f you grew up with gaming in the late 80s and early 90s, many descriptions come to mind: simple, colorful, entertaining, addictive, and frustrating. Though the last one sounds rather terrible, it wasn’t – especially after learning certain patters and hints in classic side-scrolling games, because who didn’t like finally becoming the champion after several failed attempts?
The above statements represent everything You Have to Win The Game stands for. J. Kyle Pittman set out to create the perfect throwback of every delightfully addictive yet frustrating game he experienced as a child. With subtle hints of gaming pleasures from everything between the Commodore 64 and the NES, it’s safe to say he succeeded.
There’s really no story, not that YHtWtG even needs one. You’re a pixelated throwback whose only goal is to… well, yeah – win the game. You’ll navigate through a series of purple-and-black rooms in an effort to gather 100 percent of the treasures available throughout each map. Sometimes rooms repeat themselves. Sometimes puzzles and tasks seem impossible until you try them over and over again. In the spirit of similar retro tributes like I wanna be the Guy, each seemingly simple accomplishment in YHtWtG makes every second playing more meaningful than the last. That is, of course, if you enjoy sadistic challenges.
More often than not you’ll find yourself returning to rooms you already visited. For anyone who’s ever played any game like this (let alone Super Mario World), it’s automatically a given that certain outlines of purple or turquoise blocks require players to activate switches located elsewhere. You’ll also want to remain mindful of each save point bell if you get extremely exploratory. Hell, sometimes you’ll realize you just went in a huge circle and lose any relevant progress if you hit one of the bells. But again, it’s all part of the game's retro charm.
Each new room features a hilarious reference title on the bottom of the screen, which often highlights the simplicity or painfulness of the room you’re in. Titles include a wide variety of phrases like “Uncertain Semiotics” and more traditional descriptions like “Fungal Forest.” Moving across each map remains simple and smooth enough, and any added frustration involving biffed certain while attempting to survive seem entirely intentional for the reason of making you scream.
When it’s all said and done, YHtWtG wins on its own level. Sure, a room or two may frustrate the living crap out of you, but it's all part of the classic fun (like keytars and "Where's the Beef" shirts).
Whether you're playing for pure nostalgic challenges or a younger member of the newer generation who asks themselves what we saw in this so-called “repetitive and overly challenging crap,” YHtWtG is a throwback that easily caters to anyone who simply starts (and somehow finishes) playing. The fact that it’s a free and open Windows game with recently included level editing features only sweetens the deal.
Even if you’re afraid this game’s impossible to completely “win,” fear not – anyone who tries surely walks away a champ in some way. Only avoid You Have to Win the Game if you’re prone to throwing objects when things don’t go your way. Otherwise, enjoy everything gaming used to be: floppys featuring frantic fantasy frustrations.