198X Review


198X Feature
Released 2019
Platform PC, PS4, Switch (Reviewed), Xbox One Coming
Publisher Hi-Bit Studios (Website)
Developer Hi-Bit Studios (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1
Category Retro
Story
Arcade
Beat-Em-Up
Shoot-Em-Up
Racer
Action Scroller
Light RPG

Arriving about seven months later on Switch, I still didn’t know one vital facet of the game

Retro gaming is all the rage these days, especially amongst older gamers. Hitting 45 this year, I sometimes feel sad that I am borderline considered a grandpa gamer at this point :p

Checking out the eShop a few weeks ago, 198X came up as on sale. As it was only a few dollars and the title rang some bells, I grabbed it. I knew it was a narrative experience overall, tied together with homages to old school retro games. What the hell, right? Worst case, I was only out $10.

I talked about enjoying it the first time I picked it up on Last Week’s Gaming. Then last week, on the third real try, I finished the entire game. After being stuck on the second level for way longer than I like to admit, I flew through the rest of the game.

It is only on finishing the game did it become clear 198X is the first part in an ongoing series. 198X is an episodic game, similar to the Telltale games like Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. This revelation didn’t lower my overall enjoyment of the game. It did leave me with a sense of disappointment and confusion. Like so much of the game, just as I was getting into the groove, the game just stopped.

Opening Screen
I remember waiting for the arcade to open. It's a suitable start scene.

I know this sounds like I am saying “Bad Game, Don’t Buy.” at the start of my review, but 198X is something different. Unlike my regular reviews where I try and add the downsides at the end, today I wanted to get that out of the way upfront. Usually, I have the negatives lingering in the back of my mind as I write, and I have to wrestle them away. Today, I can kick back and enjoy my memories of playing 198X.

OK, so what is 198X?

If I was overly dramatic, I would say it’s about my childhood. Finished rolling your eyes? Cool. It’s not that far off growing up in the 80s though. The retro flavour isn’t just the games 198X includes, but the story as well.

198X is the story of Kid, growing up in the suburbs and not going through the easiest of times. Everything looks down, and he is generally unhappy. At least, until he finds an arcade that allows him to escape the day to day of his life. This is where the different retro-inspired games come into play.

Each game is a homage to an 80s classic in some form. When you complete the small section of gameplay (usually about one stage or level depending on the game), you get some more of what is happening with/to Kid.

198X Story
It's something we have all heard before. "Back then was a simpler time". Still true in a lot of ways.

The ending is a promise to continue the story, and I am really interested to see where it goes. All of the stories are presented in a beautiful pixel art style with voice acting. The voice acting isn’t stellar, but not bad. I was surprised how the old 80’s comic panel/limited animation style held up in progressing the story.

One thing I both loved and hated was the lack of tutorials. Shows how ‘soft’ I have become 🙂 Having no idea how to play was what games were like in the arcades back in the day. There were buttons on the cabinet that may or may not be used by the game, and hit them all and see what happens was how you learned. Got used to the far left button being attack? Not in this game! Mwahahahahah!

School
The loner gamer kid may be cliche, but I know lots of kids that felt this way

Be surprised when you waste your super on a different game because standard layouts just weren’t a thing. Even games by the same company would change button layouts between titles. Why make it easy on players, when they just wanted you to put more coins in the machine?

Beating Heart

When you first start the game, you are thrown into a side-scrolling beat-em-up. The gameplay is very similar to my old favourite Final Fight, and the visuals also give me the same vibe. Nothing new, nothing out of place. It was a perfect piece of nostalgia.

The level pacing is about on par for the first level of any beat-em-up. Not too many enemies, cheesy flanking AI, weapon pickups and food drops for health boosts – everything is here. End of the level, the boss was two of the bigger enemies at the same time with flunkies.

The camera then cuts away as the character I expected to be the end of level boss entering the fray. I am still fighting away, but the focus is on the city. This is how storytelling is done in 198X, and it works really well.

Beating Heart
No plot, no warm up, just straight into the action

Out of the Void

Next comes the shoot-em-up, otherwise known as a shmup. Heavily inspired by R-Type, this was another well put together homage. Power-ups, pattern recognition, smooth parallax animation – everything was as it should be.

Out of the Void is the game I spent almost an hour over 3 play sessions playing. Not because I loved it, even though I do enjoy it. I am terrible at these type of games. The difficulty was enough to present me with a challenge, but not to be insurmountable.

Now that I know the stage, I should be able to beat it on a single life each time. I was kicking myself for shutting down when I did, as I was so close to finishing on my second playthrough. Only one or two more tries would have seen me finish the level!

Out of the Void
Believe it or not, dodging asteroids was a break in the action!

The Runaway

After the quick timing of Out of the Void, OutRun inspired The Runaway was a welcome break. Today, this kind of game I would probably consider boring. Drive your car at high speeds through traffic, and make it to the checkpoints before the timer runs out. Simple.

Without going into spoilers, the meta of changing the game into the story I thought was really well done. Being able to cruise through traffic while merging the story and location really worked for me. Not a title I would select to replay for a quick arcade blast, but for the setting, The Runaway worked almost flawlessly.

The Runaway
Weaving through traffic did make me wonder if Outrun still ran on my PC. Or mini console.

Shadowplay

Shadowplay is a game I hope the developers spin off into a full title of its own. Inspired by classics like Strider, the auto-scrolling ninja game had me cutting through swarms of enemies in various settings. Easily the longest game in 198X, the simple gameplay was a blast to play.

I am not 100% sure, but the controls felt the loosest for me here. It may have just been my joy-con, but jumping in a direction seemed to be a challenge for me. Because you can change direction mid-jump, it was never more than an inconvenience. But the tightness of the controls in the other titles made this one seem out of place.

As I said, I would happily put down $20-$30 on a full version of Shadowplay though. Hi-Bit Studios, if you need a cash injection between episodes of 198X, this is how you get it.

Shadowplay
This doesn't look like much is happening, but I didn't have much time to use the Switch screen cap once things started!

Kill Screen

The final game is a first player light RPG game, similar to games like Eye of the Beholder. Set in a computer world like Tron, the player must level up their character to hunt down and defeat 3 dragons in a maze.

Today, this kind of game is overly simplistic. Back in the 80s though, this was hardware pushing tech. I only remember playing one title like this as an arcade as a kid, and that wasn’t in Australia.

Kill Screen might be seen by some as the most out-of-place game in 198X, but for me, it was probably the most ambitious. Here you get to explore another game genre, while simultaneously revealing the most in-depth clues as to what is happening in Kid’s life.

Kill Screen
As a game? It's OK. But story wise Kill Screen is great in a 198X way.

And then… To Be Continued

I was seriously toying with leaving my review here and coming back next week, to show what impact this screen had on me. Just like that, the game is over. Here I was ready to know what happened next, and I was left hanging. 

You keep getting glimpses at everything and want to see what happens next, and then it all stops. While not the most sweeping story ever told, Kill Screen finally succeeded in making me invest in the story, and I was told to wait.

Do we get the rest of the game in future updates? Do we need to buy 198X part 2? I would like definitive answers to questions like this. It’s hard to say that the current form is worth the asking price. It was a fun experience though – it’s just a pity that even newbies can get through it all in 2 hours of straight playing. Experienced retro gamer? Maybe an hour.

Suburbia
I can't wait to see what happens next

Overall Thoughts

I really like 198X. Not I want to like it – I really enjoy it. The little glimpses of retro gaming goodness might be short, but it also stops you playing a genre of game you might not like. The overall story may not be engrossing (yet). Still, for a lot of people, parallels can be drawn between themselves and Kid.

This is what 198X does best. It doesn’t excel in every way, but what it does do, it nails. And in interesting ways. You think you are going the same old route, but there is always enough of a twist to make 198X a game on its own.

For the 2 hours run through and minimal replay incentive, the AUD$15 asking price to me is a little steep. Grab it on sale is my advice, but definitely give 198X a play, even if it’s just to sample different retro game styles.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  • Beautiful Pixel Art Style
  • Games are well designed and represent their inspirations well
  • Arcade feel translated well to the Switch

Cons

  • Short
  • Unclear if the price is for the entire game or just the first episode
  • Limited replay value

Until next time,

JohnHQLD