Retro City Rampage Review – I (don’t) feel asleep
Retro City Rampage from Vblank was a game that I had been anticipating a long time. Seriously, I don’t remember when or where I first heard about Brian Provinciano’s take on an 8-bit Grand Theft Auto game, but I was thrilled from the first time I saw it. Still, Retro City Rampage is much bigger than a simple take on what a GTA game would look like if it were made for the NES (although it does a very nice job at being that), it is a parody of basically everything from the nineteen hundred and eighties. If you were alive in that time, basically every movie and video game you remember from that time gets at least a nod in Retro City Rampage.
Still, none of that would matter if the game weren’t fun. Luckily, it is. The main portion of the game plays out essentially like the original Grand Theft Auto games from the original Playstation, with its top down perspective and angle-adjusting driving (well, there are a couple of driving modes, but I used the GTA-style). The action is a Robotron/Smash TV style twin stick shooter (it feels a little different if you use a keyboard, with lock on shooting, but – seriously – pony up and use a controller, at least that was my preference). However, there are also sub games in there that paid homage to other styles as well ** spoilers ** I swear to you, when I first saw the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles water stage, on of the true banes of my childhood, I just about threw the controller. Strangely, it turned out to be not all that bad, although the second go-round got my blood pressure up a little more. Oh, and I was thrilled – thrilled - to see a Saved By the Bell send-up in there. In all seriousness, of all of the cameos and nods, for whatever, that was the one that really got me. **/spoilers**
The game can be tough at times, but you never lose much more than a few minutes of play since the game plays out over a bunch of smaller stages. Retro City Rampage was, in my playthrough, around 12 hours long, although you can spend as long as you like playing various side missions (there are a whole lot of those) or just causing chaos around the city, which is incredibly satisfying. There are also a lot of cameos from various gaming personalities, making it a tribute to gaming new as well as old. Provinciano clearly has a deep affection for our hobby, and it comes through here. The city is massive, but Provinciano seems duly aware of the fact that many games take longer to play than they should, so it rarely takes more than a few seconds (or a couple of minutes) to get from one story mission to the next, meaning you may be able to play the game much faster than I did (at the risk of missing even more references).
I would say my sole complaint is that the game can sometimes grind you to a halt, with occasionally stifling difficulty (or maybe I’m just awful at it, but whatever), but that was really a feature more than a bug here. That feeling of frustration mixed with raw determination to get through to the next stage is something I have rarely felt since the old days of the NES (with the exception of Super Meat Boy). Retro City Rampage is, frankly, considerably fairer that many of those old games, but it has a refusal to compromise at its core that is similar.
So, with all of that said, it’s easy to say that Retro City Rampage is worth your $15. I played the PC version, but it is currently available, or will be available, on virtually every gaming platform known to man, so you have basically no excuse for not giving it a try, especially if you grew up with Bill and Ted, Duck Hunt, and Metal Gear (the original). It’s a loving tribute, frequently hilarious, and – overall – fun to play. It’s a massive game that, even though I have played through the story, I know I haven’t seen anywhere near all of. I’m almost as excited to go back and just head around the city leisurely now that the story is wrapped up to look at signs and go in buildings just to see what I missed on my first playthrough (hint: a lot).