With all of the advances in gaming hardware and the games that go along with them some developers have found a greater interest in exploring titles that hearken back to earlier times in game design and mechanics. A handful even went a step further by making games that mimic old 8-bit titles right down to the graphics and sound.
Retro Game Challenge is loosely based on the Japanese television show Retro Game Master(or GameCenter CX if you prefer Japanese titles). In this show a Japanese comedian named Shinya Arino is given a time limit of about one day to complete a variety of classic videogames. Retro Game Challenge is based on a similar concept as Arino himself gives out challenges to complete for eight different games. Unlike the TV show none of these games were available before in the real world and instead they've all been created specifically for Retro Game Challenge.
The presentation is very interesting as the player assumes the role of their younger self and it's back when the Famicom(NES) was the biggest thing around. A younger Arino sits beside you and offers commentary and reactions to everything you do in the games. A lot of the presentation's appeal is in nostalgia. Everything from buying gaming magazines to find out secret codes to blowing in cartridges is faithfully recreated.
The games themselves emulate 8-bit consoles and most of them are based off of some popular real-world game or at least share similar concepts. They're faithful recreations but thankfully not too faithful as they don't emulate the sprite flicker and bad game design that plagued a lot of early titles. Each game has four challenges that must be completed before the player can move onto the next game. These challenges are typically very simple and if the player gets stuck there's usually a handy cheatcode or a guide to help them along. Since the games span multiple genres they're pretty easy so that players who aren't masters of every genre have a good chance at beating each game(the cheats help too). But enough about all that let's get into the games themselves.
Cosmic Gate - Namco fans will quicky point out that this game is a Galaga clone. The player is restricted to left and right movement and a single cannon that fires two bullets at a time. Enemy ships swarm in a formation while firing away at the player before taking their spot at the top of the screen. After all surviving ships reach the top of the screen they'll attempt to take the player out in coordinated attacks. Progress is simple in that the player must destroy every enemy ship to reach the next stage.
Cosmic Gate is no mere clone however as it adds enough variation to make it worthwhile. The sole powerup in the game is a powerful shot that fires every third time the player fires a shot. This powered shot will not only destroy an enemy ship but it will also pass through and destroy any enemies behind them. Destroying more than one enemy with a single shot tacks on a multiplier and long lines can equate to big points. Every few stages the player can destroy falling asteroids of various sizes for bonus points and the occassional 1up. Warpzones can also be triggered by fulfilling certain conditions. These are handy for skipping multiple stages and thus leading to the game being completed more quickly.
All in all it's a pretty good game I think. It's not as difficult as the arcade games but there's always a good challenge in going for better high scores. On the other hand non-fans of Galaga will find little to enjoy here.
Robot Ninja Haggle Man - This game is an interesting mix of action and platforming. I'd say it plays closest to titles like Bubble Bobble and the like. As the RHNM you have to rescue the princess by killing everyone and their boss in each stage. The stages are wrap-around so that if you keep moving forward you'll go in circles and each enemy must be destroyed before the boss appears(though you can sometimes trigger the bossfight early by opening certain doors). The RHNM has access to an infinite supply of shuriken that can stun most enemies, a jump he can use that'll destroy them, and by grabbing three scrolls he'll recieve aid from a friend.
The doors are interesting in that each of them are colored. Opening a red door for example will cause all of the red doors in the vicinity to open as well. Aside from sometimes spawning powerups the doors can also be used to kill enemies. This concept was actually used in the old Namco title Mappy which I think is interesting. Like with many titles the player can gain lots of bonus points for defeating multiple enemies at once. Jumping on a lot of heads without touching the ground adds multipliers as well as killing a number of enemies with one well-timed door opening. As the player progresses the enemies will become faster, harder to stun, and eventually even fire projectiles. The bosses aren't much for the most part as they usually go down in one hit and behave like regular foes. There's a strict time limit in place to keep things moving. Oh and before I forget you can take two hits before dying.
While there isn't much to this game in terms of variety it's still very playable and can be quite entertaining. This is another title worthy of my recommendation.
Rally King - This overhead racing game is similar to, well I don't know what it's similar to as I didn't play a lot of racing games in the past. Like every other game in this compilation the goal is simple. By dodging puddles(or other slippery substances), passing rivals, and effectively using the drift and drift boost the player can reach the top spots and win. There are walls and holes to slow you down and the player loses energy for every collision they make.
The drift boost is what it is. Drifting is done by letting go of the gas while turning and after drifting for enough time the car automatically takes off with a serious boost in speed. This can be dangerous if used improperly and unsuccessfully performing the drift boost will also slow the player down. Randomly vehicles that replenish energy or add bonus points will appear and some tracks have special routes that are worth a ton of points if the player can find them. The concept is effective and the controls are decent but I just don't care for this game. Maybe it's the genre itself but I got bored of this one long before I completed it.
Star Prince - Here we have a 2D shooter with all of the requisites. There's the ship with multiple weapons, enemy ships that attack in formation, larger ships with heavier firepower, bosses at the end of each stage, and lots of background objects to destroy. This game is clearly patterned off of the popular Star Soldier series. Star Soldier is known for having among other things a ton of objects littering the ground that the player can destroy for bonus points.
Star Prince is perhaps the most creative of all of the games in this compilation when it comes to scoring. Aside from simply destroying enemies and objects the player can collect a special bonus by finding six secret letters that spell PRINCE. There are technical bonuses for destroying certain objects at the same time, a certain mid-boss doles out huge points if he's destroyed before he transforms, and by shooting powerups enough times they'll explode and every enemy on-screen will be destroyed with a multiplier tacked on for each of them. It's quite a bit to absorb but since the game isn't very difficult it's easier to focus on scoring over survival. It also helps that there are only four stages in the game so memorizing the key scoring areas isn't too much trouble.
Star Prince also has access to a shield. By holding down the fire button a shield will absorb most bullets. After the shield absorbs three bullets it will fire off a powerful blast while the player is temporarily invincible. It's useful certainly though against the final boss it isn't much use and colliding with ships will cancel the shield. All in all this is a nice effort though it is lacking compared to the games it's inspired by. Still one could do much worse.
Robot Ninja Haggle Man 2 - Like most sequels this game takes the basic concept of RNHM 1 and expands upon it. The levels in this game are larger, multi-scrolling, and feature more enemies. To balance it all out there are more advanced tricks for the player to take advantage of. Fans of the first game will find a lot to like here.
Rally King SP - This version of Rally King is actually sponsored by some noodle company(which is also apparently the mascot for all of the magazines Arino keeps buying). Aside from some changed colors and an advertisement between each stage this game is the exact same as Rally King. Obviously this is poking fun at some "Special Edition" games that don't add anything new but are instead plastered with ads and are exceedingly rare.
Guadia Quest - Fans of Dragon Quest will have this game figured out immediately. This is a traditional overhead JRPG with random encounters, a few large dungeons, and so on and so forth. There's not a whole lot that separates this game from DQ. There are recruitable monsters in this game but aside from adding the occassional attack every few rounds there's not much else to them. It is very accessible at least and it accomplishes what it sets out to do. I don't really care for this game though. It's decent and all that but I was always a bigger fan of Final Fantasy 1. I kind of wished they cloned that game instead.
Robot Ninja Haggle Man 3 - Unlike most sequels this game actually changes up the game design entirely. There are a lot of similarities to action games like Ninja Gaiden & Castlevania and there's even some exploration elements similar to titles like Metroid, Rygar, Goonies II, and so on. RHNM still has his trademark shuriken but this time whenever he gets close to an enemy he slashes them with his sword. The sword is more powerful but it can leave RNHM open to attack(especially from behind).
This game adds a healthy selection of powerups. Like Castlevania's candles and Ninja Gaiden's floating objects everything from health to nuts to special weapons can be found. The nuts can be used to buy gears which are then equipped to add extra functions. Some of these are used for progressing(like the ability to jump higher) while others make RNHM better suited at combat. Some of the shops are difficult to find however.
There's a heavy emphasis on platforming in this game. RNHM has a very long health meter in this game but he can die instantly from falling into any of the numerous pits. In fact the placement of enemies at precarious locations and the way RNHM falls after taking damage are tailored towards making pits his worst enemy. The game takes advantage of bizarre mechanic in that even if the area he's in looks like it's directly above another area if it resembles a pit he will die. To make things a lot less frustrating RNHM can look around him whenever the game is paused to spot dangerous situations. Unfortunately this does little to account for the Ninja's worst enemy and that is birds. While the birds in this game don't have Ninja Gaiden's movement patterns they are quick, annoying, and very deadly near pits.
Despite all of the pits and deaths that come with them progress is never overly hampered. There are mid-level checkpoints and all purchased or found gears are still in the player's possession. Granted the score gets reset and the nuts are dropped by half that doesn't mean much when the game is filled with respawning foes and objects. Aside from having some lame bossfights this game is very good.
With Retro Game Challenge the whole really is better than the sum of its parts. Very few of these games can stand on their own and when compared to some of the titles they're inspired by it's not even a contest. If you're interested in Retro Game Challenge for one or two games you'll find yourself disappointed that they simply don't stack up to the similar games you played when you were younger. The main things all of these games are lacking in is variety and challenge. While there is challenge in beating highscores there's not that much there in simply beating the games. The lack of variety becomes an issue since unlike arcade games these titles don't have enough of a difficulty curve to make reaching those end levels very thrilling. A lot of assets are re-used in terms of sprites and they exhibit the same behaviors in stage 8 as they do in stage 1.
That's to be expected though considering the overall direction of the game. Retro Game Challenge isn't directed towards masters of the arcade game or the RPG veterans. This game is for anyone who picked up a controller back when the NES was popular. This isn't the game you buy your kids to get them away from Call of Duty as they simply won't be impressed by it. RGC revels in its usage of 8-bit atmosphere and it's just not a good choice for introducing people to "retro" videogames. It is a however a thoroughly pleasant trip down memory lane and manages to skim past all of the terrible elements that made up some of our earliest games. Heck it might even inspire someone to buy an NES or dig one out of their attic and really relive the olden days.
Though a sequel was released in Japan the chances of it reaching our shores is very slim. The publishers of the original RGC cite the lack of sales as their reason for not bringing over the sequel. While I can't say I'm too surprised considering the concept I still think it's a damn shame considering that Retro Game Challenge is a very nice piece of work and a worthwhile pick-up for fans of the old-school.