Review: Retro Game Challenge

Nathan Grayson | 29 May 2009 09:00
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Retro Game Challenge? What kind of name is that? In this age of flashy titles like Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena and Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, that's not going to draw many eyes. And its at-a-glance description? A collection of bite-sized, no-frills games? Like we haven't seen a thousand of those on the DS already. Really, everything about this game seems to fly in the face of what today's savvy 18- to 34-year-old gamer wants out of an interactive escapade.

And yet, that's why it works so well. In actuality, Retro Game Challenge's title says it all. Just like games in the days before colons and "clever" acronyms became titling canon, Retro Game Challenge doesn't mince words. No befuddling complexity here - the game, through its 8-bit blasts from the past and pitch-perfect presentation, seeks to fling you back to a time when both gaming and life were easygoing and idyllic.

In fact, my favorite aspect of RGC isn't even the games. It's the menu screen - if you could even call it that - that, in my eyes, really gives the package its retro-chic sheen. Said "menu" features your eightish-year-old avatar and a naively innocent past incarnation of the game's antagonist sitting in front of a TV screen, Famicom-esque gaming console to the right and game shelf to the left. When you're not participating in RGC's ... well, challenges, your companion excitedly chats with you about all kinds of seemingly trivial stuff like school, TV and, of course, the latest videogames. You know, the kinds of things that were basically the be-all, end-alls of every self-respecting nerdling's world. It's that carefree atmosphere that captures the essence of nostalgia in a way Blue Bell ice cream commercials only wish they could.

That's not to say that the Game Challenge portion of RGC is a snoozer, however; even without the delicious nostalgic icing, this cake could stand alone. See, the gaggle of games included on RGC's cart isn't some recently uncovered treasure trove of '80s sleeper-hits. Instead, as with titles like Mega Man 9, they're lovingly crafted approximations of all the games that make codgers coo, and they're full experiences at that. Take, for instance, Cosmic Gate. It's a 2-D shooter that most closely resembles Galaga, and it goes to ridiculous lengths in order to replicate that experience with eerie accuracy; bunches of levels, enemy types of all shapes and varieties, and even cheat codes - not a pixel was left unpolished. Long story short: These clearly aren't mini-games.

But there's a catch. You can't play all eight of RGC's little big games right off the bat. That's where the Challenge bit comes in. See, the story goes something like this: You've been forcibly flung into the past - and also Japan - by a maniacal TV show host with a huge inferiority complex. In doing so, Mr. Demon Arino - who kind of looks like a combination between the Matrix and Dr. Kawashima's disembodied head from Brain Age - hopes to run you through a series of challenges, each set by his own prior accomplishments, in order to appease his deflated ego. Uh, yeah.

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