Writing a review for a game you’ve been looking forward to for years is always tough. Did it live up to your expectations? Was it worth the hype? I want to ignore these notions since I feel like over the course of Retro City Rampage’s development, it’s like watching your best friend make a game.
Not that I know Brian Provinciano – sole creator of RCR – personally, but this game felt like it was made for me. It’s filled with jokes that for anyone who’s grown up with pop culture in the last 20 years will understand. But he’s also a talented developer who’s made a hell of a game with loads of variety. It makes fun but also pays homage to classic games from the 8 and 16-bit era to the PC shareware days to the contemporary modern era.
Retro City Rampage was built upon a foundation Brian created when he made a ‘demake’ of Grand Theft Auto III using NES technology. He then decided to make his own open-world style game, building upon what he made in the past. We were never sure when it was going to get released like other recent indie titles with extended development times but now, it’s RCR‘s turn.
The story starts with you as Player, a henchman for hire looking for some work. He begins working for “The Jester’ and after some conflicts with a time machine used to escape the cops, he winds up back in time. But now he’s stuck and must find certain objects to power up the time machine with the help from Doc Choc who looks kind of like Doc Brown from Back to the Future.
The world of Threftopolis feels alive and breathing with all the pixels. Some characters look like mariachi band members and 8-bit breakdancers but you might blink before realizing you ran them over. You’ll notice signs with callbacks to franchises like Ghostbusters with Go-Go Busters to Bayshore High, referencing Saved by the Bell. Even a Degrassi reference for you Canadians out there like me.
But it’s not like the references are the entire foundation of the game. They just make the world a lot funnier and more tongue-in-cheek. Spelling errors like Conglaturation and characters like the Biffman (played by playboy millionaire Biff West) just feel like you’re inside Brian’s head. The difference I feel between RCR and GTA is that while RCR feels lively and zany, GTA feels too calculated and too digital. Playing this game is almost like becoming Brian’s best friend and knowing where he came from and what inspired him.
The mission structure is similar to any open-world game: get in a car, drive to a point, figure out mission and complete it. The opening mimics Mega Man 2, Duck Hunt and The Dark Knight within seconds. You’ll be robbing a bank and using the bus to get away. But there’s always a problem that leads you to using a new ability such as the speed shoes that were brought from the “green hills.”
Other mission types range from fighting ‘bionic cops’ by avoiding their arms, becoming death and filling out his daily intake, throwing dead bodies at a ghost car, fighting through the Destructoid robot to take on Von Buttnick. Listing them all would be a hell of a thing to do but it never runs out of charm. Meeting yourself from the future is even in the mix.
If you don’t want to do the story missions, there’s plenty of side missions like racing or stealing cars or drinking ‘milk’ but there’s also rampage missions. These entail that you destroy as much stuff as possible to get a gold medal. Lighting everything on fire is great fun. You can even customize your character to however you see fit with masks, glasses, and plastic surgery to look like famous writers, indie developers and more. You’re littered with options on what you can create.
There’s even mini-games that evoke classic indie titles. You can play as ‘Splosion Man, Commander.Video from the Bit.Trip series and even Super Meat Boy makes an appearance. In 3D no less! Just remember your 3D glasses you had when you were a kid.
The music, created by composers Leonard J. Paul, Jake Kaufman and others are amazing and makes the world even more complete. While retaining the 8-bit chiptune sound, they range from so many other styles including rockabilly, hip-hop and punk. It elevates the mood so you’re playing quite possibly the ultimate NES game never built for NES hardware.
But it isn’t short of fallbacks. There’s not a lot but there’ll be elements that can make missions entirely frustrating. A specific one has you tailing a car but in order to tail it effectively, you must keep drinking coffee that you find around the city. It took a lot of tries to get it right and became incredibly frustrating. If you were the littlest bit close to it, you fail, starting at the very beginning.
To be fair, not all missions do this since some missions halfway through will save you before the final battle of a mission. But ones where you have to go all the way back to a certain area or start from the beginning just take the fun out of the experience a little.
While playing the Steam version, I’d recommend not playing this game with keyboard controls. They work but depending on how your keyboard is laid out, you’ll have a lot of trouble shooting and moving at the same time. Driving is usually fine depending on if you choose automatic or manual. But the good news is it’ll take any gamepad controller and automatically works (can’t speak for PS3 but it was automatic with a wired 360 controller).
Another concern was shooting is super easy since you can either use the analog stick or lock-on buttons but melee is another story. I felt like with some melee weapons, I was a pixel off and would get hurt dramatically. The whole “one wrong move and you’re dead’ feeling. This particularly happened during a Zelda-esque stage where you used a sword and shield, the tip of the sword would miss by a hair, leaving me open for pain.
A common complaint I read is that it would have been better had it been released earlier. While that might be true to some people, developing a game solely by yourself takes a lot of time and doing it multiplatform no less. This might put a damper on some people’s perceptions of the game but I didn’t really care too much. Some games take a long time to develop when you’re by yourself or working with one other person.
Nitpicks aside, if you’re a fan of open-world games or even if you’re not and want something that makes fun of the genre entirely, Retro City Rampage is a variety-filled throwback romp to a classic time.
Even if you don’t get references, you’ll have a fun time with the experience. The odd mission might make you super frustrated but by the end, it was like hanging out with your best friend and talking about “Oh man, that part in that one movie/game/tv show was the best!” feeling. I almost feel as if I should get Brian a birthday present for delivering me one of my favourite games of the year.
Second Opinion: Angelo Valdivia
The best way I can describe Retro City Rampage is as the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? of video games. This is an honest labour of love celebrating the roots of gaming in the 80s and 90s that inter splices pop culture references seemingly out of nowhere, but at the same time, right where they should be. The Vita version rests beautifully on the system’s OLED screen, and the controls are a snug fit complete with a great D-pad to use if preferred. Due to the handheld’s vibrant display, this game looks utterly gorgeous and compliments the satirical and light-hearted experience. For those more in-tune with contemporary shooter mechanics, there’s even the ability for executing gunplay with twin-sticks. Sure, the game does sometimes feel repetitive and the checkpoints could have been better placed, but considering the eras RCR is harkening back to can you really fault the game over everything else it’s doing?
Retro City Rampage was developed and published by Vblank Entertainment. A PlayStation 3 copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.