198X review for Nintendo Switch, PS4, PC

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also on: PC, PS4
Publisher: 8-4
Developer: Hi-Bit Studios
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

Theoretically, I should be right in the target market for 198X. I mean, it?s made for people who have hardcore nostalgia for late ?80s/early ?90s video games, and I grew up playing late ?80s/early ?90s video games. It should be a perfect match, right?

Not quite. For one thing, I don?t have any fond feelings towards most of those old games. I was terrible at them when they first came out, and I?d much rather play a modern game with all the bells and whistles modern technology allows than to go back and play some generic side-scroller. More importantly, though, I don?t have nostalgia for wasting away weekends and all my quarters at the arcade, since I?ve been to an arcade literally once in my life — and 198X is built around that precise feeling.

See, as the main character of 198X likes to explain, arcades were his ticket out of the boring suburbs and into new worlds. Unfortunately, the makers of 198X seem to think that this feeling is a good substitute for a personality, since they go back to it again and again — far more frequently than you?d think would be possible in a game you can easily beat in under two hours. It?s the entire point of the game, and if it?s not a feeling you share, then you?re probably not going to find him — the imaginatively-named ?Kid? — particularly compelling.

It also doesn?t help that the other half of 198X also requires a hearty love of old games. It tries to tell part of its story through homages/pastiches to well-known titles from the past, so you get thinly-veiled clones of Streets of Rage/Final Fight, R-Type, OutRun, and Shinobi, along with a weird first-person dungeon-crawler that has any number of antecedents from the era. These range in quality from alright (Beating Heart, the side-scrolling beat-?em-up) to solid (Shadowplay, the game?s take on Shinobi), but none of them last long enough to leave a real impression. The most you get out of any of them is Shadowplay, and even that?s only about 20 minutes or so. 198X settles for giving you enjoyable first levels of each of its copies, and then goes back to its overwrought story, giving the whole thing a very incomplete feeling. (I?ll note, hopefully without giving too much away, that this incomplete feeling is magnified to the nth degree by the game?s ending.)

As I said, if you have an emotional connection to the era, 198X may be exactly what you need in your life. But if you don?t pine for the ?80s and arcades as a stand-in for your lost youth, then 198X probably isn?t something you need to play.

8-4 provided us with a 198X Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: C+