198X promises to be a new take on what it means to pull at people’s nostalgia strings. While the game is beautiful, the soundtrack is clean, and the gameplay is fun, the story leaves much to be desired.
Game Name: 198X
Platforms: PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Publisher: RESET MEDIA AB
Developer: Hi-Bit Studios
Release Date: January 23, 2020
Wasting no time at all, the game drops you into the first of 5 different game levels, a beat-em-up called “Beating Heart,” a light and fun fighter that doesn’t pose much of a challenge. The most difficult enemy in this section in a guy who can’t help but hit you as soon as you get close enough to deal damage. These encounters ended with me dying, respawning, and abusing the knockback the respawn created to actually tackle the enemy.
As you approach the end of the stage, the camera pans up towards the lovingly crafted pixel art city skyline as your HUD fades away and the screen fades to black. We transition to the bedroom of Kid, played by Maya Tuttle, and get our first bit of exposition.
We find out about Kid’s life; how they’re from a small town referred to as Suburbia just outside of the City. How Kid used to go to the video rental store with their dad when they were young and is so bored with suburban life that Kid needs anything at all to remember how exciting life can be. That’s when Kid finds the Arcade, described as “definitely not a place for children” as we see cliche punk rock 80’s kids smoking cigarettes, and leaning on each other like they’d had a long night. Maya’s performance here and throughout the game is very monotone, but I feel more like it’s the direction she was given, rather than her own interpretation of the character.
These exposition bits are the glue that sandwiches together a total of 5 really fun and interesting games. The next game, “Out of the Void,” is an R-Type style Shmup that’s superior and far more challenging than the first game. Here, you face 2 phases of waves of increasingly difficult enemies and then come face to face with a final boss. I spent nearly 30 minutes inside “Out of the Void” and faced more than 20 game-overs (remember these are supposed to resemble old 80’s arcade games where you get hit twice and that’s it) and I loved every second of it. The final boss, however, was not challenging in the slightest and I found that if I made it there with any amount of health I was able to take him out within about 15 seconds.
Then, we get more of Kid’s story and who they had a crush on during the events of 198X. This is where the story picks up and introduces some intrigue, and so to avoid spoilers, I’ll keep Kid’s crush to myself.
In the blink of an eye, we’re onto the racing game, “The Runaway.” This is where the game becomes the most interesting and, at the same time, extremely frustrating. You see, this whole time Kid has been telling us about what they wanted most at this time in their life: To escape the mediocrity of Suburbia. So, it only makes sense that we get a game where we’re in a hot red sports car, racing against the clock in a bland desert of nothingness and transition into the lush and vibrant city.
You see, this game actually doesn’t pose any real challenge. Instead, it’s used as a plot device. As you pass through the second checkpoint, you’re funneled into a tunnel. You’re down to 5 seconds and you’re hoping that the next checkpoint to extend your time is right on the other side. You shoot out the other end of the tunnel and it’s night time. You’re barreling towards the city at 255 MPH, the music changes, and your time is extended to 217 seconds. You’re flying past street signs telling you to keep going, and while Kid narrates during one of the games for the first time about not being able to escape, you run out of time on a bridge, a stone’s throw away from the city. You, just like Kid, can’t make it.
This is the most powerful moment in the game, and it’s the only time the game Kid is playing is used in the most creative way of exploring Kid’s story. It sadly doesn’t happen again, at least not to a degree as meaningful as this.
The fourth game is a side-scrolling, auto-runner, ninja game called “Shadowplay” that had me smiling every time I died. Much like the Souls games of today, a lot of these old arcade games were about getting you to spend your quarters, so the games were designed so that you’d have to replay them, again and again, to be ready for what was coming next. Surviving for more than a few seconds in a game like this was exhilarating and dying was only met with the excitement of knowing what to expect and getting even further.
After another cutscene with Kid, we’re put into the RPG “Kill Screen.” This one is pretty straight forward, explore the maze and kill 3 dragons. You can level up by killing random enemies and the dragons themselves. When you die, you reset at the beginning of the maze, but you retain your level and XP, which is great since you’re probably going to die a lot. The best part of this RPG, however, is the way it deteriorates with every dragon you kill, becoming more and more distorted and janky as you progress. Mastering each enemy’s weakness is satisfying as selecting the correct attack lands an automatic critical if you match their weakness. As you progress and kill things, “Kill Screen” will tell you things like “JUST A KID” and other things that make it feel like you’re arguing with Kid’s mom about wanting to get out of the house. Once you’ve killed all three dragons, the maze distorts out of existence and you’re brought face to face with the reason the game was so buggy to begin with.
This game culminates in an interesting finale that brings the story of Kid to a less than satisfying close, as you defeat the final boss and watch the final cutscene. Again, in the interest of avoiding spoilers, just know that the ending culminates in yet another angsty, monotone monologue from Kid and a TO BE CONTINUED… screen as this is only part 1 of a 2 part story.
Review Disclosure Statement: 198X was provided to us by Hi-Bit Studios for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
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While 198X isn’t going to blow you away with its story, it will make you nostalgic for the arcades of old. The pixelated art style, the impressive soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro that sounds like it was ripped from an episode of Stranger Things, and the incredibly short play time of right around 2 hours was a package that feels deserving of its $9.99 price tag, and even more so if it includes the yet to be dated Part 2. My biggest gripe is that you can’t select to play the 5 games individually from the main menu after rolling the credits.
- Variety and length of each of the games
- Soundtrack is incredible
- art style is clean
- Great Switch port that runs very well
- Story is underwhelming
- No menu to replay the games
- boss design is lacking