Review: Retro Pocket (DSiWare)

Through the Past, Darkly

Before Retro Pocket, Game & Watch fans were poorly served. If they wanted to enjoy those early Nintendo forays into gaming, they were out of luck. There was no way for gamers to get their hands on recreations of those originals, short of picking up the Game & Watch Collection, of course. Or its sequel.

But apart from those titles, the Game & Watch series was lost to the ages. Unless you grabbed one of many DSiWare remakes.

Apart from those though there was really no way to re-experience the magic of the Game & Watch series. Except for the Game & Watch Gallery on the 3DS Virtual Console. And the GBC sequel to that game. And...you know what? Come to think of it, Game & Watch fans have a mountain of options already, which makes Retro Pocket's half-baked knockoff mini-games all the more puzzling.

Retro Pocket features eight games, each of which is presented in classic Game & Watch style. To be fair, the games absolutely nail the visual presentation (with one exception to be discussed later), but whether or not that's something to be proud of is open to debate. In terms of audio, the games take some liberties, providing music and sound effects notably beyond the capabilities of Nintendo's early handhelds, but that's okay. There's nothing particularly bothersome as far as the audio goes, though neither is it memorable.

Where Retro Pocket stumbles is in the game selection itself. Whale Escape is a barely-masked clone of the Game & Watch title Octopus. Fireman is a somehow more boring revamp of Fire. And a whopping three titles here — Candy Factory, Watch Your Head and Egg Drop — borrow the central conceit from Oil Panic. We hope you like filling containers, emptying them, and then filling them again, because Retro Pocket will have you doing that a lot.

The game allows you to see all possible sprite positions, whether or not they're "active." This lets you see the potential path that hazards and enemies might take, but Retro Pocket doesn't care much for logic, and will have them warping from place to place without rhyme or reason. While Game & Watch titles relied on predictable patterns that got faster over time, Retro Pocket seems to rely on extrasensory perception.

The controls are decent, though there's an annoying bit of lag between pressing a button and seeing the result play out. Particularly egregious, though, is the pause menu. You press start to pause, and you'll need to pause when you begin each game in order to read the instructions. Press start again, though, and your game doesn't resume. You must press A to resume the game. That's odd enough, but if you press B instead, which is a common way to back out of a screen or a menu, you're booted back to the title selection screen without any confirmation, losing any progress you might have made in the game. Oops!

Each of the games has two play modes, with the high score retained for each one. In many cases Game B is just a faster version of Game A, but it does sometimes toss an extra hazard into the mix as well. Since the primary challenge of any Game A is staying awake, Game B is usually the better option.

In addition to the clones discussed above, there is Kung Fu Hero, which finds you beating off gang members who assault your girlfriend with beer bottles (yes, really), Postman, which is really fun if you like running in circles without earning any points unless the game randomly decides to give you some, and Fuel Drop, the lone highlight of the collection.

Fuel Drop relies on a colour-switching gimmick that the original Game & Watch line would not have been able to support, which frees it of being a lesser shade of an already-existing title. You rotate black and white fuel drums with L and R (also unique to this game) to catch correctly-coloured drops, and it's both relaxing and fun. Fuel Drop isn't enough to justify the purchase on its own, but if you do end up with this game, it's the best place to spend your time. Its unique presentation and controls make it stand out from its brethren, and it feels like it should be part of a much better mini-game collection than this one.

As it stands, Retro Pocket is both a far-from-necessary download, and a pale imitation of games already available. There's a lone standout in the form of Fuel Drop, but that's relative. If you're really craving Game & Watch remakes — in spite of the fact that these games have been remade already — then Retro Pocket might be worth a download. If not, there's nothing particular to this title to warrant a recommendation.

Conclusion

Retro Pocket may not have had any intentions of being original, but we do at least wish it intended to be fun. This collection of Game & Watch clones / homages is half-baked at best, and while it does indeed nail the visual presentation of the originals it forgoes entirely the addictive quality of the games, substituting it for tedium. Considering that the Game & Watch originals were already quite repetitive in their own right, that's something of an accomplishment, but it's not one to be proud of.

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