Wasn’t the [insert decade of your choice here] such a swell time, when everything was so much more awesome compared to now? In all seriousness, it’s hard not to feel nostalgic about the movies, music, and – of course – video games of the past. When we’re younger, we found these things so much more engrossing and captivating. Needless to say, Hi-Bit Studios certainly agrees, as seen by their latest game.
198X is a coming-of-age story about a teenager from the eighties. He struggles with the difficulties of growing up, with things like family issues and school life, but finds solace in the mesmerizing world of arcade games. It’s a real bummer that the experience wraps up far too quickly with few solid reasons to revisit it.
The title is a compelling, well-written story that some people out there may relate to, or at least appreciate. The real highlights here are the graphics and animation; everything looks jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Pixel art may be a bit of a gimmick in indie games these days, though this one has some of the best out there. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is a potent mix of synthwave, chiptune and classic rock that makes for a great listen.
In between each cutscene is a short, arcade-style mini-game. 198X begins with a title called Beating Heart; fans of Streets of Rage and other side-scroller beat-’em-ups will feel right at home here. Attacking is as simple as mashing the appropriate button while standing or jumping. Grappling enemies requires you to get up close, which leaves you vulnerable to a counterattack, annoyingly. Otherwise, it’s a decent way to kick things off, though it does spoil you with infinite continues. After wrapping itself up within ten minutes, the game slowly scrolls up to an image of a pixelated city background. Cue the logos!
After that is an R-Type-inspired shoot-’em-up called Out Of The Void. Here, you’ll be blasting enemy ships, maneuvering through an asteroid belt, and dodging turrets before reaching the final boss, who is equipped with a deadly one-hit kill laser. You can take up to three hits before losing a life, though you’ll go back to the beginning of the area. Still, it’s actually one of the most enjoyable titles to play thanks to its handy weapon power-ups, numerous baddies to shoot, and many enemy projectiles to dodge.
After another cutscene, what follows is The Runaway, a racing game akin to Outrun. All you gotta do is dodge oncoming traffic while reaching checkpoints for additional time. The goal is to get to the city, yet once you reach the outskirts, your clock will be topped up to about 210 seconds as a long monologue rambles on in the background. Near the end, the car will follow an endlessly long bridge until the timer runs out and the next cutscene plays. Its facile gameplay makes it feel like its sole purpose is to be a transition into the next cutscene. There’s no real sense of urgency here, thus making it the weakest of the bunch.
Shadowplay feels like if Shinobi was turned into a seemingly-endless running game. Button-mashing will dispatch most incoming enemies with relative ease; the many power-ups scattered across each stage will boost your range and damage further. Spikes and boulders must be avoided, along with pits, enemy spells, and a monster’s claws in the fourth and final stage. While you take up to five hits, dying will force you to restart the stage from the beginning. Bit of a pain, but it prevents it from being too much of a cakewalk like the others. Platforming as a nimble and agile ninja is a lot of fun. It’s the longest, most challenging, and best game on offer here.
Last but not least, there’s the turn-based RPG Kill Screen. Set inside a primitive 3D maze from a first-person perspective, you must slay three dragons before reaching the final boss. There’s three different attack types to use, plus the once-per-battle ability to fully heal. Enemies are susceptible to one type of attack, so all you really need to do is spam it until they drop. Fighting will earn you XP, thus making you stronger, but dying will not reset your progress. Overall, its slow-pace and basic combat makes it a bit of a stinker.
198X looks gorgeous, sounds brilliant, and tells an intriguing story. However, the whole thing wraps up far too quickly. The whole thing can be completed in just over an hour, and most of the games, despite being vigorously polished, lack depth and replayability. If these tributes could be played independently from the story, maybe with a batch of additional levels or extra challenges thrown into the mix, then it’d be worth revisiting on occasions. As it stands, the whole thing is like a visual novel with a few brief distractions spliced in between. Ultimately, there’s nothing here to encourage you to come back for more.
Review code supplied by developers.