8-bit pop culture insanity in Theftopolis.
Reviewed on the PC by Alex Trotter-Fernandez
Retro City Rampage may have taken seven years to make, but it was most certainly born in the 1980s. It arrives into the cynical present from an age filled with funky chiptunes, atrocious difficulty curves and, uhm, Back to the Future. Although we’ve seen a metric ton of indie retro throwbacks over the past few years which embrace the colorful style of their ancestors, Retro City Rampage elevates itself above them through its heartfelt nostalgic influences and the creative passion of its developer, Brian Provinciano, whom slaved away on a hot stove for seven years to bring us this anarchic joy ride.
Retro City Rampage is a Frankenstein game of sorts, with limbs and organs ripped from classic titles such as “insert your favorite 8-bit game here”. All of these somehow work well together in creating a unique experience that you won’t find in any other 8-bit retro open world game. At its core Retro City Rampage is a parody of Grand Theft Auto; its playground RCR’s own interpretation of Liberty City - Theftropolis.
You’re presented with an 8-bit open world that allows for pixelated carnage beyond your wildest dreams. In this world you’ll be spending most of your time doing Grand Theft Auto style things, like shooting things, running over annoying pedestrians and driving aimlessly around looking for annoying pedestrians to run over. Gameplay which apes classic 8-bit games spices up the mix a bit, letting you, the Player, platform Mario style, stealthily infiltrate enemy bases and deliver dirty magazines in a lethal variation of Paperboy.
Retro City Rampage is packed full of content, with hundreds of thousands of hidden Easter eggs, in jokes and mini-games to discover. Arcades can be visited to play modern indie inspired classics such Virtual Meat Boy, a Nintendo Virtual Boy port of the popular arcade game. Yes, it’s just as difficult as the original, and yes the 3D does (kind of) work with a pair of stereographic glasses. So there you go, a cheap way of getting into the 3D gaming. Other guest stars make appearances in the Arcade, and overall these mini-games have had just as much TLC as the main game.
[pullquote]It ignites that dormant part of your brain that lusts for pure unadulterated nostalgia[/pullquote]The thing that Retro City Rampage does best is ignite that dormant part of your brain that lusts for pure unadulterated nostalgia. Every pixel on the screen contains some kind of reference from the eighties and the early nineties, in a barrage of non-stop reminiscence which never threatens to slow down. Sometimes it can all be too much and a little hit and miss. Most of the references will fly past younger players who are unfortunate enough to not have been able to experience such a rich era for gaming. Retro City Rampage, then, is a title for those who can and will enjoy such references and jokes.
Retro City Rampage relies on sophomoric humor for its laughs, and for the most part it works. It’s a very juvenile experience that not everyone is going to find funny. An acquired taste then. Personally, I found the game to be often hilarious with borderline profane billboards and unfortunately named characters provoking a few good laughs. The story maybe a little bit too anarchic and haphazard to follow, and at times is little more than a framing device for the various references and in-jokes that are injected into the game. To be honest like the arcade titles it homages its story is of little importance. It’s a decedent experience much like the decade that inspired it, with the emphasis on fun rather than some deep self involved plot that’ll get in the way of running over pedestrians.
At times Retro City Rampage suffers from massive difficulty spikes, the kind you remember experiencing when you were a kid trying desperately to complete Contra. We may have forgotten that games used to be challenging, but Brian Provinciano certainly hasn’t. It can be frustrating, but I suppose that’s the draw to playing this kind of game. You will die – a lot, and Retro City Rampage seems to relish in that by keeping count of your many deaths, which may well creep into the hundreds. It never gets in the way of fun though, especially if you have fond memories struggling to complete the Dam Water stage of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which is ironically lovingly referenced) or Contra’s Waterfall stage.
[pullquote]Theftopolis is a vibrant placed due to the colorful and chunky 8-bit style[/pullquote]The key to what makes Retro City Rampage successful is its a charm, something which most glossy 3D renditions of open worlds seem to lack. While recent endeavors have appeared all to drab, Theftopolis is a vibrant placed due to the colorful and chunky 8-bit style. The level of detail is outstanding and adds to the quirkiness of the city and its stories. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the games mechanics.
While it embraces retro ideas such as power ups and pickups to great effect, the missions themselves can prove to be a grind, which is what happens when you chose to parody a grindy game like Grand Theft Auto. It can get very repetitive towards the end with little drive to soldier on other than the promise of more references and a high score. While you can do neat things in between like get plastic surgery (I became a pre-op cowboy), go on scored killing sprees and wreak general havoc, the missions themselves never really engage beyond their references and jokes.
Retro City Rampage is best enjoyed with rose tinted nostalgia glasses. In fact there’s an option to set the color filter of the game to your system of a choice. You can even get it look like a Game Boy title. Stomping on people’s heads has never been more rewarding, with the Mario-esque ding of success when you plough through a herd of pedestrians with a semi-truck. Set to a thumping chiptune score, it’s probably the funkiest game of the year. Despite its flaws Retro City Rampage is a lot of fun, and for £10 it’s an absolute steal in the amount of content you’ll be getting. A PS Vita would be the perfect platform of choice, as its wild gameplay is at its best in small bursts. If you’re looking for a nostalgic trip down memory lane, you’ve found your ticket.