Publisher: XSeed Games
Developer: Bandai Namco Games
Release Date: February 10, 2009
Retro Game Challenge for the NDS is a port of a Japanese game based on the popular show "Game Center CX," a program that has yet to make its way over to U.S. shores, although it's supposedly in the works. On the show, the host, a comedian named Arino, is tasked with taking on various NES titles and finishing them within a 24-hour period. Anyone who was alive during the NES days, or even anyone who has sat down to play a classic NES title or two, will realize that beating some of the ultra-difficult titles within 24 hours is quite a task, and often Arino has a few setbacks during the show, requiring him to call on the help of assistants who've played the title beforehand and are therefore equipped with secrets and tactics to help him overcome the odds.
How does all of that fit into an actual video game? Surprisingly, the transition is handled quite well. In Retro Game Challenge, you'll play yourself as a young boy, transported back to the '80s by a Max Headroom version of Arino, who has decided to put you in his shoes and tasks you with taking on various challenges for a series of make-believe NES-style video games. Don't think that the lack of actual titles from the past is a setback for the game, as the new retro titles included are quite a bit of fun to play, and a few will be pretty recognizable as commendable riffs on existing properties.
Aiding you with the challenges is the child version of Arino, who supplies you with the games to play, along with various issues of "Gamefan" magazine, which in turn contains various secrets, codes, and tips for the titles you'll be with playing. The magazines add to the overall immersion of the title, featuring obvious homages to various magazine editors of the past and present, including Dave Halverson, Dan Hsu, James Mielke and a few more. For those who have grown up with magazines like the actual Gamefan and Electronic Gaming Monthly, these little nods are pretty cool to see and definitely bring you back to your childhood.
Of course, the title isn't all about the witty homage, and the eight different made-up titles within prove this. Each game is a fully fleshed-out 8-bit title, and while each game requires you to finish four challenges, once you complete them, you'll unlock the game in Freeplay mode, which will allow you to play the game to your heart's content.
When you begin, you'll play Cosmic Gate by fictional developer Tomato; the title is pretty much a direct clone of Galaga, featuring waves of aliens that collect at the top of the screen and shoot at you. You direct a spaceship at the bottom of the screen, and it can scroll back and forth while you take potshots at the invaders. It's a pretty basic setup for your first title, but it does a great job of getting you acclimated to the challenges and the use of magazines in providing the hints you'll need to complete certain requirements.
Once you finish that title, it's on to the first Haggleman title, which blatantly shares a plot with Mega Man. Haggleman is a robotic ninja fighting against an evil scientist, and he even has a little girl and a dog as sidekicks. However, the gameplay is pretty far removed from Mega Man and feels pretty unique. You have to move through a series of doors in each level, with each door representing a letter of the alphabet. Moving through each door in the correct order will cause them to change colors, and if an enemy is near a door, you'll either disable or destroy it. Destroying all enemies will trigger the boss, and if you're victorious, you move on to the next level.
From there you'll unlock Rally King, which was the biggest letdown for me. It's a top-down racer with some really touchy controls, requiring you to drift for sudden boosts, but you'll find that gaining boosts just adds to the overall difficulty. It becomes a bigger pain when you have to play through a second version of Rally King after a one game break, and the challenges for both of these games proved to be the most difficult, but mostly because of the controls.
Next up is the second Tomato title, and the virtual follow-up to Cosmic Gate, this time named Star Prince. The game adopts the style of similar overhead shoot-'em-ups and provides a pretty solid challenge; it ended up being one of my favorite titles in Retro Game Challenge. From here, you hit the second Rally King title, a couple of Haggleman sequels, and Guadia Quest, which is a clone of the popular Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest series of RPGs. Guadia Quest is particularly impressive simply because it has a surprising amount of content, and it feels like a fully fleshed-out RPG that was created simply for this game. It's also fun to play, even by today's standards.
That's actually what makes Retro Game Challenge stand out. Everything you're playing is presented in a retro style, but each game captures the timeless essence that makes them worth playing, and you're really getting quite a bit of content in this title, even aside from finishing up the various challenges that Arino presents to you.
From what I understand, a sequel is due to hit fairly soon in Japan, and I definitely hope that XSeed is planning on picking it up for a release in the U.S., simply because I'm intrigued to see what kind of "new" old titles these guys come up with next. Retro Game Challenge is absolutely worth picking up, and I highly suggest it to everyone.
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