Retro Game Challenge for DS is a loving celebration of the 8-bit era – Destructoid
Kachou on it!
Retro Gaming Challenge is a somewhat special title for me. Honestly, I never really quit retro gaming. When I had my Gamecube, I still occasionally pulled out my Super Nintendo, but 2009 was around the time when the “retro gamer” became an identity. I never really considered myself a “retro gamer” as I play new titles with comparable frequency. I prefer to call myself chrono-agnostic. Either way, the identity made me reflect on my gaming habits and filled me with a sense of individuality.
Years later, however, I fell in love with a Japanese show, CX Gaming Center. After comedian Shinya Arino as he tried to top off old titles with his meager skills, this was my gateway into the world of games and Japanese culture. It wasn’t long before I had my own Famicom and was reading Japanese at the level of comprehension of a golden retriever.
I lift CX Gaming Center, because one of the games was inspired by it, even though nobody here really knew anything about the series. This would be located as Retro Gaming Challenge, and though all reference to the series is erased, the spirit can never be deleted; live games like we did in the 80s. Well, not me. I’m not old enough to remember the 80s.
In his heart, Retro Gaming Challenge is a compilation of eight games that look like they’ve been ripped straight from Famicom cartridges, but are actually brand new creations. You are given a list of objectives to complete in each game before you can move on to the next. Each of the games can be completed (and they must be if you really want to to end the game), although there are often hints and tips to help you get to the end faster.
The games begin with what is essentially Galaga and progress towards a strange amalgamation of Gaiden ninja and metroid, essentially translating the early days of the Famicom to its heyday. A decent number of genres are covered, including a Dragon Quest 3 JRPG-style.
It wouldn’t be that impressive, but it comes wrapped in a nostalgia package. You are projected from the future into the 80s where you assume the role of a child. Your objective is to defeat the demon that sent you back with the help of its younger self. As such, the two of you sit down in front of a TV and spend the afternoon in its cathodic glow. After completing both challenges, your friend brings back a magazine highlighting upcoming games and leaking tips for those you’re already playing. It’s a rather impressive commitment to reproducing the era.
The only crack in its facade is that it’s more committed to emulating the Japanese experience of the 80s. Even the living room floor sports tatami mats and the console looks a lot like a Famicom. One of the main differences with an 80s Western experience is the emphasis on “hidden characters” and other secrets. Many Japanese school children loved to exchange stuff and talk about rumors, that’s why we have crypto games like Secret Castle of Milon. They were puzzles that needed a community to unravel. That sort of thing never really caught on here.
There’s also this in-game joke, where one of the titles you’re playing is a special sponsored edition of a game you’ve already played. Rally King SP is a harder and slightly remixed version of king of rallies but otherwise feels like a loophole to fill the game. It would have been more forgivable if we had experienced the phenomenon of reskinning games with a marketing bent in the west, but I can’t cite a single example where it happened produced here. Meanwhile, in Japan, there were games like All Night Nippon Super Mario Bros based on the radio show and Land of Kyorochanan adaptation of Nebulus which features the mascot Chocoball.
Another joke the game plays that I really don’t appreciate is the old “beat the game a second time but harder to get the real end.” It wasn’t funny when Ghosts and Goblins did it. You can screw right away with this biz.
Retro Gaming Challenge also celebrates games that haven’t quite caught on the way they did in Japan. Prince of Stars is essentially Star Soldierwhich was super popular in Japan in part because Toshiyuki Takahashi used it to demonstrate his ability to press the fire button 16 times in one second and became a video game celebrity.
Besides, the JRPG was not a popular genre in North America until the release of Final Fantasy VII on Playstation, while Dragon Quest 3 could have been a unifying experience in its home country, Enix and Nintendo could hardly even give the game to the West.
That sort of thing didn’t really spoil the experience for me, personally, as I was too young to play games in the 80s anyway. If you were a western gamer looking for a dose of nostalgia, however, that will be slightly dulled by the choice of titles. A North American release may focus more on recreations of The Legend of Zelda, Rad Racerand Dual Dragon.
There’s also the fact that retro gaming isn’t what it used to be. Today, compilations and individual releases cover large swaths of older libraries, but in 2009 these were still heavily curated and lean selections. Like I said, being a retro gamer was still emerging as an identity. Old cartridges could be obtained cheaply. The idea of a game reproducing what it was in the 80s was a new idea. Now, however, many titles attempt to emulate the experience, whether with pixel art and scanlines or similar compilations like 198X.
However, Retro Gaming Challenge presents itself as a serious and successful attempt in this regard. It does more than just introduce you to a series of new games with old design philosophies, it tries to take you back in time; return to your childhood (potentially). If anything, it effectively shows exactly how things have changed.
Sadly, Retro Gaming Challenge didn’t sell well at a time when niche games were still struggling against inflexible expectations. There was a sequel, which Xseed chose not to localize due to the perceived failure of the first. It’s a shame, because the sequel takes the formula of the first game and develops it, making an even more effective package. There was also a third game on 3DS, but I also heard that it wasn’t as good. Still, I feel dissatisfied that I didn’t play it.
I guess we were even lucky to have Retro Gaming Challenge. Considering it was based on a show that had yet to hit our shores, Xseed was taking a risk on it. However, in 2009, it validated playing a game that celebrated the era I was still clinging to. Old games aren’t any worse than the ones we play now, they’re just eternal examples of how things were back then. Playing them now on modern consoles only tells part of their story, it’s games like Retro Gaming Challenge who try to tell everything.
For other retro titles you may have missed, click here!