Infendo Reviews “Retro Game Challenge” [DS]

Gamers who grew up with the NES no doubt remember the controller smashing frustration of the 1980s.  Games were unforgiving and unfair, but we loved them anyway – extracting far more joy than anguish from our time with that little gray box, the Nintendo.  Playing Retro Game Challenge for the DS is a lot like reliving those lazy summer afternoons with the NES, but without the anguish.  Anyone who wants to recapture the excitement of the 1980s gaming culture, get in touch with the roots of the game industry, or to simply play a great self contained DS title shouldn’t pass this one up.

Retro Game Challenge starts with the story of Arino, a gamer so frustrated at his poor gameplay performance that a digitized version of himself spawns to take residence in his Nintendo DS – and haunt yours!  The digitized “Game Master Arino” turns you into a child and sends you back to the 1980s, threatening to strand you in the era unless you can overcome his challenges in 8 “Game Computer” classics, all fictional NES style games.  Trapped in the land of bad hair and parachute pants you find yourself in Arino’s childhood home -at first young Arino doesn’t believe that his future self sent you back in time to play games with him but eventually comes around, happy to have a friend to play with.

Although it’s cheesy, the story creates an excellent frame for the game, adding humor, context, and an interactive experience truly representative of the era.  The bottom DS screen is your window to a living room the 80s, where you and Arino sit parked in front of the TV playing the Famicom/NES inspired “Game Computer.”  Here, you chat with Arino about upcoming games, rumors, and cheat codes he heard about from friends at school.  You also have access to his collection of “GameFan” magazines, which contain codes, tips, reviews, and amusing letters from the magazine’s fictional readers.  Arino and Gamefan provide a reference for 80’s gaming culture – showing the evolution of games through the decade, imitating the revival the NES brought to the home console industry or even referring to pop culture and movies, such as “The Wizard.”  The setting authenticates the experience in a way that no standard compilation of retro themed games could, providing a atmosphere reminiscint of our very own childhoods – taking turns while playing games with friends.

The top screen of of the DS is where the action is.  Here you play the games, which are surprisingly solid – each one a prime representation of both it’s genre and the year of it’s fictional release date.  As the “years” progress the complexity of the gameplay and the graphical design noticeably improve, similar to how Mario evolved from a simple blocky plumber in the original Super Mario Bros. to a detailed and animated hero in Super Mario Bros. 3.  There are even little “mistakes” thrown in to make the games feel authentic, such as console slowdown or bad translations telling the player that they “shooted 20 asteroids” and that their “adventure is not end!”  There are multiple games to choose from – Cosmic Gate represents “Galaga style” space shooters, and at 64 levels with an asteroid field “mini-game” it’s a fine addition to the genre.  Here, you’ll face your first set of challenges – to move on to the next game you’ll need to complete such tasks as “Beat Stage 5,” or “Get 200,000 points!”  From there you’ll move on to Haggleman, a platformer that feels like a mix between the Mario Bros. arcade game, and Megaman – you’ll complete another 4 challenges to move on to the next game, and so on, and so on.  The challenges give you unique goals to complete, keeping things fresh and exciting through the entire story mode.

Between the 8 games within Retro Game Challenge, there is a lot of variety.  Cosmic Gate and Star Prince are both solid shooters with a fair amount of gameplay evolution between the two titles. Haggleman 1 + 2 provide a unique and fun platforming experience, while Hagglman 3 redesigns the platformer into an action orientated “Ninja Gaiden” style game. The two “Rally King” games showcase a fantastic retro racing experience as well as a reference to rare contest edition games in Japan – and last, Guadia Quest is a streamlined RPG experience – all of the fun, with a minimal of grind.  Although a few of these games are shorter than a standalone title may have been in the 1980’s, each of them feels worthy of it’s own cartridge – had these been actual NES games I have no doubt many of them would be fondly remembered today.

If I really wanted to, I could probably find some flaws to this game – Arino’s in-game voice sound a little old for a child, and it it would benefit from autosaving in between challenges rather then manually saving through the menu – but overall these minor gripes are insignificant when stacked against everything this game has to offer.  Retro Game Challenge is a rush of everything that was great about gaming in the 1980’s – it’s fun, humorous, nostalgic, original, and just plain enjoyable.  It’s new, it’s old, and it’s completely worthy of four stars. Don’t let yourself pass this one up!