Retro Game Challenge
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I suppose it's about time to talk about Retro Game Challenge seeing as I've been playing it since the last decade. It's one of the most interesting and unusual games that I've played on the DS, but had the extreme misfortune to be what I was playing right before I was hit with my prolonged and not entirely self-inflicted illness in the middle of last year, meaning that after a night or two of sickmares about making little 8-bit RPG people wander around and hearing chip music in my head I really didn't ever want to play it again. But I finally went back to it for the sake of completeness, and even though I honestly had a pang of nausea when hearing the game menu music, I managed to grow gradually more accustomed to it and finally played it to completion.

The game is based on one of the few Japanese TV programmes that don't involve competing to see how many carpet tacks you can nail to yourself or catapulting people into lakes - the general premise is somewhat difficult to describe, but here goes. You start off by naming your character, who is then sent back in time to the 1980s by the show's host in order to play video games with his younger self, and your only hope of escape is to complete the various challenges in those games-within-the-game that his giant polygonal head gives you in a very sort of Patrick Moore Gamesmaster arrangement. My character was named "Tim", because at the time the idea of putting a diminuitive version of Tim Sweeney back through time was one I found inexplicably amusing. There are eight games, and four challenges for each one, which you progress through in a linear fashion, only getting to advance to the next game once you've completed all of the objectives in the one you're playing. Personally I would like to have seen more of a choice between what to do next here and less of a definite single line through the game, but the system works well enough.

Unusually using the word "retro" in its actual meaning, everything about the game is designed to sort of simulate game culture in the time it's set - as well as a selection of made up games, you're given a steadily growing collection of miniature game magazines that have news on titles that are about to be released, gradually reveal secrets and techniques about the ones that you're playing in order to aid you in completing the challenges, and so on. The game you're playing is shown on the top screen, while the living room is shown on the bottom one - from there, you can go over to the bookshelf to change the cartridges or dig out a magazine that you're sure that you saw a useful cheat in a while ago (something very familiar to me before the invention of GameFAQs).

The use of the cheats given out in the magazines is optional, but they really help when you're given the last challenge of playing all of them to completion - for the longer ones (notably the RPG), sometimes massive shortcuts are provided if you want to treat them as just challenges within a game, but it's worth playing them all through anyway so as not to miss anything (even though completing most of them without cheats for infinite lives is not something I'd like to attempt, because they're properly difficult as well).

The style of the games themselves change over the course of the wider game from little Namco arcade shooters (or Tomato, as the game calls them) like Cosmic Gate and the more advanced Star Prince to much more involved titles like Haggleman 3, which is an exploration platformer that you could compare to Metroid, and Guadia Quest, a surprisingly gigantic Dragon Quest-styled RPG that could almost have been a game in its own right - when trying to complete it at the end, I definitely thought of it more as "playing Guadia Quest" rather than trying to complete a smaller challenge within Retro Game Challenge.

Perhaps the nicest detail is that the game even recreates the mood of Japanese-English translations at a time when they were at their dodgiest - the title "Haggle Man" is an intentional mistranslation of "Karakuri Ninja Haguruman", meaning something along the lines of "Clockwork Ninja". There are other Videlectricisms (as I now think of them) all over the place, like when you're congratulated at the end of the bonus rounds in Cosmic Gate with the message "YOU SHOOTED 37 ASTEROIDS". Some of them also reference other games of the time, like "Do you feel asleep?", and I was very surprised to open a chest well into Guadia Quest and find Soul Edge. It's wonderful.

I didn't grow up with Nintendo - my memories from that era are of the reader submissions to PC Plus, eventually evolving into bigger games companies being formed and releasing shareware titles over the proto-Internet of the time - so it's nice to experience a simulation of the evolution of console games for the first time. Somehow it manages to incite an incredible amount of nostalgia for a part of game culture that I was never really part of.