The game industry is no stranger to the oxymoron. From the endurance of the Final Fantasy franchise, the amount of wholly original content in New Super Mario Bros. 2, to control schemes which provide only the slightest semblance of direction, contradictions are commonplace and often unintentional. Conversely, the incongruence of the ‘modern retro’ game is entirely deliberate. Titles such as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, Cave Story, 3D Dot Game Heroes, and Mega Man 9, were designed to reinvigorate the look and feel of bygone gaming eras using the power of current-gen systems.
Released for the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita (as a cross-buy enabled bundle) as well as the PC, and headed to Microsoft’s and Nintendo’s digital publishing platforms, Retro City Rampage eschews most of the power offered by contemporary systems to deliver a sprite-based interpretation of the urban sandbox title. Originally convinced as an NES ‘demake’ of Grand Theft Auto 3, Retro City has evolved into a playful parody, bursting with both a multiplicity of game mechanics as well as a cornucopia of pop-culture references. Save for a difficulty level which recalls 8-bit infuriation, Retro City should be a travel destination for diehard nostalgia nuts. Admittedly, players less enamored by ‘80’s charm might want to pick a more exotic locale to spend their leisure hours.
During the opening minutes of the game, players are shuttled to the setting of Theftropolis, Retro City’s more familiar moniker. Beyond giving the protagonist (impishly named, “Player”) a tutorial of the game’s fundamentals, the game also commences its relentless blitzkrieg of geeky referents. From a quartet of sewer-dwelling turtles who attack Player, a melodramatic villain known as “The Jester”, to lampooning Bomberman, Duck Hunt, Metal Gear, the gags are dispensed at a rapid-fire pace. In execution, the humor is more smiling-enduing rather than riotously funny, but easily outstrips the cadence and effectiveness of jokes provided by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer’s cinematic output.
Beyond the on-foot and vehicular controls which mirror the mechanics of the first two Grand Theft Auto titles, Retro City Rampage incorporates a number of new nuances. Jumping on the heads of Theftropolis’ inhabitants adds a new wrinkle to gameplay, bestowing more points than simple melee or weapon-based attacks. Surprisingly, Rampage includes a cover system, allowing Player to duck behind obstacles with a press of the Triangle button. The sole caveat is that with the game’s visual fidelity, it’s rather hard to determine if Player is ducking down. To attack players can use hold down the square button to lock onto nearby foes, or use the right analog stick to fire in eight different directions. While targeting adjacent foes normally works well, the game becomes more finicky with distant objects. During a mini-mission which paid homage to Contra’s base infiltration, we lost a few Players trying to draw a bead on objects and learned to not rely on lock-on.
Following a handful of requisite missions, Retro City Rampage gives Player the key to the city, allowing participants to pursue the game’s 63-stage story, side missions, or tackle the arcade challenges scattered around town. While the game’s attempt to mimic classic arcade games is noble, with riffs on Smash TV and Ikari Warriors making a triumphant transition, trying to shoehorn in Paperboy and Tapper-style gameplay prove less successful. Additionally, the developer s commit a Suda 51-sized error, criticizing the tedium of a typical escort mission, only to force players to play through a particularly fussy and uninspired interpretation. For many, Retro City Rampage’s worst transgression will be the difficulty spikes which are present throughout the last half of the game. Evoking the eight-bit era, players accustomed to skipping missions or frequent checkpoint are likely to become discouraged as they tackle the same mission for the thirtieth time.
Throw in old-school supplements like cheat codes and character skins, as well as new indulgences like cross-platform save sharing on the PlayStation 3/PS Vita and graphical filters, and Retro City Rampage easily warrants its fifteen dollar price. As the culmination of a decade-long development span for lead Brian Provinciano and the team at VBlank Entertainment, Rampage periodically transcends parody, delivering a celebration of gaming’s golden era. As with any festive fete, make sure your fragiles are safely stashed away, as the title can occasionally summon one’s belligerent side.
PlayStation 3 and PS Vita review code was provided by the developer.