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Retro Pocket - DSiWare Review

Game Info
Retro Pocket

DSiWare | UFO Interactive | 1 Player | Out Now (North America) | 500 Nintendo Points
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25th September 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

As an analytical type, I thoroughly enjoy peering into the minds of game designers and reflecting on their creative process. And if you have a similar craving for these deeper studies, then likely you'll feel as I do about wanting to examine the early concepts behind the Game & Watch series. After all, its vibrations are still felt today, to the point that we still see secular parties attempting to replicate this early design style. One of these very manifestations is UFO's latest downloadable title, which follows closely in the footsteps of Johnny Kung Fu, their earlier take on the formula. After dedicating their efforts towards a single concept for the eShop, they've now gone the other direction and created a collection of games for DSiWare, no doubt believing they can present something original out of admiration. But perhaps in the back of their minds they also believe that those who long for a resurgence of these concise principles are bound to find at least one game in a range of choices that they can connect to, thereby sparing them of further criticism. Like any creative, I'm sure Gunpei Yokoi must've had a personal stash of rejected ideas that never made it past the brainstorming stages, and even without seeing what could have been, I'm fairly certain that many of these concepts would outdo what's seen here.

    Taking on eight different roles is a fellow by the name of Jack, the star of Retro Pocket and this game's version of Mr. Game and Watch. Don't worry; the two have different résumés, with the latter having the more outstanding credentials of the two. The first indication of this is a structural one: Whereas the Game & Watch games have been known to project dual-screen experiences, all of the activities Jack involves himself in are strictly single-screen efforts. So automatically, you could say that, in a certain respect, there's a diversity that Retro Pocket lacks, but that's purely from an organization standpoint. Secondly, skilled tasks like factory maintenance aren't really Jack's thing, so rather than falsify the depth of his employability skills, Jack wisely takes the low road and sticks to odd jobs like mail delivery and assembly line work. Perhaps he should've taken the name "Joe" instead? In a course of wisdom, Jack doesn't actively try to be a replacement, nor does he embarrass himself by misguidedly attempting to usurp an accomplished figure; but, as shown by more than half of his current employment roster, he also isn't afraid to enter some of the same fields as his role model.

Demonstrating the above point is the very first game the collection starts off with: Fireman. The inspiration behind this one is clear, but Fireman differs in the way of task delivery, choosing to minimize the rescuing aspect and instead focus on controlling the immediate danger. Donning a firefighter suit, the player will move Jack left and right along the 2D plane, spraying bursts of water that scale up the front of the building to address any flames emerging from windows. Off to the sides are balconies that a damsel will recurrently jump from, prompting you to move into action before she lands in the dumpster. With this being treated as a separate instance for failure, you technically have eight lives to work with. The other way to lose a life is, in its own variation of Tic-Tac-Toe, by letting three windows in a column catch fire. But you won't have to worry about losing all your lives as I'm betting that most game endings will be self-initiated.

    Seeing as the fires appear in random places and the loss of life is so easily preventable, the lack of progression makes this an especially weak activity. Just in using the word "activity" to describe this one doesn't feel completely appropriate because of the fact that you don't feel like you're doing anything productive -- as odd as that sounds. The only restriction you have with the hose emissions is that you can only have one burst per column, so there's nothing stopping you from continuously firing bursts across all four columns even when there's no danger present. Consequently, Fireman's main flaw is more than just a lack of difficulty, and unfortunately, not even the slight increases in speed (which, from what I observed, do have a cap) can keep you motivated. With there being issues with the design itself, ultimately Fireman isn't anywhere near as rousing as it should be.

    Similarly using existing Game & Watch efforts as a close basis for its design is Egg Drop. Just as a preamble, here's a fun fact for you: Both the Pause Menu and digital manual refer to this one as "Egg," which is the same name for one of the games in Nintendo's own series. They probably realized they'd incur Nintendo's displeasure if they didn't add another word after it... But back to gameplay! This one draws from elements of Greenhouse and Vermin, in that your goal is to collect falling eggs and transport these to a nest, whilst also guarding that base from territorial snakes. While you move back and forth with the D-Pad, pressing B or A will allow you to leap to the far left or right at a moment's notice to light fire to the path either snake is scaling. Unfortunately, once you check out Candy Factory and Watch Your Head (yes, that is it's actual name), you'll come to realize that all three of the aforementioned games boil down to the same method of collecting and unloading. Allow me to establish, then, that despite what mathematics might indicate, there are actually six different games here, not eight. These games are so similar that they might as well be labelled as a single execution, but for what they are, the design isn't bad in itself. Just terribly uninteresting.

Speaking of the dull and uninteresting, Fuel Drop is the most stationary of the games in the collection, in that all you're doing is rotating canisters to screen black and white drops through appropriately-coloured slots. If their goal was to base something off Oil Panic, then I'd have to say this is a failed attempt. Even the setup is very bland and looks like it could have been whipped up in no time, seeing as there are no backgrounds or even characters present. Honestly, I've played microgames more enjoyable than this, and those only last a few seconds; this isn't even remotely fun.

    As if this were a running theme, Whale Escape may involve a bit more thinking, but it still falls to the same shortcomings as the game just described. The idea is to run across a whale situated between two islands, retrieve a child resting in the whale's mouth, and bring it back to the boat on the far right. In terms of obstacles, pelicans will swoop down and try to peck you, the whale's blowhole will occasionally, yet predictably rush forth, and on Game B the whale's tail will disappear now and again. In all honesty, the name makes it sound more exciting than it actually is in practice, which instantly sets you up to expect more from it. But that in itself doesn't make it an undesirable part of the whole. See, if you were to compare this to other LCD games that had simple ideas behind them, it'd be rationale to conclude that this particular activity has elements in place to keep interest levels locked in for some time. In actuality, though, Whale Escape just isn't that engaging.

    So, of all Retro Pocket's games, which ones perform the best? Well, so long as we understand that by "best" we mean "best of an uncaptivating whole," then I'd probably say that achievement belongs to Postman. As the name suggests, you're tasked with escorting deliveries to three different mailboxes, avoiding the two watchdogs that are on the prowl. Compared to the others, the design is a bit less structured when it comes to the paths you can travel and the semi-open movement of the dogs. Couple that with a simple idea, and you have one of the more successful activities, mostly for its semi-close relation to the simple effectiveness of the more subdued LCD games. Coming in after Postman in terms of success rate would be Kung Fu Hero. Apparently the developers love martial arts, as they have seen to it to represent the theme once more and basically condense the ideas that were explored in Johnny Kung Fu into a simpler, multi-step execution. Starting out in the center of the space, you must protect the same damsel from Fireman by deflecting glass bottles thrown by thugs along the sides of the screen. Whether this inclusion was with apologetic intent or not, it works just fine and is ultimately helped into a positive light because of the weakness in other areas of the package.

One area where I felt the game got it right is in the matter of presentation. Although they've brought about a more casual-oriented, cartoony style with the in-game artwork, the actual game scenes have touches that are in tune with what should be expected of a collection paying tribute to the style of LCD handhelds. Appropriate colours are used to decorate spaces, some of which actually call to mind some of the very same setups used, again, in the Game & Watch games. Softer tints show all possible character and enemy movements and interaction points, and some of the positions show silly poses to display a sense of style. Sound effects aren't of a retro variety and are more in line with you'd hear from a soundboard, including cringeworthy laugh tracks and dings that sound like they were pulled from the same set used on The Price is Right.

    Honestly, I can't say any one of these games are strong enough to serve as individual incentives for an interested person to enlist in what is an unmoving package. Because even when issues aren't present, there isn't much to say in terms of fun factor. More than just the spotty enjoyment, though, there's more that Retro Pocket doesn't quite get. LCD games are imitable in many fashions, but there's more to them than just strict functionality, and it seems like UFO has somehow missed that. When the game isn't engaged in cloning, its attempts at originality are really one-sided with little magic behind them. Instead of being drawn in by these games, I was left second-guessing myself and questioning whether or not my time was being well spent.

    I can't decide which of the two this collection feels more like: a factory-ordered knock-off, or one of those low-end freebie toys you'd get at a fast food establishment. In either case, I'm not paying it much of a compliment. Retro Pocket isn't totally unbecoming, but it carries its dullness across with forgettable execution. The iterations that pioneered the very style this game attempts to associate itself with were more than just functional, and I fear that if kids were to judge that legacy based on what they're fed here, they just might form the opinion that those games were little more than flat concepts, and that the visual appeal disguised an underlying primitivity. Really, when you get right down to it, the comparisons in quality between the two entities are not even close, and although I don't think Retro Pocket does an outright bad job, it really is more of a literal interpretation rather than a worthy tribute.

18/30 - Okay/Average

Gameplay 6/10 - Technically sound executions, some of the included games suffer from problems ranging from progression to uninteresting design
Presentation 7/10 - Visual appearance and colour choices are in keeping with the overall theme, sound effects can be annoying at times
Enjoyment 2/5 - Pretty forgettable overall, dull gameplay seen on the whole overshadows fun factor that may be derived from an individual game
Extra Content 3/5 - Includes eight games but only six are different concepts, each offer a slight variant but not all properly rectify certain issues

Equivalent to a score of 60% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Retro Pocket
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