Study Hall (NES) ReviewMarch 11, 2014
It’s safe to say that the retro gaming scene has exploded in recent years. “Homebrew” titles have been around for awhile — new games for classic systems, playable via emulators on a PC. But nothing can beat the feeling of opening a brand new physical copy of a game for a beloved system like the Nintendo Entertainment System, and playing with an original controller. Years after the NES had been forgotten by the masses in favor of newer, shinier HD consoles, developer KHAN Games has released Study Hall, a new NES cart that can be played in an original 8-bit Nintendo system or any of the recent clone consoles (such as the Retro Duo or the upcoming RetroN 5).
The premise of Study Hall will be familiar to anyone who’s ever gotten bored in the middle of class and started doodling in their notebook. In Study Hall you play as a stick figure drawing on a piece of paper, and you’ll need to climb ropes while avoiding obstacles like flying planes and cannon fire. In true old-school fashion, the game ramps up the difficulty quickly once you’re acclimated to the controls, throwing tons of enemies at you in increasingly complex levels. If you even slightly miscalculate a jump your stickman will fall to his doom, so precision is a must in this game. Overall, the gameplay is fun, and reminiscent of Donkey Kong, Jr. While the visuals are very simplistic, they’re charming and obviously meant to look like the scribblings of a kid, so it works.
In a really cool modern touch, Study Hall has onboard flash memory to not only save your name and high score, but also keep track of the achievements you’ve unlocked. That’s right, this is the first ever NES game to feature achievements — I just thought that was awesome. The cartridge is also a translucent blueish-purple, so you can see the memory board inside, which as far as I’m aware is also a first. It comes with a clear RetroZone sleeve with a logo stylized to mirror Nintendo’s, and the game’s label has a “seal of approval” with a picture of an actual seal. Haha.
Study Hall also includes chiptune renditions of famous 80s songs from artists like the Bee Gees, Cyndi Lauper, Peter Gabriel, and more. These tracks play in the cinematic intermissions between levels, but they can also be accessed via a jukebox feature on the main menu. The entire songs are playable, too, not just short snippets. The jukebox features an animated boombox in keeping with the 80s theme. Unfortunately, you can’t play these tracks during actual gameplay — in fact there’s no music at all during gameplay, just sound effects.
Overall, Study Hall is an engaging, challenging. and fun game that feels right at home in the NES library. With 16 main levels, 8 challenge levels, achievements, and a music jukebox, there’s plenty here to keep you busy when you’re on a nostalgia kick. Study Hall can be purchased through RetroUSB here, and if you’re a completionist you can also buy the accompanying box and manual here.