia Quest is a bit dull but the gameplay is perfect for an 8-bit RPG. The Haggle Man games are pretty well made too, especially for platformers, which I usually don’t like. Yes the games are easier, shorter and far more simplistic than actual games from the mid 1980’s, but I was impressed with how spot on and tight the controls for most of these games are. You’ll only be using the A and B buttons for most of the games, save for Star Prince which uses the Y button to simulate the old rapid-fire controller, which I loved.

Every game has at least one or two cheats available for it which you enter either at the title screen or by pausing the game. This is a nice little throwback to yesteryear as well and really made the games feel like products of the Regan era.

Overall, I have to admit I was really impressed with how most of the games handled. There was no lag, slowdown, screen flickers, or any of the other issues some games from the actual 8-bit era suffered from. A nice little job all in all.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Very Good

5. Replayability

You would think with eight possible games, that Retro Game Challenge would offer a lot of replay value. Alas, this isn’t the case. Considering you have to play each game in order and at least four times in a row before moving on to the next game, really kills things. The linearity, ease of the games, and forced progression kills a lot of the fun that could have been there if you could have played the games in any order, or complete any of the challenges in any order, or complete more than one challenge at a time.

When you beat four challenges for a game, you unlock freeplay, but by the time you do this, you’re more than likely bored with the game and won’t be coming back to it. Considering the “FINAL CHALLENGE” for each game involves beating the game anyway, you have to wonder who would really want to beat any of these games multiple times, when real (and better) NES and SMS era games are available.

Oh, there’s also a sound mode to unlock. But considering how bad the aural aspects of this game are, I don’t see that getting much use.

So much wasted potential here that could have been saved by just changing things around a bit.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

6. Balance

For those of us that actually lived through the ’80’s, we can all agree that for the most parts, games were harder (some would say crueler) than today. Sadly, this is one area where Retro Game Challenge fails in its 80’s emulation as these are some of the easiest game I have ever played. Aside from the one timed challenge in Rally King SP, the entire game is a massive cakewalk. I was able to beat Star Prince from beginning to end without dying and Cosmic Gate without using a continue. These are the two hardest games in the collection! There is no challenge for any of these what so ever, making the very title of this cartridge a bit of a misnomer.

You should be able to walk through nearly all of these “challenges” without any effort at all. This was a real disappointment for me, as I was expecting some pretty out there conditions to beat. Instead it was things like “Beat the first boss” or “Kill two enemies at once” on some of these. Seriously?

Retro Game Challenge requires little to no skill, talent, or experience with any of the games being parodied here. The fact I was able to make it through the first four and a half set of challenges without failing at any of them (The one I failed I missed by 1/10 of a second and then beat it on the second try)combined with the slow moving linear pace of the overall game has me shaking my head. Games from the 80’s are often unbalanced, it’s true and in this aspect Retro Game Challenge succeeds, but it’s in the exact opposite lack of balance that real 80’s games have. This is one of the easiest things I’ve ever played, while the 8-bit, oh let’s say Life Force could be quite unrelenting at times.

Balance Rating: Bad

7. Originality

I can’t really think of any other game that deals with a quasi-reality or a series of faux 8-bit games on the market, now…or ever. As a piece of comical parody of both 8 Bit gaming and the video game magazines of old, Retro Game Challenge is a perfect example of what outside the box thinking can net you. However, all of the games contained within are subpar examples of what was actually available back then. Each game works as a one-off joke, but as something you have to play through multiple times…it gets old fast.

Retro Game Challenge is funny and it was a clever idea to do a series of faux 1980’s games, but the end result is nowhere as good as a similar retro-stalgia product put out by Capcom called Mega Man 9.

Originality Rating: Good

8. Addictiveness

To be honest, as much as I wanted to love this game, I was pretty bored with each game by the second or third challenge. The games are exceedingly short and easy, but they are so bereft of personality or charm, that playing them feels like eons. The true heart of the game comes outside of playing the games when you are reading GameFAN magazine or you and young Arino are talking about games and strategy guides and gaming in general. The linear nature of the game killed it for me, as did the inability to either pick and choose which challenge you wanted to do or to double them up. For example, I beat the “Destroy a Giant Asteroid” challenge in my very first time with Cosmic Gate, but the first challenge was merely “Get to Stage 5.” I should have been rewarded for both, but as the asteroid challenge was the third one, I had to redo things again. Annoying. I’m not sure if this is just poor judgment on their part or an attempt to pad an all too easy game with a longer playing time. Either way, I was shocked not just at how quickly I breezed through this entire collection, but how dull I found it.

Addictiveness Rating: Poor

9. Appeal Factor

With the advent of the virtual console, and the ability to get large collections of retrogames from pennies on the dollar of the original price with things like Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection, retrogaming has never been more accessible. With the success of Mega Man 9, it makes perfect sense to cash in on the craze, and Retro Game Challenge does that in a nifty new way that is sure to raise an eyebrow or two.

The game is funny and it’s great to see GameFAN magazine get one last hurrah, even if Dave Halverson eventually leaves for a career in the circus (That’s in game, not in real life. Poor Dave.), it’s nice to see the reason we chose/purchased the rights to this particular name back.

The problem is that the game really isn’t that fun. The more you play, the more you realize how trite the games contained within are, and how the majority of the fun comes not from playing the games, but the between game dialogues.

I think anyone who picks this up at first will definitely get a kick out of it, but the way you have to progress coupled with the lack of any real substance will wear on most gamers after a few hours with this “compilation.”

Appeal Factor: Mediocre

10. Miscellaneous

I think it was a great idea to bring in a lot of the video gaming journalism community into the game. Guadia Quest, Haggle Man 3, and Star Prince were a lot of fun for what they were, and GQ is a nice ten hour RPG that is a great introduction to the genre for people who have never played an RPG before. The between game segments are great and there are a lot of in-jokes about everything from having to blow on a cartridge to the Power Glove. Plus I pretty much HAVE to give it bonus points for using the GameFAN name. That was quite a treat.

Three of the eight games are worth playing and although I think the compilation has some pretty severe flaws, I would happily play those three games in freeplay in a few months down the road when I’m less burned out on the actual story mode of the game. Although the games themselves that were made by Namco Bandai are a bit bland or dull most of the time, the localized bits but in by Xseed are the star of the cartridge and are well worth experiencing just to see the care and love put into the US version of this collection.

Miscellaneous Rating: Unparalleled

The Scores
Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Enjoyable
Sound: Poor
Control and Gameplay: Very Good
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Bad
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Retro Game Challenge is an odd duck. The in-between game scenes in Arino’s living room are for more entertaining than playing any of the eight titles this game contains. RGC is also the easiest DS game I’ve ever beaten, which flies in the face of the fact that the era of 8-bit gaming was a lot harder than what is on today’s modern consoles. In the end, the slow moving linear nature of the gameplay really reduces the fun one can have with this faux collection. Had you been able to play any of the games in any order, complete more than one challenge at a time, or been given games that were a little bit more challenging, we’d have a real winner on our hands here. Instead, the flaws and lack of charm in the games themselves tend to overwhelm the brilliant parody and references to the 1980’s you can find in chatting with young Arino.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *