Retro City Rampage is an indie game that can best be described as a GTA demake and a nostalgia trip. Created by Vblank Entertainment, it parodies many retro games and pop culture from the 80’s and 90’s. It’s available on the PS3, PSV, and PC, with releases for the 360 and Wii scheduled.
The biggest feature of the game is the overload of references. These references are mainly for games, but also extend to movies, shows and celebrities. In the first level alone I found references to Frogger, Sonic the Hedgehog, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the A-Team, the Dark Knight, the Oregon Trail, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Back to the Future, Fabio and more. At first I was annoyed by this, but the amount of references gets to the point where they don’t detract from the game, but they don’t particularly add anything either. They’re just so heavily ingrained into the game that I barely even care about them. The quality of the game’s writing varies heavily. Sometimes the dialogue is nothing but long lists of references with no originality or wit, and other times the game’s dialogue is both funny and unique. Fortunately, the game generally leans towards the latter.
The game plays like a GTA clone for the NES, albeit a very competent one. You can steal cars, go on rampages, buy weapons and clothes for customization, evade police, etc. The game lets you move in one direction and shoot in another, similar to Smash TV, and also features a cover system and the ability to jump over enemy attacks and even dive bomb enemies. There’s a great deal of variety in the weapons. Even basic weapons like the shotgun and SMG act quite differently. For example, shotguns have knockback and spread but using one slows you down and you can’t shoot diagonally. So, you’re going to be more aggressive with a shotgun while you’ll be able to use a bit more finesse in dodging enemy attacks with the SMG. The game also features flamethrowers, grenades, rocket launchers and a number of melee weapons.
Each mission has a unique, usually humorous premise and many of them will bring a new game mechanic. The next mission might be a fairly normal race, or it could be a 2d platformer, or a stealth mission, or a trivia game. Sometimes they’re an homage to another game, such as one level that was a remake of the arcade game Root Beer Tapper. My personal favorite is a level where you need to tail someone back to their hideout. Levels where you need to slowly follow another person exists in my sandbox games, and they’re usually very easy and very boring. The main character even notes this, and the mission focuses more on getting coffee to stay awake than tailing your target. Even missions with a simple premise will do something to keep it fresh. One race mission had you detour into a fast food drivethrough to order a burger for someone. In the next lap, you had to return to pick up your order. Some levels won’t allow you to use guns for various reasons.
While every level has a unique premise, sometimes they suffer from generic gameplay. One level has you partaking in a game that’s similar to Smash TV where you need to clear room after room of enemies. This could have been an enjoyable level if not for the fact that each room is practically the same as the last, and the exact same premise has been used in two previous missions. They’re not particularly difficult missions either as it’s very easy to kill your enemies as soon as they enter the room. Luckily, these 3 specific missions are the only ones that are really boring. Other levels that have you shooting waves of enemies usually have some kind of gimmick or unique gameplay element, and aren’t as long and tedious.
The difficulty isn’t very consistent. Most levels are easy enough to finish on your first try, but a few levels will see you die 20 or 30 times. Worse yet, the main reason for difficulty is the trial and error gameplay. One race mission required you to traverse a very unconventional path, going through tight alleyways and making very sharp turns. You’ll likely have to keep replaying the level simply because you don’t know what path the game wants you to take next.To offset this, the hardest levels usually have a nice reward at the end. For example, this race mission gives you access to the fastest car in the game.
The game is littered with things to do. There are numerous collectibles to find, different ways to customize your character such as buying new hats or tattoos, secrets, challenges mainly with killing a lot of people in a limited time with a specific weapon, minigames and more. The minigames are especially fun, as they’re all demakes of well known indie games like Bit Trip Runner or Super Meat Boy. The challenges will record your high score and lets you compare with the global leaderboards and anyone on your friends list, so it’s easy to lose yourself for a few minutes or a few hours trying to get a high score.
There are two minor problems that end up being major inconveniences: Turning while driving your car slows down, and you can’t jump and shoot. Whenever you turn your car you lose momentum and slow down. It’s very jarring for my turbo boost to effectively be cancelled because I changed lanes. This means that cop chases and races aren’t as fast and frenetic as I’d like for them to be, and you’ll take longer just to traverse from point A to point B. You can jump to dodge bullets and rockets, but you can’t do this while attacking. This isn’t really a problem for most of the game, but the later missions will have you fighting enemies in confined spaces where your best option to avoid an attack is to jump over it.
Retro City Rampage is a polarizing game. At it’s best it’s witty, creative and enjoyable, and at its worst it’s stupid, unoriginal and tedious. The best way to decide if you’d enjoy the game is how you respond to references. If seeing a reference to practically every notable game, movie and show from the 80′s and 90′s sounds like a bad time, Retro City Rampage is not for you. If it sounds like a fun nostalgia trip, Retro City Rampage is going to be a fantastic experience.