It’s really hard to be stoic and objective when reviewing a game like VBlank Entertainment’s Retro City Rampage. What we have here is the very id of videogaming, distilled into the loudest, fastest, brightest package on offer. Beginning life a whole decade ago, RCR started out as a straight-faced remake of Grand Theft Auto 3 for the original NES. It’s arguable that after that project went dark, that RCR succumbed to feature creep, and the developer’s compulsive urge to cram every single idea he had into a single game took over. This is the result, and it is completely mental.
As a basis, take Grand Theft Auto and boil it down to its 2D origins, but bring along everything that defined GTA3, from the side-missions to the dialogue, cutscenes and complex web of unlocking content. And then add a dash of Metal Gear, Bionic Commando, Mario, Donkey Kong, Smash TV, Super Hang-On, Meat Boy, Minecraft and just about everything else. And then soak this already-unholy combination in every single videogame, movie and TV reference your mind can fathom, with a heavy bias towards 80s and early-90s pop-culture.
Does an 8-Bit game really need to let you walk into any casino in the city and play a half-dozen different games there? No, but it’s cool, so it’s in. A full arcade full of fleshed-out minigames? That’s a no-brainer. As is the option to let you play the game just about however you please. Want to use mountains of cheat-codes? Go ahead – the only penalty is being disqualified from the scoreboards. Want to play it as a twin-stick shooter? Yep. Simplified driving, ala Jackal? That’s an option. A multitude of TV emulation modes, letting you see how the game would look in 16-color DOS EGA mode, or on the original Gameboy? As if you had to ask.
The tradeoff here is that I don’t think any one part of the game stands out as being great, but that’s because that there are so many parts here that singling out any one would be missing the point. Sometimes the colours might be a little too loud, or the lock-on/cover shooting system a tad fiddly, but even those grumbles are largely negated by the options presented. Just about the only consistent complaint that could be levelled at Retro City Rampage is that there are quite a lot of cutscenes during the main story arc, and while these are skippable, they’re also the source of much of the scattershot (usually funny, though) skit humor of the game.
RCR is a large game with a lot of content. The story mode contains a broad range of setpiece missions spanning a huge range of genres and cameos. A Metal Gear infiltration mission changes into a Jackal-style vehicular rampage and rescue mission, only to be cut short by a battle with a Bionic Commando all in the space of under five minutes. Outside of the core content is a mountain of unlockable and secret stuff to find, from Mario-esque warpzones to other game worlds (Mojang World is familiar, blocky and strangely comforting) to direct unlocks of cosmetic gear and additional ‘arcade’ stages to play, each of which with their own online ranking leaderboards.
The big thing with RCR is that you really don’t have time to slow down, overthink things or complain. Every time you think you’ve seen everything the game has to offer, you stumble upon another secret zone, a new challenge, a funny reference or just get bored long enough to distract yourself with a no-holds-barred rampage, and that’s why it all works. The bouncy chiptune soundtrack is large and varied – just like the gameplay – and helps carry the action along, and the spritework is simple but clear for the most part, although the tiny pixel-pedestrians aren’t the most visually distinct. There’s a lot here, and the game is eager to throw it at you as fast as you can handle. It’s bright, it’s fun, it’s loud and it’s dumb.
It’s easy to see why this game was in development for a decade – the sheer volume of content is staggering. Everything that could have been included, has been, and then some, and the whole thing is a joy to play. Retro City Rampage costs $15, and is available now for PC, PS3 and PS Vita, with Xbox Live Arcade and Wiiware versions of the game planned, but with no release date set quite yet. Bargain-hunters can grab the PC version of the game direct from the developer and receive not just the DRM-free version, but also Steam and GOG keys – undoubtedly the best way to go.
[review pros="Fast, fun, bright & loud. ALL of the references. Tons of variety and minigames. Options enough to play how you like." cons="Possibly a few too many rapid-fire cutscenes, even if they are mostly funny. Cover-shooting feels a bit wooly and redundant." score=90]