Retro Game Challenge

Staples such as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Pop Idol may be universally successful, but it's series like GameCenter CX which tell you something about the Japanese national psyche. After all, where else would you have a show in its 10th season that stars a man playing old computer games, often badly?

Strictly speaking, of course, Shinya Arino is part of well known comic duo, but that doesn't seem to make his exasperated attempts at trying to best some of the trickiest games the 8-bit era has to offer any less popular.

And because it's a show about games it must have taken all of five seconds for an executive at Namco Bandai to light the production of a tie-in video game.

Japanese DS owners have so far been exposed to two games under the GameCenter CX brand. Retro Game Challenge is essentially the western localisation of the first release.

The plot involves a digitised (not to mention slightly deranged) Demon Arino who sends you back in time to play various 8-bit games from the '80s. Each retro title has four separate challenges (usually along the lines of beating a specific boss or attaining a certain high score), which you have to successfully complete in order to take one more step towards getting back to the present.

Naturally the cost of obtaining licenses for real NES games would have made the production of Retro Game Challenge impractically expensive, so the developer has done the next best thing and created blatant copies of those vintage legends.

For example, Cosmic Gate is inspired by Namco's Galaga; Star Prince is a carbon-copy of Hudson's Star Soldier, and Guadia Quest owes more that a little debt to Enix's massively popular Dragon Quest series.

All of these games are so faithfully produced, though, that if you didn't know better you'd assume they were wholly legitimate slices of archetypal NES gaming. Everything from the primitive visuals to the glorious chip tune music drips with authenticity. Even the traditional NES font makes an appearance.

During the game you'll also get to converse with Arino's younger self, who happens to be on-hand to provide advice and encouragement.

As each new title falls to your blossoming skills, the years slowly roll by and the youthful Arino regularly engages you in idle video gaming chit-chat, giving rise to several moments of genuinely brilliant humour. Example topics range from the 1989 Nintendo-backed movie The Wizard to the art of blowing on NES cartridges in order to get them to work properly.

To add an additional layer of believability to the entire package, Arino updates you when he's purchased the latest copy of the fictional Game Fan magazine. This publication carries reviews, news and (most importantly) cheats that make some of the challenges easier.

In an especially inspired touch, Game Fan writers are actual modern-day journalists (famous faces include Dave Halverson, John Davison and Dan Hsu).

This aspect of the game could easily have been a throwaway gimmick, but the magazine adds immeasurably to the already impressive air of realism. If you recall reading the likes of Mean Machines or C&VG when you were a nipper, you'll appreciate that the tone and style of Game Fan is frighteningly accurate.

But while Retro Game Challenge accurately lampoons the video game culture of the 1980s, its biggest weakness is the brevity of the whole experience.

Even an average player will complete the game within a couple of days. and although the free play mode lets you enjoy each individual title at will they're not meaty enough to ensure you'll stay enthralled for very long.

It's also a shame that some of the games contained are sequels of titles you play earlier in Retro Game Challenge. Frankly, Robot Ninja Haggle Man 2 and Rally King SP don't differ all that much from their fake originals.

It seems churlish to criticise what is such a refreshingly original release. however.

While it lasts, Retro Game Challenge is unquestionably a fantastic accomplishment. Our fingers are firmly crossed in the hope that US publisher XSEED will translate the Japanese sequel so we can fall in love all over again. And a European release for those who don't want to import this US-only release would also be most welcome.

Retro Game Challenge

A fleeting love letter to the 8-bit generation, Retro Game Challenge deserves to be experienced by everyone with a heart for gaming culture
Damien  McFerran
Damien McFerran
Damien's mum hoped he would grow out of playing silly video games and gain respectable employment. Perhaps become a teacher or a scientist, that kind of thing. Needless to say she now weeps openly whenever anyone asks how her son's getting on these days.