It’s nearly impossible to actually get stuck in Retro Game Challenge. Yes, you need to fulfill all the challenges for the latest sub-game before you can move on to the next, but as your tasks become more formidable, Arino gets in new issues of GameFan to bail you out. Even Rally King, the black sheep of the ensemble, becomes trivial once you get the codes to make your car invincible, skip to any track, and remove the competing racers.
Why, then, have I still not progressed to the likes of Haggle Man 2 and Guadia Quest? Well, let me amend my original statement: it’s nearly impossible to get stuck in RGC because it’s too hard. You can easily get stuck on a sub-game in the amorous sense of the phrase: witness my experience with Star Prince.
Star Prince is a shoot’em-up inspired by Hudson’s Star Soldier series, which popularized turbo controllers and elevated Toshiyuki Takahashi to man-god status. The games also represent a huge gap in my knowledge of shoot’em-ups, since I’ve never actually played any of them. But if this is only an imitation, my need to do so has suddenly become much more urgent.
[[image:nn_090213_starprince_01.jpg:I am immortal. I have inside me blood of kings.:center:0]]
Star Prince is best distinguished by its level design, which is positively saturated with nodes and structures offering near-constant point bonuses for destroying them either en masse or in patterns hinted by their arrangement. Firing on innocuous-looking tiles can also uncover hidden 1-Ups and, in what I can only think of as a Mega Man reference, the letters P-R-I-N-C-E. Helping you lay the terrain bare are a number of power-ups, which, as one of the game’s “innovations,” are as abundant as they are cool-looking. (In one of the most telling signs that you would never have actually seen this on the NES in 1986, your ship changes form based on its weapon, and viscerally casts off its armor when switching to a different one.)
Enemies eventually flood the screen, spraying enough bullets to generate slowdown that, amusingly, doesn’t seem to be an intentional throwback. But you can use this to your advantage: shooting a power-up will clear the screen for a bonus multiplied by how many enemies and bullets are present…and then there’s the barrier. Holding down the shot button generates a shield — only towards the front of the ship at first, but from all sides with a weapon equipped. Catching three bullets with this will unleash a powerful Spark Shot, after which you stay invincible long enough to immediately get the barrier up again. It’s more of a desperation maneuver when playing for score, but if you don’t care about making that number go up, you could rely on it almost exclusively and breeze through the game — no cheat codes needed.
I had such fun with Star Prince that I actually felt remorse each time I was yanked out of it after a challenge; I found myself prematurely resetting after deaths because I wanted to learn it. And once the challenges were exhausted, the fact that it unlocked Rally King SP gave me more than enough incentive to dwell where I was. I ended up beating the entire game, even snagging the enormous million-and-a-half-point “Secret Bonus” that requires destroying all the mid-bosses in a strict time limit.
…Unfortunately, I only marveled at my final score for a few seconds before it dawned on me that, in true NES fashion, your high score isn’t actually saved once you turn the power off. I usually couldn’t care less, but in games where the process of scoring is fun in itself, I can’t resist. So, this time in “Freeplay” mode (where you play outside the context of little Arino’s bedroom), I did it all over again. And then once more. I only died three times!
[[image:nn_090213_starprince_02.jpg:I appreciate that they’ve provided the space to note if I beat the game 9,999,999 times.:center:0]]
Star Prince isn’t perfect; in particular, enemies frequently swoop in from the sides and bottom of the screen, resulting in cheap deaths and reducing your safe zone to the center of an already cramped “vertizontal” play field. But the fact that a mere sub-game, an eighth or less of a much larger product, can stand up to this kind of criticism at all should give you an idea of the care that went into RGC’s development. And with shoot’em-ups being one of the few genres not well-represented on the DS, I can see myself keeping it around just for that purpose. Parish has said that he’d pay full price for only a slightly more fleshed-out Haggle Man 3, and the same is easily true of me and Star Prince.