February 10, 2009 marks the day Retro Game Challenge or Game Center CX: Arino's Challenge as it's known in Japan, was released to us, courtesy of XSEED, for the Nintendo DS. I can't find the sales figures, but I can tell you this game was vastly overlooked. This is most likely due to the retro factor, which is a shame, because I think it's something even non-retro game fans can enjoy, if for no other reason than to take a glance back into what the 80s were like. I wasn't alive then, but this game did a hell of a job making me feel like I was part of the NES craze.
Retro Game Challenge is based on Game Center CX, a Japanese television show in which a man by the name of Shinyo Arino assigns himself timed retro gaming challenges. In the opening, we learn that Arino's been utterly dominated at every current gen multiplayer game, and his desire to win grew strong enough to spawn a digital version of himself. He decided to haunt gamers around the world with challenges, and you're his next victim. But he's not playing fair, oh no. He's giving himself home-turf advantage, the 80s.
You're transported to his living room where you meet him as a child. So you're playing games with Arino in the past, all the while being issued challenges by the digitized future version of Arino. At this point you might wonder why you can't just strangle the kid with the controller and save yourself the hassle. Anyway, you befriend the not-yet-insane Arino and sit down to play some games. He interacts with you while you play, berating you if you mess up, cheering you on when you do well, and so on. There are thirty-two challenges split among eight games as well as one final challenge (to beat every game). After this, Arino warns you that if he continues to suck at games, he'll be seeing you again. Credits roll and you get to shoot his giant head to pass the time. The games are: Robot Ninja Haggleman, Robot Ninja Haggleman 2, Robot Ninja Haggleman 3, Rally King, Rally King SP, Guadia Quest, Star Prince, and Cosmic gate. These are fictional NES games, but they very well could have been released at the time. Believe me when I say these are NES games at heart, lovingly programmed to be that way down to the most minute detail. I'm talking bad-translation, sound, graphics, slowdown, nonsensical story, cheat codes, easter eggs, etc. It's all there. The only difference is their length. These were so true to the style that it's easy to forget you're playing a game within a game.
They developers went above and beyond the games though. They include manuals, schoolhouse game rumors, and even a fictional magazine, complete with fictional articles and fictional editors. It's perfect. You'll feel nostalgia for the 80s regardless of your age. Now for the games:
Cosmic Gate 11/08/1984
This is the Galaga of the game. Alien insects swarm in and drop bullets on you while you take them out one at a time like a champ. There's a two-shot limit per screen, unless you get the power up, which turns every third shot into a missile that tears through enemy files like a cookie-deprived cookie monster on a cookie cake. Challenge stages are thrown in to mix things up. Destroy as many asteroids as possible for 1k points each. Giant asteroids net you 15k. Warp zones can be uncovered by shooting certain blinking enemies. Take too long or accidentally hit another enemy and it disappears The game features sixty-four levels, and while not as challenging as Galaga, it's not a walk in the park. Overall, it's a pretty faithful tribute to the predecessors of the schmup as we now know it and is worth playing multiple times.
Robot Ninja Haggleman 09/13/1985
I don't think this one's emulating any specific game, but it seems to draw from Mappy, Mega man, and Super Mario Bros. You play as Haggleman, a robot ninja, and are trying to save the princess. You battle through 8 different floors. With each floor, enemies and level design grow more difficult. The controls are simple. A to jump and B to throw ninja stars. Depending on the enemy, you can hit them with a star or jump on them to known them down. Kill enemies by jumping on them while they're down, or by flipping red, blue, or green colored doors on them. Each time a door is flipped, it will cycle through to the next color. Every door of the same color will also be flipped. Powerups can be obtained by killing enemies or looking behind doors. Included in these are bigger ninja stars as well as longer-ranged, faster ones. Collect three colored scrolls to unleash a screen-wide attack from one of Haggleman's friends. To advance to the next floor, defeat the boss located behind one of the doors. To draw him out, kill every enemy, or discover which door he's hiding behind. Haggleman can take two hits before death, much like Ghosts and Goblins. There are eight floors total, and on the eighth you'll fight Dr Wil-- I mean some evil robot mad scientist. Destroy him to be reunited with the princess. But wait, “Your adventure is not end!” She's kidnapped yet again by the mad scientist and you battle through eight additional floors. Only then will you see the “Happy End."
Rally King 11/21/1985
This would be the RC Pro Am of this fictional 80s, and it's a blast to play. You and nineteen other cars compete for first place over three different courses. The game gives you a bird's eye view, so you can't see what the next turn is going to be. An arrow indicator shows up, giving you just enough time to react. Littered across the tracks are puddles of water/ pits of sand/ sheets of ice that will spin you out if you don't quickly right yourself, ramps to launch off of, and potholes that will slow you down. You start in last place and have to work your way to the front. The other cars are much slower than your own, and they often bump into walls. Hitting cars and walls will deplete your health bar. If it reaches zero, game over. There are also two special cars driving around the track for you to hit. One fixes your car, and the other gives you points. The crux of the game is it's boost mechanic. Release your finger from the gas for a fraction of a second on turns to start a drift. Hold it long enough and you'll rocket off. This combined with the multiple pathways on some levels and road hazards make for an intense white-knuckled experience.
Star Prince 06/03/1986
Star Prince is a fun, challenging, well-designed tribute to Star Soldier. Vertically scroll your way through eight levels, destroying countless waves of enemies, and collecting one-up tomatoes and the letters to spell PRINCE along the way. Each stage features a mid boss and a final boss. Four different powerups are available to aid you. Use them or shoot them enough times to detonate them, obliterating everything on screen. Hold down the A or B buttons to put up a bullet-absorbing shield. Every three shots absorbed releases a shower of bullets. There's not much else to say about this one. It's simply a fun schmup.
Rally King SP
The fictional GameFan magazine ran a contest and offered this game as a prize. It's virtually the same exact game as Rally King. Some levels have been changed and fictional product placement for Cup o' Chicken Noodles can be found throughout.
Robot Ninja Haggleman 2 12/10/1986
Robt Ninja Haggleman 2 makes the first completely obsolete. It features better music, overhauled visuals, and MUCH more difficult level design. You can also store your scrolls for use whenever you choose. It's the same sixteen level formula as before, but with an epic boss battle as an additional seventeenth level.
Guadia Quest 09/11/1987
Guadia Quest is a retro JRPG in the vain of Dragon Warrior. To make a short story even shorter, you play as a trio of tiara-toting heroines enlisted by the king to save the princess. You begin in Centraan and make your way to The Dungeon of Darkness... you get the idea. It's your standard RPG. Mechanically it's pretty good. You have your standard attack, item, magic and flee commands. With regular attacks, there is a bit of luck involved. Each character has a wheel with different symbols scrolling through. Depending on which symbol you stop it on, your attack will vary among a complete miss, a mediocre hit, a critical hit, or a best hit. You're also able to recruit the help of creatures called Guadia. Every once in a while it'll attack enemies. Overall, it's a pretty solid game.
Robot Ninja Haggleman 3 07/21/1989
The third installment in the Haggleman games completely reworks the series. Unlike the first two games, this is a true platforming game. Heavily inspired by Shinobi, Haggleman 3 consists of three episodes. This is one of the fullest experiences Retro Game Challenge has to offer. The stages grow pretty lengthy, with the final one sending you on a labyrinthine journey through various sets of doors. Powerups return in the form of special weapons. The evil robot scientist returns, this time to help. Defeating enemies and break floating boxes to collect nuts, which can be used to purchase gears from the wily old fellow. Bosses are massive, taking up the whole right side of the screen. This is something I could easily see as a standalone $5 release on the 3DS e-shop. It's a fun game complete with the characteristic NES difficulty we've come to simultaneously enjoy and hate.
If you couldn't tell, I have nothing but love for this game. To the two of you reading this: Buy it. If we're lucky they'll translate the sequel. Spread the word. Threaten people. I don't care. Just do something.
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