by Bryan G
Are you familiar with video games and their various tropes? Do you have fond memories of Back to the Future, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and other TV shows and film from the ‘80s and ‘90s? Are you familiar with the current state of the game industry? Are you from Vancouver, Canada? There are a dozen other questions I could ask you, but the point is that if you answer yes to any of those questions then you will recognize some of the myriad of references and jokes that make up the setting and gameplay of Retro City Rampage.
Retro City Rampage is a 2D Grand Theft Auto styled game with a retro 8-bit style. Everything from the visuals to the sounds is made to resemble an old NES game. The gameplay is the least “retro” in terms of authentically replicating an old NES game, but the truly retro alternative would’ve been for the worse. There are many sprites on screen and so much mayhem occurs on screen that being made with modern hardware is a benefit. In fact, you can actually play a version of RCR as it would’ve been on an NES, called ROM City Rampage, inside of the game. When playing the main game (using the Classic Controller, which the game recommends), you can control the game like a dual stick shooter, using the right stick to aim and fire your weapon in 8 directions. You use the shoulder buttons to cycle through weapons, you can jump on enemies, grab objects and throw them, or use the Y button to fire in the direction you’re facing while locking onto targets.
The plot is very simple, much like the video games of old. You are player, an aspiring criminal in Theftropolis in the year 1985. After a bank robbery goes wrong, you travel into the year 20XX and your time machine breaks. Luckily, a scientist by the name of Doc Choc sees your arrival as the heralding of a great hero, and offers to help you fix the time machine. Thus begins a long series of missions towards the goal of fixing your time machine so you can continue doing crime across time and space.
Pretty simple stuff. It’s also incredibly silly, filled with a ridiculous amount of references to video games, films, and TV among other things. Referential humor is difficult to pull off because of it not being original, and if the references themselves aren’t great or are ham fisted, then there’s not really anything left. In terms of the story, all the references and jokes come at very fast speeds. In some instances the references will be combined into one, for instance a combination of Bionic Commando and RoboCop. In terms of gameplay, they can determine what kind of missions you’ll do. Early on you do a mission that plays like Paper Boy, and another that involves sneaking past enemies (wearing a cardboard box also helps in those sections). Even if you don’t get many of the references, the speed at which the game moves and all the ridiculous stuff that happens on screen makes things entertaining in its own right.
There is a pretty big variety in the missions, but the execution of them isn’t always the best. Near the end of the game the missions were becoming very frustrating and almost trial and error based. I definitely had a lot of fun with the missions in the first half or even two thirds of the game, but by the end I wanted it to be over. There are slaughter sprees and second-rate sprees, side missions where you need to complete a particular objective in a certain amount of time. The former involves completing an objective fast enough for a gold, silver, or bronze medal. The latter involves using a given weapon to cause as much mayhem as possible. There are many collectables to find as well in Theftropolis, such as loot bags, invisible walls, cheat codes, and so on (note that using cheats disables saving until you restart the game). There’s all sorts of different things to find and do in the game, though often just getting into a car and running over civilians and causing mayhem is the most enjoyable activity in the game.
The advantage most indie games have over bigger, AAA titles is that they have a personal imprint from the creator. A game like Fez or Braid gives you an idea of who their creators are and what they put into their games. Brian Provinciano’s imprint on Retro City Rampage is a crazy mash up of anything and everything from the ‘80s, the ‘90s, hell his views on the current game industry. Whatever came to his mind ended up in Retro City Rampage, and that’s what makes it very amusing and fun, even with the uneven mission quality throughout the game. Again, you’ve got over 60 missions, a bunch of side challenges, mini arcade games, collectibles, and an insane amount of referential humor. If all that sounds like something you’d pay ten dollars for, then get this game. It’s a well made passion project that’s worth checking out.