Available Platforms: PC, PS4
Developer: Hi-Bit Studios
Publisher: Hi-Bit Studios
Platform Tested: PC
Official Site: https://198xthegame.com
198X is an arcade coming of age story from indie developer Hi-Bit Studios, which was recently released in June for PC, and will be coming to PS4 in a few weeks. The game has the player taking control of a bored kid simply known as “Kid” who is stuck living a tired, predictable teenage life in 1980’s suburbia. Just when it seems like the Kid can’t find anything to bring them a new emotional high in life, they discover a seedy video game arcade that brings them to new heights of excitement and types of escapism they’ve never known before.
Through multiple genres, stunningly gorgeous pixel art, and beautiful melancholy music the game manages to tell a satisfying, if brief, the story of the universal experience of looking back mournfully on our lost childhoods as we grow older. The gameplay goes through five completely different genres of gameplay in five distinct fictional arcade titles, all of which are faithful to the styles of the 80’s and packed to the gills with gorgeous art and surprisingly engaging mechanics for most of them. The games within 198X are respectively a 2D Beat-‘em-up, a space shooter, a driving game, a ninja action game, and a first-person RPG. The games themselves are all decently challenging, often leading to just enough repeated attempts to make conquering each of them satisfying without being repetitive enough to be irritating. All of them have solid controls, easy to understand mechanics with a surprisingly high amount of mechanical depth, and again, lovely era-appropriate music and some of the best pixel art of it’s kind.
It really bears repeating; 198X has some of the absolute best pixel art that I have ever seen. The games themselves look like the most high-end games of their fictionalized version of the decade, and the shots of the Kid’s life in-between the gameplay looks like expertly shot movie magic put through the filter of expert pixelated artists. I honestly said things like “wow” and “Oh my God” multiple times while looking at some of these long, detailed moving shots. Combined with the expert story narration and strong writing, along with the great music, at it’s best this game touched and haunted me.
The biggest problem with 198X is simply that it’s just too short, though there is a purpose for its brevity. It is supposedly the first game in a series of multiple installments all meant to tell different parts of the same story. Looking at the game from the perspective that it is merely a taste of greater things to come does somewhat make up for how quickly it’s over, but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing that so little of such a good thing is here for us to enjoy now. It took me all of 90 minutes to complete the game, and while I absolutely enjoyed my time with it, only so much could be done and set up with that time, and if there is a part two coming, I have no idea where it might go. I guess you could say it impressed me greatly, but I was still left wanting more, in a less than happy way.
At its core 198X is marvelous at balancing gameplay and storytelling evenly. The various styles of gameplay are all fun and challenging, the presentation is frankly gob-smacking, and what little story it has is solid and narrated beautifully by actress Maya Tuttle. But it’s also likely going to be a very one-and-done type deal for most players, seeing how the gameplay is fun but doesn’t last for very long, and there’s only so much to be extrapolated from playing through the same 90 minutes of story over and over again trying to wring more out of it. The fact is that this game would have been more effective as a standalone product had it been longer.
That fact holds it back from being truly special, rather than something very good with a few special moments in it. It’s definitely worth a look if you appreciate games as a means of storytelling, but it won’t last you long unless you fall in love with it enough to just go through the whole thing over again. Which I very well might. Just like the Kid says, “Nothing beats the rush of the Highway.”
Verdict: At the $10 price tag with such great quality but a so short a length, you could think of playing through 198X as a trip to the movies. It’s quite often just like a movie with breaks for gameplay in between long shots and dumps of dialogue. Think of it as the kind of movie that has themes and imagery that you’ve almost certainly seen before, but it presented in a new and interesting way that makes it feel fresh and enjoyable.
- Beautiful Pixel Art
- Solid Narrative
- Fun, Challenging Gameplay
- Very short even at $10
- Ends on a cliffhanger for part 2
Greyson Ditzler is a freelance writer, aspiring author, and YouTuber. He loves games of all kinds and is always looking for something new and interesting to try. When he isn’t writing you can likely find him speedrunning Donut County or trying to convince his friends that Danganronpa is actually really cool. He can also beat the first world in Super Meat Boy without dying while wearing oven mitts.