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Retro City Rampage Review

Retro City Rampage Review

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.

Retro City Rampage Review

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.

Retro City Rampage Review

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.

Retro City Rampage Review

PlayStation 3 and PS Vita review code was provided by the developer.

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.


  1. I noticed the reviews for RCR have been pretty wild. Everything from A to low C’s.

  2. This is the only thing I have bought from PSN in two months. I’m really happy with the purchase. It’s really like GTA on the NES, but they do cheat with a few effects (try drinking the spoiled milk)

  3. How’s the music. I know that sounds strange, but that can make or break a game for me.

  4. I’m glad this finally came out. I’ve been following it for months.

    Are there any differences between the PS3/Vita versions?

  5. “control schemes which provide only the slightest semblance of direction”

    Des, you love to rag on the Kinect dontcha?

    • As well he and the rest of game journalists should.

      Microsoft promised a ton. They delivered a handful of decent games and a whole lot of clunkers. The promised precision wasn’t there. Milo capabilities (reading emotions, drawings, interaction) never came. All we got was wonky control with dumbed down games. Now it’s being used as voice recognition and they skipped the camera part.

  6. I’m currently play it now. The criticism of Microsoft is pretty hilarious. No wonder why it’s out on PSN and has unlockable PlayStation people in it.

  7. Thanks god for the demo. Otherwise I would have bought this. Definitely not my cup of Mr. Pibb.

  8. I think I can cough up $15 for 10 years of a guys life. Very cool that you get both versions.

  9. I heard the humor actually gets a little raunchy. Color me curious.

  10. Pretty good review. I read some review by IndieGamerChick and she basically ripped it a new one.

    ‘Stuff like close-quarters combat being shitty, club-based weapons being useless, and having too much recoil from getting hit. And then the game would have more sections of intentional badness. Sigh. Who could possibly think being bad is a good thing? Nobody likes things that suck on purpose, unless it involves a mouth and genitals.’

    • She’s being a bit harsh on it. Maybe she’s forgot what 8 bit games felt like and confusing modern physics systems.

      Like the sucking metaphor, though.

  11. Any word on when this will hit XBLA? I really want to play it.

  12. There needs to be an option to buy just the PS3 version for $9.99.

    Damn, Vita. Because of that system, I have to pay $5 for some games.

  13. Skate or Die AND Mario references in the top pic?

    I’ll be visiting Retro City.

  14. Good review.

    I noticed some changes to the look of the site. You’re not doing the same seeing eye chart 20-pt font look of Verge, IGN, and Destructoid, are you?

  15. So does it actually play like GTA or like a old NES game? Ive heard conflicting reports that the controls are ok and that they’re kind of clunky.

  16. I can’t think of a game that has so many movie game references. I played for a few hours and there must have been one almost every minute.

    • Yep, I feel the same. I tried counting the references and lost count after the first 4 minutes in.