For all of us 1980’s and 90’s kids out there, 198X is a coming of age story that could honestly tell the tale of any one of us. Set in Suburbia just outside the City, it’s the youthful journey of Kid as he discovers the local Arcade and realizes that, through the power of video games, he can escape reality.. be anyone or anything.. and not worry about the obligations of adulthood that are knocking on his door. The latest Kickstarter success story to officially release, I want to give a fair warning now before we dive any further into the review. 198X is episodic, and unfortunately we didn’t find this out until the game was prepping for release on Steam. Had we known this was going to be released in parts sooner than we did, I don’t think fans and loyal backers would have been nearly as upset as some that I’ve seen. But it is what it is, and what is currently present to play through is an absolute blast for the 90 minutes or so that it lasts.
Publisher: Hi-Bit Studios
Developer: Hi-Bit Studios
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4 (soon)
Reviewed On: PC
Release Date: June 20, 2019
Game Provided By Hi-Bit Studios for the Purpose of This Review
For the longest time, Arcades were the stuff kids often dreamed about. Getting out of school and heading down with friends to the local spot, seeing if any new cabinets had arrived, and getting to be amongst peers. It was a time we often reminisce about. Plus, we were able to play games with graphics and mechanics far superior than what we had at home on the Atari 2600, or later, the NES. It was at the Arcade where the spirit of competition was born for fighting games, or the strive to have the highest score and be a living God amongst mere men.
198X does a fantastic job telling its story through the eyes of Kid and his explorations centered around the local Arcade. We’re placed right in his shoes and follow along as he discovers what his life is currently like, and about to become, through five small game experiences. Each one is carefully crafted to be as faithful as possible to the inspiration behind it, and for the most part, they all work as intended and are extremely fun to play. Let’s dive into each one by one, since that’s the only gameplay elements that exist. Besides the Arcade games, the rest of 198X is told through cutscenes and visual novel-esque dialogue.
The first, Beating Heart, was inspired by Final Fight and all of the side-scrolling beat-em-up’s that were so freaking popular back in the early 90’s. Punching and kicking your way through a handful of levels feels smooth and fun, just as it always has. There are weapons that can be picked up to help dish out more damage and dispose of enemies faster, as well as food items to pick up if you end up taking a beat of a beating.
Out of the Void is the second game you’ll experience in 198X, and this one takes inspiration from R-Type. Flying around in a spaceship, blasting away at enemies, maneuvering through tight corridors and avoiding lasers.. this one has it all. You can charge up your shots to deal more damage to the enemies, upgrade your shots by finding the emblems on the map, and it all culminates in an epically fun boss battle at the end. Out of the Void would make a fantastic full game if the developers wanted to explore that route in the future.
From there, we move on to my personal favorite of the bunch, The Runaway. A love letter to OutRun, I spent so many hours of my youth playing games like this, Sega Rally Championship, and Daytona USA. The controls are on point, but really, let’s talk about the music. Featuring the works of Daniel Rosenqvist and Anton Dromberg, these guys capture the feel of synthwave and retrowave PERFECTLY in this game. Plus, it’s so much fun to play through. I really wish this one had been a bit longer.
After that, gamers get to explore the world of ShadowPlay, which if you didn’t know any better, you’d think was Strider. This is by far the longest experience and the hardest of the five games found in 198X. Again featuring side-scrolling levels, you’ll be in control of a Ninja as he runs and slashes his way through everything that moves on the screen. ShadowPlay is also where you’ll find the music of legendary composer Yuzo Koshiro, who never fails to please the ears with any of his work.
The final smaller game found within 198X is Kill Screen, and this is a traditional, old-school first person dungeon crawler, inspired by all of the typical RPG games we used to play back in the old days. You’ll make your way through a series of corridors, stumbling upon random enemy encounters in the search for three dragons that must be taken down. Along the way, you’ll level up and get more powerful. Three basic attacks and a heal are at your disposal, but since this takes place at the end of the game, it’s more about what is going on in the background than the actual game itself that matters here.
At $9.99, the price point may be a bit high for a 90 minute experience. Hi-Bit Studios may have been better off delaying this portion of the game until the second half was ready to go, and releasing the full experience at $10 and being 3-4 hours long. Either way, there’s a bit of replayability here, but not much, as the games are so small that after going through them two or three times, you’ll have seen and done everything there is to offer. Honestly, I’m satisfied with having just played through them once, and that might not be good enough for someone actually purchasing the game.
When the next part releases for 198X, here’s hoping that it’s released as a free update and not another paid game. If they do that, I have to assume they’ll be shooting themselves in the foot. But if they continuously add more content to the game through updates for free, when all is said and done, we’ll have a super fun coming of age story that will be worth playing through for the pixel art and soundtrack alone. The games themselves will be secondary.