198X is a retro arcade game with a focus on storytelling and gameplay variety. The story involves the main character playing video games at an arcade, while the gameplay is you playing those games yourself.
There are a total of 5 games; a racing game, a platformer, a beat ’em up, a dungeon crawler and a shoot ’em up. Surprisingly, every game is at least good and a couple are great. It’s really impressive and shows that the developer is fully capable of making full length retro games. The time you play each game is relatively short, which makes sense given that the game is trying to approximate the feeling of going to an arcade. I’m not sure if the developer’s intention was to leave you wanting more, but if it’s intentional, it does a good job of emulating the feeling you get at an arcade when you lose and have to stop playing.
While the game is fantastic at imitating an arcade, the story felt cliche and schmaltzy. It’s a coming of age story, but everything in the main character’s life is treated like an insurmountable obstacle, until they go to the arcade. Maybe I just don’t connect with the story because I don’t have anything in common with the main character aside from enjoying video games, but for me, it was just too sentimental.
The voice acting is solid even though the writing doesn’t do it for me. The music is excellent and fits the game perfectly. I also loved the visuals thanks to their retro aesthetic, but with modern touches to make it look cleaner while retaining their old school style.
I enjoyed 198X for what it is, but it also has plenty of unrealized potential. Removing the story and extending the gameplay could have made the game a fun retro sampler, letting you jump between games in a virtual arcade. Conversely, the story could have been refined with the gameplay left as is and I would have enjoyed it a lot more. As it stands, 198X is an acquired taste that will appeal to those looking for short retro gameplay and a simple story. To me, this seems like an exceedingly small niche, but I’m sure some people will love this game. For the average player, 198X will feel like a game close to greatness but barely missing the mark.