As I get older time seems to become more and more precious. There’s just not enough of it in a day. Therefore my appreciation for short games has grown as I have; where I would have been furious as a child to get home and pop a game into my console only for the experience to be over as quickly as it had begun, I bask in enjoyment when I can complete a game within an hour or two of sitting down with it, as long as it’s fun and impactful. 198X is one of those games. It can be beaten in an hour, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. The story is meaningful, the gameplay is fun and engaging, and it acts as a nice throwback to a simpler time.
198X is essentially an hour-long story that finds a warm home as interactive entertainment. The protagonist’s name is Kid, and we accompany him in the outskirts of a city, appropriately called Suburbia. In the opening moments, he finds an arcade nestled down an alley in what looks to be an old abandoned building. He marvels at the glowing lights permeating the otherwise dark and dreary room. The game’s gimmick is that the player is experiencing old arcade games along with the protagonist as he inserts a coin and escapes into the virtual world, if not only but for a fleeting moment. The story, intertwined with the gameplay, is a neat and inventive idea that I would love to see more of. It’s a real coming of age story that implements gaming and nostalgia in a creative way. It’s relatable, and I was never an 80s kid, which says a lot about the masterfully written narrative.
The gameplay revolves around a variety of different arcade-style games that all fall within a different gaming genre. The first game you experience acts as an introduction, easing the player into the story. It’s a beat ‘em up that resembles the old Streets of Rage games. It controls as well as I expected from a game that has a lot of source material to draw inspiration from. In fact, all the games featured in the story control very nicely and I have no complaints in that regard. You move on to play games inspired by Outrun, Phantasy Star, and other 16-bit gaming staples, all of which are fun in their own right.
One of my favorite parts about this game is its soundtrack. It is comprised of some great 16bit-style tracks that are sort of smoothed out to appeal to a modern audience. Flying through space and blowing up giant starships becomes even more exhilarating when the music is ramping up in the background. Outside of the arcade games, the soundtrack that plays over the narration is just as stellar. It sets the tone for the whole game, evoking emotions that only a masterful soundtrack can draw out of the player. Paired with the incredibly atmospheric narration that Ms. Tuttle brings to the table, the sound in this game is definitely something to keep an eye (or ear) on.
The graphics are what’s to be expected from a 16bit video game, but it somehow looks better than what I am accustomed to in games from the 90s. I’m a sucker for the visuals in pseudo-retro games. The art directors are able to capture the essence of the times, but also upgrade it and make it pop in the world of the 2000’s. It is quite impressive, considering the game’s story, outside of the playable arcade games, is dished out in the same 16bit art style. The entire game, from head to toe, is pixelated heaven. I received pure enjoyment from the game’s art, and I hope we see more games like this one.
While the game is all about quick, pseudo-arcade games that can be finished within a matter of minutes, it allows for a certain level of replay value. When the story is completed, the player can choose to jump in at any point in the story, giving the freedom to play any featured game on a whim. However, these arcade games fall short of their source material. It’s simply more fun to jump into Outrun, or Streets of Rage than to play 198X’s take on these games. All in all, the replay value is there should it be something that interests you, but I would rather invest my time in the actual games rather than their depictions within this title.
198X is a short burst of fun that any fan of old arcades can pick up and find some enjoyment in. On one hand I would love for it to be longer, on the other it is the perfect sized experience that demands my attention for the little free time I have. At the end we are promised that the game is “to be continued” and I hope 198X reaches the level of success that is required for the developers to consider a sequel. If you haven’t checked this one out yet, I urge you to do so.
Replay Value: 2/5
Total: 19/25 or 76/100