I’m starting to feel like I’ve gone through some sort of time warp and am only able to play games from my childhood. The retro fever that’s seemingly gripped the gaming world shows no sign of dying down and, for the moment at least, every other game that lands in my lap is a re-jigged version of something I used to play when everyone had mullets and Dire Straits were still a cool band (actually, was this ever the case?).
And so we come to New Zealand Story Revolution; Rising Star’s attempt to bring Taito’s 1988 classic into modern times by transplanting it onto the globe conquering DS console in near arcade perfect form, with some obligatory touch screen shenanigans thrown in for good (or bad) measure. If you have fond, joyful memories of playing this game down the local arcade or via one of the plentiful home conversions (it was the Amiga for me) then this is a pretty tempting prospect. Sadly, as is so often true of revisiting childhood delights, seeing something you once loved through modern eyes can be a bit of nostalgia killer – even if the game itself isn’t actually that bad.
The story, in true 1980s fashion, is all but non-existent. Tiki the Kiwi’s friends have all been kidnapped by a downright mean leopard seal and it’s down to the brave little yellow bird to rescue them all by leaping and shooting across an array of New Zealand locales (none of which look like anything I’ve ever seen in a holiday brochure). All of the levels are filled to the brim with wacky animal enemies and tricky platform challenges, so you have to master Tiki’s jump, double jump and arrow-firing skills pretty early on if you are going to get anywhere – though a handy power shot and the ability to angle your blasts have been added to this version. While the first few levels are pretty sedate, the difficulty quickly ramps up and soon only the most dedicated of platform fans will be able to make any real progress. The levels, while quite short, are always mazelike and full of frantic action, meaning only those with the patience of a saint will be able to make it all the way through without wanting to catch a flight to New Zealand and personally make the Kiwi population extinct. Yet there is an addictive quality to the game, borne out of its coin-sucking arcade roots, that manages to keep you coming back for more – normally after muttering a few expletives and then taking some deep breaths mind.
It’s remarkably faithful to the original game and there is a lot of fun to be had from flying around the stages clutching a balloon, or riding upside down in a pair of roller skates. New Zealand Story is packed with the kind of inspired little touches and zany moments missing from so many modern games that, when you are not too stressed from being besieged by spawning enemies, it’s a genuinely fun experience that has aged well over nearly two decades. Rising Star should be commended for doing a fine job of retaining the cartoony spirit of original and adding a new level of sheen that takes full advantage of the extra power afforded by the DS. The visuals are predominately bright and crisp, while the jaunty themes and sound effects will keep lifting your spirits even when the punishing difficulty kicks in.
Where New Zealand Story does falter is with the Revolution parts of the game. Like it’s done previously with DS remakes of Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands, Rising Star has occasionally deemed it fit to break up the action with some touch screen-based mini-games, ranging from helping Tiki balance along a tight rope to fishing and hurling Kiwis into a moving cup (something the RSPCA might want to take a look at). These jarring sections feel very tacked on and it’s a real hassle to have to dig out your stylus mid-level just to rotate the handle of door that’s blocking your way. The worst offenders are the spot the differences challenges, in which you are forced to fly brazenly around an enemy-packed screen trying to find some tiny change between the near-identical levels on the top and bottom screen. Each time it’s simply a life-sapping exercise for poor Tiki that irritates far more than it entertains. Four of the mini-games can be played in wireless multiplayer mode, providing you have a friend with a copy of the game, but it’s unlikely you will want to bother as none of them are particularly engaging.
While the Revolution elements are hardly game-breakers, when combined with the steep difficulty curve of New Zealand story they do limit the longevity of the title beyond brief nostalgic appeal. Only someone with a Zen-like level of patience will be able to persevere all the way through the game without getting dangerously frustrated, despite the old school charm it has in abundance.
Retro gamers might not be able to resist the lure of a jazzed-up version of such a revered title but I’d recommend the average DS owner sticks to the more user-friendly thrills of New Super Mario Bros and lets this old bird rest its tired wings.