Michael Cavacini

An award-winning arts and culture blog.

Nintendo Switch Review: 198X

198X is a new arcade epic for Nintendo Switch. It’s a coming-of-age story told through multiple games and genres. It provides players with the opportunity to experience the thrill of shooting, driving, jumping, fighting, and role-playing in five full-blown arcade stages, combined with cinematic pixel-art storytelling. For $9.99, you get access to the first installment of this game on Nintendo Switch. This consists of 90+ minutes of intense gameplay and pixel-art storytelling. Speaking of which, it took nine expert pixel artists to deliver the larger-than-life old-school sprites present in this game. 198X also features 20+ music tracks from the likes of Yuzo Koshiro and Swedish hit-duo Sinephony. The second and final installment for 198X is coming, but the release date is TBD.

So, what are my thoughts on 198X? I think it’s fantastic! The storytelling alone had me hooked. Throw in thrilling gameplay, a moody atmosphere that’s dripping with 1980s goodness, and a presentation that’s slick as a stone on a rainy day, and I was completely immersed from start to finish. I completed this game in one sitting, which is unusual for me. And it left me wanting more, but that’s a good thing because now I’m geared up for the second installment. Each of the five stages are excellent and they pay tribute to the classics that we all know and love, including Shinobi, Out Run, and R-Type, among others. I was especially impressed by how much I enjoyed the RPG stage, considering I’ve never taken to RPGs. If anything, it’s inspired me to take a deeper dive into a genre that’s relatively new to me. Anytime a video game makes me want to expand my horizons, that’s a good thing. With all of this in mind, I highly recommend buying 198X. It’s a neon-soaked, synth-infused kaleidoscope that’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

Here’s a Q&A with the 198X’s Director, Tobias Bjarneby, providing more details about the game and how it came to be.

Why do you think there remains so much nostalgia for arcade games?

Arcades used to be these magical places. There you’d find the coolest and most impressive video games, with futuristic qualities far beyond what you could play at home. These towering machines were more than just games – they were portals to other worlds.

To me, this is the perfect setting for a 1980s coming-of-age story. Of course, 198X is hardly the first game to be heavily influenced by 80s arcade games – but what we’re doing is to put those games into context, capturing the atmosphere surrounding them.

We tell a story about discovering an arcade and finding new worlds in its games. 198X is a video game about falling in love with video games.

Where did the idea for 198X originate?

Before all this I’d been working as a video game journalist and editor for 25 years, producing hundreds of magazines and several books. The core of our development team also founded Stockholm Museum of Video Games in 2016, so you could say that 198X is an extension of our previous work with preserving and celebrating video game history.

What challenges have you faced through making 5 distinct different games?

The big challenge was defining the essence of these games and their distinct era. Why do I love Out Run so dearly when I couldn’t care less about modern racing games? How come the opening stage in Final Fight, the first deadly slash in Strider and the initial boss encounter in R-Type had such a huge impact on me?

We found the answers not merely in graphics, sounds and core mechanics, but in the context, presentation and gameplay variation. Visiting an arcade in the 80s was all about finding new experiences, swiftly moving from one world to another. Driving your Ferrari under the blue sky, then cleaning up the streets of Metro City, suddenly soaring over the rooftops of 2048 Moscow and further out in space to face Dobkeratops.

This is what 198X is all about. We are not making just another beat ’em up or ninja game – we are using these games to tell a bigger story.

How big is each of these smaller games?

In part 1 of 198X, releasing now, there are 5 full-blown stages, one for each arcade game. In general these stages are bigger and more varied compared to any single stage in the 80s games we draw inspiration from.

So I would say that the game we are releasing now is the same size as any Final Fight or R-Type or Strider – the typical late 80s arcade game. But with more storytelling and less frustration!

How difficult has it been to create 198X’s distinctive pixel art?

It’s been extremely time-consuming. Most modern neo-retro games use a much more zoomed-out camera with smaller sprites and more open level design. And while I understand and respect that choice, we really wanted to have spectacular visuals with huge sprites in our games. The late 80s were all about who could project the biggest sprites on the most detailed backdrops – while the catchiest chiptunes were playing – and we just love that!

How did the collaboration with Yuzo Koshiro come about?

His music was performed by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra a few years back, and I know the producer of that concert. So when we were looking for composers for our arcade games, I just thought we should give it a shot. So we asked, and he said yes! I believe that Yuzo Koshiro really shaped the sound of this era, so it’s been a huge honor to have him on board.

Is it hard to manage backers’ expectations on Kickstarter?

Our amazing backers have been very supportive. When we told them we needed to split the game in two parts, to be able to deliver on the promise we made to them and to ourselves, they were very encouraging. They really understand what we want to achieve and how much it takes to get there.

We might be a pretty small studio in terms of people, but our ambitions are indeed huge! And we are so excited to finally be able to invite all of you to 198X.

 

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