[Review] 198X – Nintendo Switch

Written by Derek Wright
  • Developer: Hi-Bit Studios
  • Publisher: 8-4
  • Release Date: 23/01/2020
  • Price: $9.99 / £8.99
  • Review code provided by 8-4

That Night at the Arcade, Everything Changed

Angst is something we have all felt. That youthful feeling of searching and yearning for something that can’t be named. Were we searching for acceptance, inner peace, freedom, or love? Regardless, many of us lose this to time or we come to terms with who we are as individuals. Certain stimuli can trigger memories of these feelings, such as movies, music or games. 198X by Hi-Bit Studios aims to reawaken what we have lost or maybe to help us to realize we aren’t alone in this crazy world.

198X tells the story of Kid. Kid tells their story through a series of cutscenes interposed between bite-sized arcade interpretations of classic 80s and 90s games. There are five games in total; Beating Heart, Out of the Void, The Runaway, Shadow Play and Kill Screen. These titles represent much of the arcade staples, beat’em ups, shoot’em ups, arcade racers, ninja action games and dungeon crawling RPGs. The main story can be completed in a bit over an hour and it ends on a cliff hanger to boot. I wish there was more closure to the story, as I felt I was being told only small bits of a story and never anything concrete.

The story is told in an interesting way that I appreciated. It was told not only in the spaces between arcade titles, but at times during the games as well. The moments in game would represent struggles and anguish that Kid was experiencing. During the Runaway, you are constantly driving towards the city, which is a symbol of escape. Shadow Play features a ninja trying to outsmart a giant demon that chases them no matter where they go. Lastly, Kill Screen’s final boss, with it’s troubling dialog and the players realization that some problems can’t be overcome with fighting, was a sad and somewhat realistic finale.

Cigarette Smoke and 10,000 Volts

In 198X, you never take control of Kid, but control the games that they play. Each title is played in a specific order as it is a symbol of the stories progress. Beating Heart is the first game you are thrown into. It is a solid beat’em up in the vein of Streets of Rage. While it looks better than SOR ever did, the main character feels a bit stiff. Out of the Void is the second arcade the Kid plays, and it fairs much better. It is a horizontal spaceship shooter and it handles like a dream. Next the Kid tries the Runaway, an Outrun or Rad Racer clone. The bright colors and design made me more reminiscent of Rad Racer than Outrun, but I found it to be much easier to play than either of those titles.

Shadow Play was next, and it was a runner meets Shinobi experience. This title proved to be the most challenging as the platforming sections required a bit more attention to detail compared to the rest of the games. Finally, there was Kill Screen, a first-person dungeon crawler. This title made me feel like I was experiencing something special from the 80s arcade era. Whether it was the wire-frame dungeon, the synthesized voice telling me I had no hope, or the dreamy music; I was hooked on Kill Screen. Sadly, after completing this title, the game is over. I wanted there to be a score attack mode, but we at least get a chapter select after the game is complete.

Another Life, Just a Credit Away

198X features some of the best pixel work I have ever seen. From the story segments featuring the Kid in the real world, to the fantastically fluid animations in each of the five arcade experiences; this game is sleek. The true standout goes to the boss creature in Shadow Play. Anyone who has seen Spirited Away will notice the homage to No-Face. His animation was very impressive and had me missing obstacles due to watching him move in the background.

For the music of 198X, I was a bit too excited to listen to it as Yuzo Koshiro was tapped to create a few tracks. Yuzo Koshiro is known for his work in Streets of Rage, Revenge of Shinobi and ActRaiser, just to name a few. The soundtrack as a whole is a masterpiece. All the contributors have created something magical. One moment when the music really stood out to me was during the Kill Screen game. It felt very somber, yet eerie and other worldly.

Seeking Comfort in Made Up Stories

In my short time with 198X, the game ran beautifully while in handheld mode or with the pixels stretched across the big screen. I did notice a few odd glitches in the Beating Heart segment. When you would grapple with a character and throw them, sometimes the animation for the backwards throw would send them forward. It didn’t affect the game except that it looked quite odd. Also, in Beating Heart, if I got knocked down, there was a small chance I would appear in the middle of the screen, instead of where I fell. Again, these are minor complaints that did not negatively affect my experience.

Final Thoughts

198X feels more like an experience than a true game. Like an indie film that everyone is talking about on the internet that will move you. It has plenty of solid ideas, but its extreme brevity causes it to feel shallower than it should. At the $10 price range, it keeps it in line with the cost of a movie ticket; and for that justification, I think it is in line with that form of escapism and entertainment. What better way to describe a game that centers on an adolescent who seeks asylum from a less than stellar life?

Pros

  • Gorgeous Pixel Art
  • Compelling Story
  • Stellar OST

Cons

  • Over Before It Starts
  • Arcade Games Lack Depth
  • Lack of Extras

Verdict

198X offers up many great ideas for what Hi-Bit Studios is capable of making. The lack of extra modes and a story that is over before it starts keeps it from reaching its true potential.

3.5/5

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