This is one of the several times I've broken my rule of "no buying new video games until November" thus far in 2014 (eep!). It was a perfect storm of information all hitting me at once. Retro Game Challenge (henceforth RGC) has a sequel that was never localized, and a few months ago it finally had a completed translation made by a group of fans. When that happened, a number of gaming industry developers and journalists all jumped on that news tidbit and said many good things about RGC.
So I, who hadn't heard of the game at all, hear it discussed in detail on two podcasts AND read on Twitter that it was a major inspiration for the creation of Zeboyd Games (my favorite indie studio) over a period of a few days AND I see it for a reasonable price ($22.99) at a GameStop. Couldn't resist. So I went from zero knowledge of RGC to very intrigued by RGC to suddenly seeing RGC available in-store. And it's a somewhat obscure DS title. Anyhow, let's talk about the game, shall we?
Story and Characters
Immediately, you (the player, either a boy avatar or a girl avatar) are confronted by Arino,a giant floating head that forces you into undertaking a series of video game challenges. His motives... aren't well-explained. Arino turns you into a child and sends you to the year 1983, right when the Famicom debuted in Japan. Except this system isn't the Famicom or the NES, it's the Game Center CX. OK, sure. You must play CX games in Arino's old living room with a young Arino watching you, encouraging you, and lending you his gaming magazines for hints and tips. It's pretty amusing.
There are eight CX games in total, and for each game the player-character needs to complete four different challenges. A challenge can be anything from defeating a boss to finding a hidden item to pulling off a specific maneuver. You never need to go beyond a game's mid-point to complete its four basic challenges, and once you finish those challenges you can play the game from start to finish if you please. I ended up completing the base challenges for all eight RGC games, but I only 100% beat one of them. Whatever. I'm still counting this as a got'im.
As you complete challenges, the weird future Arino gets comically frustrated while the young 1980s Arino cheers you on and provides commentary along the lines of "awesome!" and "aww, come on!" It's a hoot. The game magazines Young Arino lends you occasionally contain tips, tricks, and cheat codes to the CX games, which are usually welcome and helpful. Most of the game's challenges allow the use of such codes, including the final challenge. However, the core of RGC isn't the window dressing, it's the eight games created for the collection. So let's talk about those.
Playing the Game
Most of RGC's games are obvious analogues to real 80s titles. Here I'll break down all eight, so you might want to skip this section if you don't want the final few games spoiled. It's not an important spoiler at all, but I know some people care about that sort of thing.
SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT. KIND OF. SORT OF. NOT REALLY.
Game #1 - Cosmic Gate
Top-down shooter with bug-like enemies, VERY similar to Galaga. If you subtract the asteroid stages and the level-skipping black holes it pretty much is Galaga straight-up. Challenges are really easy.
Game #2 - Robot Ninja Haggle Man
Arcade-y platformer that reminded me of the Mario Bros. arcade game, but with ninja stars, hidden doors, and special combos. Fun little thing. Challenges aren't difficult; I think you only need to beat four stages.
Game #3 - Rally King
My least-favorite game in the collection. Straight-forward drift racing game, which is a genre I don't have much fondness for. Luckily, you only need to beat the second stage to pass the challenge.
Game #4 - Star Prince
Fairly deep space shooter that looks and feels WAY better than any NES space shooter I remember. Lots of weapons, tight controls, and intense stages make for a really impressive shmup. You only need to beat stage 2 to complete the challenges, but I was happy to explore it further. 2nd-favorite game in the collection.
Game #5 - Rally King SP
Well huh. Calling back to the (mostly Japanese) trend of creating promotional versions NES games, Rally King SP is exactly like Rally King with slightly more obstacles in stages, and each stage visibly a little different from the first Rally King (i.e. nighttime vs. daytime). Not much better than the first one.
Game #6 - Robot Ninja Haggle Man 2
Quite similar to the first Haggle Man, with more enemy types, more abilities, and more difficult stages. First one is pretty decent, and so is the second one. I don't remember how many stages I needed to finish to complete its challenges, but it was a bit tricky. Certainly tougher than the first one.
Game #7 - Guadia Quest
A Dragon Quest II clone with tricky dungeons, three characters, hidden bosses, and a twist ending? YES PLEASE. I'd buy a Guadia Quest II. I'd buy a $60 collection of four Guadia Quest games. The only RGC game I finished, let alone invested more than 3 hours into, and my far-and-away favorite of the collection.
Game #8 - Robot Ninja Haggle Man 3
Very fleshed-out game that's... probably best described as a NES Ninja Gaiden game with better controls, easier platforming, and some pretty elaborate stages with some Metrovania elements. It gets really, really tough in the latter part of the game, but to clear the challenges you only need to defeat 100 enemies in Stage 2. Haggle Man 3 is really cool, but it didn't grab me like Star Prince or Guadia Quest. My 3rd-favorite game of the collection.
END OF SPOILER THAT PROBABLY SHOULDN'T COUNT AS A SPOILER
So those are the eight games. Once you beat the challenges in all eight (32 challenges total), you receive a new one: beat all eight games! I never got that far, sadly, but you are allowed to use cheat codes so it's quite manageable in theory. For example, there's a Cosmic Gate trick revealed in one of the last magazines that sends you straight to level 64. That kind of thing goes a long way.
Visuals and Audio
The visuals and audio are totally appropriate for the golden age of the NES, with a few games (looking at you, Star Prince and Haggle Man 3) probably looking and playing a little TOO good to actually be made during that time. It's delightfully retro, and if you enjoy games from that era you'll enjoy it at least as much as I did. Lots to love in RGC's faithful presentation.
The Final Word
This is a collection of eight fun games that probably couldn't stand as a solo DS game (...not even Guadia Quest...) but are outstanding as a collection. If you love the NES, you'll at least get a nice chuckle out of this faithful collection. It's... not exactly nostalgic, because it's hard to be nostalgic for games made in 2007 that I've never played before, but it definitely evokes the 1980s and is a delight to play. Good on you, Namco.
Games Beaten: 2014 Edition
1. Ys Seven
2. Rayman Origins
3. Assassin's Creed II
4. Dust: An Elysian Tail
5. The Walking Dead (season one)
6. Frog Fractions
7. Mortal Kombat (2011)
8. Digital Devil Saga
9. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
10. Persona 3: Portable (FeMC)
12. Sonny 2
13. Dragon Age: Origins
14. Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening
15. Retro Game Challenge
16. Batman: Arkham City
17. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
18. Bravely Default
So that's Retro Game Challenge, a collection of mini-games that I probably won't ever finish. Good times. But now it's even better times: I've joined the new generation of handhelds. You might have noticed I've added two new games to the list above, and they aren't on a system I owned at the time of the last blog post. Coming soon: my first impressions of the 3DS.