Review - Retro City Rampage
Retro City Rampage is an open-world crime parody. Set in a top-down, 8-bit rendition of a violent city aptly called Theftropolis, it casts the player as PLAYER, a generic henchmen tasked with . . . well doing henchmen stuff. Story here is an afterthought. Retro City Rampage is all about the nostalgia, and sometimes nostalgia isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Basic gameplay structure is identical to the early Grand Theft Auto games. A top-down view of the city, population, and vehicles lends itself well to its classic 8-bit style. The player can jump, sprint, use melee and ranged weapons, as well as drive cars and play mini-games. Any vehicle can be stolen, and any civilians can be slaughtered, or even picked up and thrown. There is even a cover system that half-way works. At times the game shifts into a 2D side-scroller view for certain situations, really diving into an old-school feel.
Like the GTA series, missions are categorized into main story missions, side missions, and extra activities like kill sprees and challenges. Players can explore the map and partake in these extracurricular activities whenever they please. There are around 60 story missions, and a plethora of side activities with leaderboard functionality, so quantity of content is definitely not an issue with RCR.
Visual wise, the 8-bit style is basically 1:1 with the original NES. Even the color palette, with its off blues and pinkish-purples, seems identical to that of the original machine. On the other hand, since the top-down view is pulled far above the streets, the sprites can be difficult to differentiate whether they are dead or alive. There is nothing more frustrating than returning to a poorly placed checkpoint because an enemy hiding behind cover was mistaken for a dead body. Cheap deaths are not held back here. Since the game shifts so quickly between cutscenes and gameplay, at times I was quickly killed by a rocket-wielding baddy before I had even realized I was back in control. Also like games of yesteryear, good luck getting out of a corner when an enemy is blasting you with a shotgun, locking you in a “taking damage” animation until you die. Combat, for the most part, can be tedious and frustrating. Holding the attack button serves as a lock-on system for the closest enemy, but I quickly abandoned it for the dual-stick shooting and melee controls. Jumping, from a top-down perspective is pretty clumsy, and the checkpoints can become annoying.
RCR asks players to forgive these issues by dumping nostalgia all over them. It gives its love to 80s music, games, television and films, and succeeds. This love however, is the overbearing type, and quickly saturates the game. Imagine a friend who only spoke in movie quotes, only dressed in costumes, and never wanted to do anything original. Yes, at first, it sounds great, but the experience is something that would grow tiring fast.
I am all about retro gaming, sentimentality, and revisiting the past. Even more than that, I really appreciate it when Easter eggs are incorporated into games. If they are kept relatively light, or used in fresh ways, i.e. Super Meat Boy, they can enhance experiences. Retro City Rampage, rather than hiding the Easter eggs for special occasions, throws them at you, unboiled and by the dozens. It’s hard to keep up with the references, flying at breakneck speeds between new movies like The Dark Knight to old classics like Bill and Ted. One of the earlier levels somehow manages to combine Metal Gear, Robocop, Bionic Commando, Back to the Future, and Guerilla War without blinking an eye. I may have missed another.
After playing through a few tutorial stages, RCR jokes about the ridiculousness of repeating control tutorials more than once, then immediately makes you go through another tutorial level. This is my main gripe with RCR. It knows what it is- a retro game with old school conventions. However, it mocks even the conventions that the masses have outgrown (clumsy combat, cruel checkpoints, and cliché crime stories) and then employs them. Rather than use a retro theme to create something wholly unique, RCR quickly becomes a trip through on-purpose clichés that other parodies have made fun of before. For instance, I have seen Solid Snake be made fun of before, even by Konami and Hideo Kojima himself. So why would I find it hilarious to find a Snake clone running around in cardboard box, 8-bit style? Another great example is a David Hasselhoff clone, who jokes about hamburgers. It’s all tired, old jokes.
Perhaps I just happen to love everything that RCR parodies, and know them well enough to not be amazed that they are referenced. It’s just that here they are thrown into a meat grinder. (See what I did there?) For those who grew up in the 80s or perhaps are just very familiar with 80s pop culture, it could grow tiresome. On the other hand, I was admittedly playing with the anticipation of a reference to Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. I wasn’t disappointed.
Although it is my biggest gripe, these allusions are also the main reason anyone should pick up Retro City Rampage. It is clearly targeted at nostalgia lovers. From the names of the NPC’s (Doc Choc replaces the Christopher Lloyd clone, to the absurdity of the missions (helping the skinless Gamedini recover his codebook). From story to gameplay to graphics, Retro City Rampage is an all-around one stop shop for 80s lovers. While the gameplay does nothing original, the challenges and kill sprees can be very entertaining. Of all the things Retro City Rampage brings to the table, the soundtrack and optional screen resolutions is what takes it into the “Good” category. Want to see what RCR would look like on a Gameboy? There’s a filter for that. Even filters like “UHF” and “Arcade Cabinet” are included. It is a clever nod, which is highly appreciated..
Retro City Rampage is a game best played in chunks. The constant referral to 80s culture is something that can be more easily appreciated if you come back to it, and the missions are very well suited for hit-and-run arcade action. If you have a Vita, you can’t go wrong with RCR. If you are buying it for a console, I would recommend a deep love for dated gameplay and 80s references as a requirement before purchase.
7s are very fun that has solid appeal. It has obvious issues that stick out, but can still be enjoyable by anyone.
Shaun Bolen is a freelance reviewer for ScrewAttack.com. After interning with the site for eight months, he left to continue his education. Shaun holds a degree in Foreign Language with an English BA on the way, and is now back with ScrewAttack to write reviews in his spare time. He can't wait for GTA V to come out, and enjoys taking emotive black-and-white self-portraits.