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Is 198X Good? – Review

Is 198X Good

198X by Hi-Bit Studios seeks to capture the arcade nostalgia (and teen drama) of living in the 1980s.  With a mixture of 16-bit game snippets built from the ground up and a very intimate story, the game has its pros and cons to be sure.  There’s a lot here to analyze but at the end of the day, is 198X good?  Let’s find out:

The story of the ’80s

198X is the story of The Kid, an ’80s tween stuck in a life of social awkwardness and trouble at home.  The game’s first episode doesn’t explicitly say, but it seems that The Kid’s dad either left or fell to illness and died.  The game, narrated fully by The Kid, puts a lot of emphasis on what it’s like to lack a nuclear household as a stable force in your childhood.  The other main story focus is that of being an outsider at school.

These factors result in The Kid suffering from severe loneliness, looking for an outlet.  They find it inside a dingy, dilapidated building.  Inside are about a dozen arcade machines, and all the other outcasts who don’t fit in.  Suddenly, The Kid feels like they belong.

198X_racing

Back to the past

Sprinkled throughout the narrative are arcade experiences that are very reminiscent of particular titles from the past.  In this episode there are five in total.  Streets of Rage, OutRun, R-Type, Shinobiand Phantasy Star are the closest I would come to associating them.  Some have a little bit of other inspirations that don’t adhere to those five comparisons though.

The games themselves are mostly fun, and all are incredibly realized graphically.  Their looks hit home from a nostalgia standpoint.  Gameplay is mostly fine other than the Shinobi-inspired title.  The sprites are way too big, and the parallax scrolling killed my eyes.  Also, the difficulty was ridiculous, especially with one questionable control decision.  Even for a quarter muncher, the game was cheap.

Overall, I liked the games though.  I’m not so sure they were “’80s” games at all.  More like early-to-mid ’90s, but they’re well done for the most part.

Heavy, man

I can appreciate what 198X sets out to do, especially the nod to the arcade experience.  I’m not sure that it comes together as a total package though.  The melancholy throughout the narrative came off as very ham-fisted to me.  I don’t think the writing or the voice acting is particularly strong here.  The latter would definitely benefit from an improvement on the part of the former though.198X Beat Em Up

There are a couple of gems in The Kid’s dialogue and that really encapsulate being a kid.  At the risk of sounding harsh, the rest is pretty amateur-ish though.  Also, everything is delivered with so much angst that it’s almost hard to take seriously at times.  It all comes dangerously close to sounding like a parody. Not good.

In the 90 minutes or so that makes up this episode, we never really meet anyone besides The Kid.  They mention their mom but we never see her.  We see the other outcasts at the arcade but they none are highlighted in the story or have any dialogue.  It’s hard to believe that The Kid never spoke to any of them.  The Kid is also awestruck by a punk girl they see at their school.  They’re mesmerized by how offbeat and unfettered this person is, and their total lack of concern for fitting in.  It seems like we’re being introduced to a second character finally, but she’s never mentioned again.

198X Ninja GameAs an unintended result, we have an unreliable narrator on our hands.  When we hardly see or hear anything that validates The Kid’s turmoil, we’re processing everything in a vacuum.  Other characters talking and actual plot points occurring lend credibility to the words of our protagonist.  We’re then able to see The Kid’s world for ourselves and determine that, yes, The Kid is definitely going through some things.  Other than their dad’s mysterious exit, we know very little about The Kid other than what they tell us directly.  It hampers the entire story.

Tune in next time

I’m somewhat split on 198X.  I think I like what it sets out to do much more than the execution.  I wouldn’t even mind the tone if it was done a little more artfully.  As it is, the game attempts to hit a lot of nostalgic notes and only succeeds partway.  It puts in the effort required of this kind of project, but working hard and working smart are two different things.

So, is 198X good?  In some ways yes, and in as many other ways, no.  I’m down for at least one more episode though.  There’s a ton of potential here, and the actual gameplay does its job.  With a lot of retro-inspired games on the market, it’s hard to stand out though.  That will be up to the second episode’s story, so we’ll have to see how that turns out.  Given how episode one ended, there could be some interesting adventures on the horizon.

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