Retro Game Challenge
Developer: Bandai Namco
Retro Game Challenge is not a great game itís a shame more people havenít played. Retro Game Challenge is three great games itís a shame more people havenít played, plus several others that are pretty darn good. Thatís not even getting into the contents of the sequel that didnít see a U.S. release thanks to the first gameís poor sales. For those who arenít in the know, the overarching structure of RGC features a narrative where two kids hang around drooling over upcoming NES games and exchanging rumors about the ones they have. Every time you complete a small series of challenges for the last game you obtained -- Achievements, basically -- time passes, and you add a new game to your collection. Thatís an interesting gimmick in and of itself, but the important thing is that these games are all original creations, yet each and every one is something youíd buy if it really were just a cool old NES game you somehow never heard of growing up.
We start off with Cosmic Gate. Itís basically a Space Invaders clone. OK, not that impressive, but at least itís a really good Space Invaders clone. Itís a bit like Galaga with added power-ups, warp zones, bonus levels, and eventually an actual ending. You wouldnít pick up the whole package just for this one, but itís a fun diversion to play as a quick break. Itís also a nice warm-up before playing the other shooter in the group.
That other shooter would be Star Prince, and itís awesome. Itís the sort of forward-scrolling shooter which, had it really been released on the NES, would be a contender for the best the genre had to offer. Fun power-ups, nice graphics, just a really solid title.
Then thereís Rally King. Itís a top-down racing game, rather similar to a lot of actual games on the NES but designed around power sliding. All in all, it feels a bit like the lost NES Mario Kart? game, before they tossed in the Mode 7 camera and all the power-ups. Probably the least impressive of the bunch, but itís a solid little racing game. Thereís a bit of an in-joke where you eventually get the Special Edition of Rally King instead of an actual new game, effectively just giving you a new set of tracks, but hey, itís not bad.
Next comes the Haggleman series: three games, staggered between everything else you unlock. The first two are rather interesting and unique. Basically, theyíre platformers. You have looping areas full of monsters to kill, you hop around, chuck things at monsters to stun them, jump on them to kill them, and die in two hits. What really makes it interesting, though, is the various colored doors scattered around. You can use them to hide, you can find power-ups in them, you can kill monsters as the doors swing open and closed, and you can set up special combos by entering them in the right sequence. Itís interesting, and plays a great deal like Ninja Jajamaru-kun crossed with Door-Door, but far more fun than either.
Haggleman 3, however, is something different. Partly in reference to the radical turns certain series took, but mainly to capture the feel of a proper NES platformer once the series came into its own, the third Haggleman throws everything about the first two games out the window. Suddenly we have what looks like the love child of Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man, with hilariously tenuous ties to the characters of the older Haggleman games. Itís a little on the short side, with only three levels compared to the eight such a game would normally have offered, but these are good, solid, well-designed levels full of branching paths and hidden secrets. Oh, and three different kinds of birds to knock you out of the air mid-jump. Itís that sort of game. Of course, itís also the sort of game with a system of cool permanent equipment to be found in hidden shops, expanding your abilities in interesting ways. Honestly, Haggleman 3 would be worth buying on its own.
As would the last game, Guadia Quest, which is a straight-up Dragon Quest II clone. Thatís really all that needs to be said. A collection of quick, well-built fake NES minigames had the class to throw in a full RPG. Itís darn good, too, especially if you have any nostalgia whatsoever for the sort of NES RPG that was all about monsters gradually wearing you down fight after fight as you explore maze-like dungeons. As all the other games do, it really nails the fundamentals and throws in some unique twists, up to and including a spell that speeds the entire game, and taming certain monsters who then aid you in battle. Itís also surprisingly lengthy. In fact, itís easily a longer, meatier game than the original Dragon Quest.
Finally, as if all those games werenít enough on their own, thereís all the love and attention heaped onto the overall framing device. While the top screen stays dedicated to the actual games, the bottom is at all times a magic window of nostalgia, where you can flip through the manuals to all these games, listen to playground rumors, make yourself notes, or pull out gaming magazines to look up cheat codes and hints on all the various games.
All this from a licensed game based on a Japanese TV show.
The only thing keeping RGC from being a completely accurate recreation of owning an NES when you were a kid is that somehow the localization staff failed to add a feature to the U.S. release forcing you to blow into the microphone to get the dust out before inserting a new game. Hereís hoping that makes the sequel, if it ever manages to see release here.