Curiously tucked away at the back of the dealers hall at last years E3 was an 8 Bit wonderland of nostalgia, "Retro Game Challenge". What looked at first like a compilation cartridge of old NES titles, was actually a host of all new titles that seemed to parody early Nintendo era titles. The real truth is that "Retro Game Challenge" is actually much more then even that.
Based off a game show of sorts in Japan, "Retro Game Challenge" is a bundle of classic game genres that never were, an awesome take on mission and goal based gameplay, and a brilliant trip down memory lane. The plot is that a loner gamer stereotype has sent you back to the 1980's and the only way to return is by completing his inane challenges on fake classic famicon/NES titles. That is just the premise, the bottom screen plays host to the living room of the demented villians childhood home, where you end up as an 8 year old kid. Besides just the games, the room is also host to the game instruction manuals and a monthly subscription to "Game Fan" Magazine. Originally XSeeD had hoped to turn the famicon and cartridges into something that more resembled the American NES, but were unable due to time constraints. That is of little matter since the general idea gets played across well enough. XSeeD really went out of their way with localization with the dialog between you and the villians childhood persona, and the "Game Fan" magazine, going so far as to get actual well known gaming journalists to write mock up editorials and previews. The game is ripe with jokes and nods to classic gaming moments such as the debut of "Super Mario Bros. 3" on "The Wizard". Some of the jokes may fall a little flat, but on the whole it is a truly standout job of localization in a very Japanese centered game.
Naturally the graphics are not going to be anything mind blowing. The bottom screen uses 3D to represent the game characters, while all the real action takes place on the top screen. The true testament to the games graphics are how well they mimic the graphical evolution in NES titles over the first few years of the game systems lifespan. The first game is basically "Galaga", and the last game looks more like the "Ninja Gaiden" series. While even the final games don't really look anywhere near the top of the line NES titles, its still a neat touch on the developers part.
The music is suitably composed for the era of games its representing. Some stands out more then others such as "Guardia Quest" and "Star Prince". While none of them are bad, the unfortunate reality of game music is that it tends to be directly tied to the memory of a specific game. Since none of the games are real, you wont quite get the nostalgia goosebumps as if you were playing an actual classic you spent years playing like "Ninja Gaiden" or "Dragon Quest".
Obviously the gameplay is tied to each game, but the good news is none feel half-assed. The "Galaga" clone plays exactly like it should, "Star Prince" sometimes feels like it plays better then the games it homages, "Rally King" the same. "Super Robot Ninja Haggleman 1 and 2" feel like a weird cross of "Mario" and "Mappy Land", with part 3 coming much closer to "Ninja Gaiden". The main point of the game is complete four pre-assigned tasks with each one. Such as reach a certain score in "Star Prince", or finish under a certain time in "Rally King". What is particularly fun about these challenges is they seem to be born from memories of being a kid and coming up with insane self imposed challenges while waiting for Christmas to roll around and receive a new game. Who didn't try to beat "Super Mario Bros." without a single mushroom as a kid, or who didn't try to break a world record in "R.C. Pro Am"? One of "Retro Game Challenges" greatest feats of taking you back to the eighties is how much it reminds you of when you actually had time to create speed runs and impress all your friends. At first both the games and the challenges seemed to easy, and to short. Although, it can't really be said that early NES games were deep engaging experiences. Right when you worry about rushing through the games to fast, "Guardia Quest" is unlocked. Obviously a total send up to "Dragon Quest", this full featured RPG will take you hours to beat. More then that, "Guardia Quest" is meticulously modeled after an NES era RPG, filled with all the little quirks and menu set up from the old days. You will definitely get your moneys worth out of this game.
If there is any real fault to "Retro Game Challenge", is that while it features 9 games, you only really feel like your playing 4 genres. A couple of the titles are little more then rehashed sequels of the first game, almost as a parody it seems. It would have been nice to see a little more variation from the more wild west days of game development. The other problem is that some games have pretty low replay value. Again, reflecting some of the more simple nature of games at the time. Still, considering Nintendo was charging 20 bucks a pop for one game of this type on GBA, its still a great deal.
Final Verdict - 8/10
A great compilation that will remind you of why you got into video games in the first place. A first rate localization effort will also tickle your funny bone. If your not a fan of early 2D platformers, vertical shooters, "R.C. Pro Am racing games", or "Dragon Quest 1", then you might not get as much out of it. But lets be real, how many people are there that don't like at least one of those?