The mid-80's were quite possibly the true start of video games as we know them. Sure, Atari and friends may have birthed the concept and created classics, but things got complex without ground rules and licensings and whatnot. Due to these maddening complications, the general public lost interest. The "Video Game Crash Of 1983", as it's coined, killed gaming in its infancy. But with death, there is rebirth; for the same year that gaming died is the year that gaming as we know it now was born. A little electronics company named Nintendo created a home video game console of its own. A game "computer: that the whole "family" could play. This little creation was christened Family Computer, or Famicom for short. At first, its games were simple little dinky arcade ports. Fun stuff, but nothing really notable. Then, 1985 rolled around, and two more things happened to cement video games as a part of humanity's culture. A revolutionary game called Super Mario Brothers came out for the Famicom, and was an instant hit. At the same time, the Famicom finally reached our shores, dubbed with a new name to promote it as an electronic toy rather than a heathen video game console. Thus, the Nintendo Entertainment System was born, and gaming was back. Throughout the latter half of the 80's, gaming was GOOD again. Instant classics were forged, and even 20 years later the names bring a warm smile of nostalgia to people. Mega Man, Ninja Gaiden, Dragon Quest.. All greats. It only seems fitting that a Nintendo console host a game that takes a look down Memory Lane, and reminds us of the good times we had with that old toaster.. and the frustrating. Welcome to Retro Game Challenge, now crank up the Michael Jackson and let's beat some 8-bit stuff.
Retro Game Challenge is actually an American localization of a game based off of a Japanese TV show. "Game Center CX" chronicles a funny little Japanese man in a green coat named Shinya Arino. The show contained many gaming-related segments and interviews, but the one most remembered is "Arino's Challenge". Arino would take classic Famicom games like Takeshi's Challenge or Star Soldier, and try to complete them. Often, there would be little achievements and special challenges for him to complete as well; breaking all the barriers of a Big Core in Gradius, for example. It's this challenge style that makes up the bulk of the game. As the opening Star Wars-esque crawl explains, Arino became so frustrated with his challenges that his rage spawned a malicious AI program in a DS. (Yeah, I don't get it either.) This "Demon Arino" taunts the player, and uses some sort of magic time-travel powers to turn them into a child and send them back in time to 1984, to play old video games and complete the demon's challenges. If the player is able to finish them all, Demon Arino will return them to the future. Aiding Young Player on their quest is Young Arino, who's crazy about games and has a Famicom himself. The way the game works is simple; Demon Arino appears, and tells you to do something. This can be anything from getting X amounts of points, to reaching level X, to doing something special in-game. The challenges are varied enough to keep interest, but never anything too sadistic. Once you clear all the challenges for a game, you unlock a new game to play with. There are eight games included on the package, and all of them are a homage to something from the good old days; keeping the best parts (and some of the worst) as a reminder of how things were back then. The games you'll be challenged to play through:
: Galaga, Galaxian, Space Invaders
The first game you're able to play around with is a simple little arcade space shooter clone. Fairly straightforward; you are a spaceship, space bugs fly around space in formation, perch in line at the top of the screen, then come down and try to make you dead. Your job is to make them dead first. The thing goes on for 64 stages, getting harder as it goes along. There's a way to power up your ship to shoot missiles that will kill a whole formation in one shot, and a bonus game where you shoot asteroids. Hell, it even has Engrish! (YOU SHOOTED 33 ASTEROIDS.) Simple as it may be, it's still fun, and a good start to the package.
ROBOT NINJA HAGGLE MAN
: Ninja Jajamaru-kun, Mega Man, Ghosts n' Goblins
Oh goody, an action platformer! With a ROBOT NINJA! Double-awesomeness right there. This one's not too complex, either; you are a robot ninja who can take two hits before he dies. You run around a level that loops around itself, killing enemies by jumping on their heads. There are labelled doors that you can enter, colored red, blue or green. Entering a door changes the color of every door on-screen that was the same color. In addition, the flipping doors can hide powerups, kill enemies near them, or reveal the stage boss early. After beating a boss, the next level will be full of fodder enemies that are that boss. Eight stages of this has you fight the boss, a crazy doctor that looks more like a duck. Then you go save the princess.. EXCEPT NOT! The game pulls a Ghosts 'n Goblins on you and makes you play it all along, teasing you with more Engrish (YOUR ADVENTURE IS NOT END!). This one is still simple, but remains charming.
: Any top-down Famicom driving game
Eeeeeeh. They can't all be winners. Rally King isn't a bad game, by any means. It's actually kind of fun. You drive a little car from a top-down perspective, passing other cars and trying to win the race. As you drive, little "point" and "health" cars may pop up for you to drive into and earn the powerup. There's a technique to drift and get a speed boost, if you're in need of a quick burst of speed. It's a fun little driving game, but some might prefer some other genre instead for the third game. Nevertheless, it's here and it's alright. Mere personal distaste, here.
: Star Soldier, Xevious
OH HO HO, NOW WE'RE TALKING. This right here is one of the best games on the package. It's a classic vertical-scrolling shmup, and god-damn is it good. There are always lots of enemies on screen, but it's always stuff you can handle without dying. Parts of the background are destroyable as well, yielding points and powerups and secrets. There are four special weapons to gain; expected stuff like a spread gun or power laser shot. Another handy feature is the ability to activate a barrier to absorb enemy bullets. Absorb 3, and you do a special counter-attack. Also notable; In-game, Young Arino buys a special turbo controller for the game, unlocking a turbo button for Star Prince. The game does that same trick that Haggle Man pulled, and makes you play it twice.. but it's so good that you don't care about it.
RALLY KING SP
: All Night Nippon Super Mario Bros
The joke behind this one is that, back in the 80's in Japan, there would be special promotional Famicom games that were just the original games with minor alterations. Gradius Archimendes is another game like this; it's just Gradius, except the powerup icons have been replaced with cans of a Japanese brand of ramen. As such, Rally King SP takes the original Rally King you just played, puts a few stages at night or sunset, and sticks a ramen-eating bird in between levels to pimp out a brand of fictional noodles. All I can say is, good thing that the challenges are different for Rally King SP.
ROBOT NINJA HAGGLE MAN 2
: Everything Haggle Man 1 was based off of, plus the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2
Again with rehashing. Haggle Man 2 is essentially just an expansion of HM1. There are some new tricks, like the levels being self-contained bricks rather than infinitely looping, and the ability to scroll up to get at more level, but it's the same basic game. Jump on things, open doors, beat crazy doctor, ADVENTURE IS NOT END, do it again. It's still fun, but not a breakout hit of the package.
: Dragon Quest 2, Shin Megami Tensei, any other Famicom JRPG
This one is going to be hit-or-miss for a lot of people. If you are a gigantic fanboy for old-school JRPGs like Dragon Quest, you'll be in relative heaven. If you're not, just slog through it for the challenges and never play it again. The visual style looks damn near identical to Dragon Quest, as does the battle system. It's most like DQ2 in that you get a straight physical attacker, a mixed healer/attacker, and a devoted mage. The SMT inspiration comes from being able to "capture" special monsters called Guadias and have them fight at your side. One fatal flaw with this one, though; it really is brutal, even when compared with classic Dragon Quest. That drags it down a notch and keeps it from being the hit of the package.
ROBOT NINJA HAGGLE MAN 3
: Metroid, Ninja Gaiden
You read that right. The third Haggle Man game reinvents things, and manages to mix Ninja Gaiden's hack-and-slash action with big expansive levels to explore, kind of like Metroid. If a game like this had come out for REAL in the early 90's, it would be amazing. And Haggle Man 3 really IS amazing, and the best game on here. You gain currency for killing enemies, and finding hidden stores lets you buy equippable gears that grant you various abilities, some of which are needed to advance through the levels. It's damn good, but one thing to note. Know how birds are the infamous sons of bitches in 8-bit gaming? Guess who's back.
Those are the games at a glance, but there's even MORE to it, surprisingly. As you beat challenges, you unlock issues of a Nintendo Power homage called "GameFan Magazine". Inside these are previews of upcoming games (i.e, games you can look forward to unlocking), cheat codes, and letters from Simpsons prank call alumnis like I.P. Freeley. They're short, but fun to read.. and the codes certainly help for some of the later challenges. Another silly little homage will be the random interruptions before playing a game, like Arino's mom telling him he should take a break, or having to blow in the cartridge to get it working. There's also a Freeplay mode to try and rack up a high score for each game, if you're inclined.
Retro Game Challenge is a damn beautiful tribute to the 8-bit era. By picking most of the great bits of games from that time, and lampooning the more ridiculous aspects of them, each game has its own little style to it. Conquering Demon Arino's challenges is satisfying, even if all of the games aren't triple-A winners. The ones that are, though, more than make up for it. If you have any speck of fondness for the NES, give this one a go, and remember your own days with the NES classics of old.