Friday, May 08, 2009

Retro Game Challenge

So I never got around to mentioning it, but I’ve reviewed three DS games recently for Snackbar. The most interesting one was Retro Game Challenge (I always hear it as "charrenge" in my head for some reason).

Briefly: a crazy Japanese guy send you back in time to play games from the 80s with his former self. The games are not actually old, but they are designed and drawn to look old. You are not allowed to leave the 80s until you beat his challenges.

On the top screen is the actual game, but on the bottom is the TV, the console, and two kids (you and the crazy guy’s younger self). The majority of the humor comes from the kid you’re playing with. He makes references to things that really happened in the 80s, asks you naïve, childlike questions, comments on your playing (“Nice!” “Ouch!” etc.), and is always there to bother you.

It’s all very cute, but it’s really saying something about the nature of gaming as a hobby and its big sell. At any time, you can pause the top screen and look at the magazines or manuals to learn how to play the game (or how to cheat). The brief descriptors make it really really obvious that the game companies are the master string-pullers:

--The magazines obviously are at the mercy of the companies and perhaps owned by one (perhaps a reference to the success of Nintendo Power, which in the 80s was actually owned by Nintendo)
--The hints, tricks, and cheats filtered out from the magazines slowly but in time for sequels, ensuring players were hooked on game number 1 long enough to remember it but not so long they wouldn’t be enthusiastically waiting another
--Competition is highly desirable, as it increases a games longevity (and sales)

The challenges themselves seem pointless. Get a certain amount of points, beat a level without using a regular move, and getting to checkpoints in the games. Then, of course, comes the glory of simply beating the game and getting to the end. No one knows of your victory but you and your friend, sitting in the living room.

I mean, today is so different! You don’t just get high scores, you get win-loss records, experience points, and achievements. Your accomplishments can now be seen by anyone in the world.

But has anything really changed? Magazines have, a little bit, but only in volume, not in purpose or type of coverage. Strategy guides are more important as a source of revenue and getting people to beat the games and getting the cheat codes out.

Instead of being the best at home or in your neighborhood or even arcade, it’s being the best in the country.

While exceptions exist, games have changed little as a cultural product or in the way they drive us. All games are now is bigger.

For me, it’s not a bitter realization; games are still fun and there’s nothing wrong with something being entertainment. But let’s not kid ourselves. For economic and cultural reasons, games will mostly be "just games" for a very long time.