RETRO GAME CHALLENGE / Xseed / Nintendo DS

Much as I don't care for a lot of Japan's cultural conventions, I suppose I gotta love a country where a TV show about retro gaming can get on a major network and be popular. Retro Game Challenge is a spin-off from that show, where host Shinya Arino apparently undertakes crazy challenges in classic games. The theme of this game is that Arino is salty that he gets pwned at all modern games, so he transfers himself into a computer and somehow gets into people's video game systems to transport them back in time, to play the retro games of his childhood. He also transforms them into a child, and forces them to complete arbitrary "challenges" in order to be restored to their real lives in the present. So the whole premise is not only completely fucking insane, but a little psychopathic and disturbing as well.

Nevertheless, we roll with it, as it promises old school gaming goodness. But does it deliver? As you can probably guess from the Meh rating, that's a very questionable point.


The game, as an overall package, is nifty. It's a true nostalgic throwback to the childhoods of aging gamers, albeit skewed a bit for "creative license" (gaming magazines of the type seen here really didn't appear until the late 1980s, and the console used here seems a bit powerful for a home system in 1984-85). But it does capture the essence of being a kid in that time, really - waiting on new magazines to come out with codes and previews and rumors, and gleaning info on games from playground gossip rather than the internet. Each game session begins with your player avatar (you can choose from a stock male or female model) and the younger version of Arino sitting down together in front of the TV, where you get your game on, flip through Young Arino's library of then-current gaming rags, or just chat. Games are displayed on the top screen, while the bottom screen shows Young Arino cheering you on and also serves for basic menu functions.

The game is really well localized, the music is pleasant, the graphics are at least functional. The issues with it lie in the games themselves - with only a couple of exceptions, they range from mediocre to boring.



First of all, you don't actually play any real classic games here, despite the backing of Namco and Bandai - the eight games on offer are wholly new "retro-style" creations, but they are largely based on existing classics. The first major problem with them is that they are not all initially accessible - only one is, and by completing four of Arino's "challenges" in it, you unlock another. It proceeds in this linear manner, one game after another, with four challenges each. So if you get stuck on one game or just don't care for it ... you're stuck and can't open up anything else until you just grind your way through it. You also don't get "free play" mode in each game, or the ability to simply play it from beginning to end without being interrupted by a challenge, until you've cleared all four of the challenges for that particular game. So right up front it has a grinding, "earning" structure that a lot of people looking for simple retro fun in the style of standard retro emulation packages might be surprised by and not care for.

The second problem is that the game touts eight unique games, but really, there's only six. Two of them are repeated in "special" forms that are fundamentally not all that different from the original.

The first game you encounter, Cosmic Gate, is a competent but fairly generic Galaga clone. It's not bad, and the challenges are fairly easily dispensed with, but I didn't see much reason to return to it unless you're really a big fan of Galaga-type games (and haven't exhausted yourself on them already.)

The second, Haggle Man, is a sort of odd combination of Kid Niki and Mega Man with some original play mechanics. It's one of the better titles of the group and has a lot more life and vibrancy than Cosmic Gate, being a sort of cutesy parody of a number of 1980s karate-themed arcade games.

The third, Rally King, is pretty awful. Well, I guess it's not fundamentally terrible, but there's a few design flaws to it that are really irritating, and when you combine that with the fact that it's the first game to have significantly difficult challenges, it can be a major sticking point and a tedious stretch to try to work through. It's a racing game in the vein of Micro Machines and probably some earlier top-down racers that I'm forgetting ... R.C. Pro Am is another similar one. This one cops a "drifting" mechanic from more modern racing games, which is a pretty cool addition to the older racing template. However, the course design is such that it has tons of obstacles strewn about, and any contact with pretty much anything at all causes you to spin out and come to a dead stop. Plus, you can only take eight collisions per race, then you blow up and the game is over. In effect, it constantly punishes you for using the primary "speed boost" mechanic that is the main feature of the game! Much like Sonic the Hedgehog, really.

Make it past Rally Ass and you get Star Prince, possibly the best overall title of the bunch. It's a more advanced vertical shooter, similar to Zanac or Star Soldier. For some reason, however, the challenges here are rather brief and easy, though I guess the benefit is that you get Freeplay mode unlocked that much faster.

And after Star Prince seems to be taking things in a better direction ... you get Rally Ass XP, which is the original game with some pallete swaps and minorly altered track layouts. This begins a bit of a stretch of rehashing, as the next game up is Haggle Man 2, which is really just Haggle Man again with harder enemies and levels that scroll vertically.

The killer for me was the seventh game, Guadia Quest. It's a Dragon Warrior-style 8-bit RPG, right down to the tedious battles and the ridiculous amounts of grinding needed to see your way through it. For completion's sake for this review, I wanted to play every game, but I admit I quit here. I refuse to waste my time grinding through shitty RPGs and I see no reason to make an exception here. I looked up the final game, Haggle Man 3, on Youtube and it actually looks like a rather decent play on Ninja Gaiden, but even if it is great, the game just asks you to wade through too much crap to get to it.



As cute and funny as the game might be, the core and most important element is the gameplay, and it just comes up uninteresting and frustrating more often than not. There's also one aspect of the (otherwise very good) localization that wasn't well handled, and that's the voice actor for Young Arino, who alternates between exhorting you and insulting you as you play. Whoever they chose sounds a lot more like a 30 year old Broheim than the 10 year old Japanese kid he's supposed to be, and there's nothing worse than wrestling with the shit controls of Rally Ass while listening to this douche pour abuse in your ear. Including a button to smack the little bastard when he gets mouthy would have raised this one to a Good rating, as it is, it gets the Meh. It's an interesting concept, though, and hopefully the sequel did a better job giving you a fun and compelling range of games to play.


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