Retro Game Challenge takes the crown from my previous favorite, Beat Hazard, as my new favorite game. Don’t get me wrong, I own a metric shit-tonne of games and there plenty of them I like (and many I still haven’t gotten around to playing much less beating, 179 as of writing this), however it is a special kind of game that can be labeled as a favorite. They are typically challenging enough to be fun but not too hard as to be frustrating, have massive replayability, and are easy to jump into for gaming sessions quick or long. These tend to be either of the Arcade-style variety or free-form strategy games. While I do love RPG’s and story-driven FPS games, they are much harder to put down for a long while and then pick them back up again. I also prefer games that can be started and finished in less than a couple of hours. I do have a hard time playing really long games. I usually get bored sometime around the 25-30 hour mark. For that reason, I don’t play Japanese RPG’s (that and I can’t stand grinding) or MMO’s (I also refuse to pay monthly to keep playing a game).
So, what is so great about this game? I do not want to do a full review as there are other, better reviews out there. This will mostly be some highlights of what I like about it. Retro Game Challenge is based on the Japanese show, Retro Game Master. At first glance it may seem to be just a collection of minigames. But it really isn’t. First, all games have to be unlocked by beating certain challenges in them. Some of the challenges are trivial others take time, practice, and skill. Others are damn hard without the use of the built-in cheats. Once you beat all the challenges of the game, you are then given a new game. The formula is brilliant. “Here is a new game, beat these challenges any way you like, there are optional cheats and hints to help you if you want them. When you are done, here is the full game you can play any time!” I would love Activision, Namco, or even Midway to adopt a formula like that for their game collection of the month.
I was a kid who grew up in the late-80’s-early-mid-90’s, so what I love about this is all the little things. First, this is like a simulator for gaming in the late 80’s. It has everything from wonderful (and helpful) game manuals to the awesomeness of getting game magazines (e.g. Nintendo Power) filled with helpful hints, cheats, and the cool games that are in the works. It even occasionally makes a joke about having to blow out the cartridges (though, it would have been neat if they had you blow into the DS microphone). It isn’t really necessary, but the built-in notepad is even a nice touch. Even better is that you can open the manual or a magazine in the bottom screen for reference while you are in the middle of a game, which is especially helpful for the RPG game, Guardia Quest.
The games are great throwbacks to the classics. There is the Galaga-like shooter, Cosmic Gate (my favorite), the arcade-style platformers Robot Ninja Haggleman 1 and 2, top-down racers, Rally King and Rally King SP (my least favorites), the shmup, Star Prince, the RPG, Guardia Quest, and the action platformer, Robot Ninja Haggleman 3. The remarks about Rally King is personal preference only (as I have always hated top-down racers since I was a kid) and not indicative of the quality of the games. The games come across as everything you remember and liked about their genre mixed together to create a new, albeit familiar, game. The games look right, feel right, and most importantly, play right. This was not some minigame-collection-rush-job that you usually see on Nintendo and handheld systems, from someone who played many of the original games these were based on, it seems like a fitting love letter to those games. The only real problem with this game is that I am left wanting more, and while there is a sequel, it is Japanese only and will probably never be released in the States.
If you see a copy of this game, pick it up. It is totally worth it.
EDIT: I just finished the final challenge of beating all the games. I will say that Robot Ninja Haggle Man 3 is one of the most insanely evil games I have ever played. This game is purely Nintendo Hard. Then again, I wouldn’t expect anything less from a game that is heavily inspired by Mega Man and Ninja Gaiden. It was a bitch and a half, but it was worth it.