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Retro City Rampage Review [PC]

Posted on October 18, 2012 AT 05:15am

Retro-style gaming is hot like an improperly ventilated old console right now. Every gamer knows it, especially the ones who were part of the rise of the 8-bit generation of games. Retro City Rampage is a love note to everyone who took part in that generation. Games get classified as ‘a love note’ to things all of the time, but this time around, there’s no denying the truth in it. Every pixel of this game was made with love for the ‘old school’ of the 80s and 90s, and it shows.

Before I get into the game itself, let me give you a little background about it. Retro City Rampage has been in the works, technically, for about ten years. It was birthed in 2002 as a homebrew pet project by game programmer Brian Provinciano. He originally intended to demake Grand Theft Auto III into a NES game by the name of Grand Theftendo, and even went so far as to purchase a Nintendo Entertainment System Development Kit so he could put it on a legit NES ROM. After running into hardware limitations and creating a number of software tools to combat it, he eventually moved the project to PC, where it became something much, much bigger.

Fast forward to 2007: Grand Theftendo was now called Retro Theftendo, and it was no longer just a demake tribute to GTA. It was now an original game which would end up becoming tribute to an entire era of gaming and pop culture. For the majority of its development, RCR was a one man show. The programming, design, art, sounds, AI, and pretty much everything else you can possibly think of–even all of the public relations work [which he is still handling by himself]–were initially all the work of Brian. In time, he even left his day job to work on the game full time. Later, he brought in Maxime Trépanier for the cutscenes and additional art. He also brought on a trio of legendary chiptune composers–Leonard J. “Freaky DNA” PaulJake “virt” Kaufman, and Matt “Norrin Radd” Creamer–to breathe the perfect amount of 8-bit life into the game.

The Retro Theftendo moniker stuck for a while, but it did eventually get dropped for the Retro City Rampage name that we all now know and love .

Now that the stage has been set, let’s rampage! [Though, I'll be honest: I could go on about the development process for ages because I find Brian's solo act fascinating.]

Set in the city of Theftropolis, you are placed into the crime savvy shoes of the aptly named ‘Player’, who is a henchman looking for a few bucks. Through a brief series of criminal events [including a botched bank job], Player finds a telephone booth time machine, uses it, and promptly breaks it. Fortunately, it just so happens that Doc Choc has perfected time travel and offers to fix it, setting into motion the main events of the game. Cliché? You bet. But it plays out in a way that will have your childhood memories rushing back in a deluge of pop culture throwbacks.

The game itself primarily plays like the first two Grand Theft Auto games, which were both top-down affairs. There’s also a ton of other gameplay styles thrown in for good measure, such as a side-scrolling adventure with ‘Mr. Bates, the Sweat Bomber’, two racing games [that even allow you to activate an anaglyph [red and blue] 3D mode for MAXIMUM RADNESS], and a TMNT-inspired underwater level. The top-down sections of the game [read: most of the game] allow you to explore Theftropolis, go on rampages second-rate crime sprees, find hidden packages, and–if you can actually stop running cars over with tanks or stomping on people’s heads for a moment–even complete story missions!

Every inch of the game feels like it’s meant to make gamers from the older console generations remember what made ‘the old days’ of gaming so memorable. Basically, every character, location, mission, and billboard brings something to the table that you know you’ve tasted before. From the obvious Dr. Von Buttnick’s Eggman/Robotnik look, to the amusingly named stores, such as ‘Vanilla Ice Cream Parlor’ which is right next door to ‘Ninja Wraps’. It’s hard not to admire the sheer number of references, which must land somewhere in the thousands, especially because some of them are just so bloody clever!

Clever references aside, RCR is a blast to play. I made sure to play with both keyboard and an Xbox controller so I got the full effect of both control schemes. What I found interesting regarding the controller is that it recognized the exact model that I was using within the game [an 'Xbox 360 Disney TRON Controller', as the game called it]. It also required me to calibrate the controller, which I think more games should do. Just because a game has ‘controller support’ doesn’t mean it’s going to be kosher right off the bat, and I’m glad that no such assumption was made, for once. Aside from having the ability to completely remap the controls, you’re also offered two driving styles: Manual [GTA1 Style] and Automatic [Jackal Style]. As controls go, no matter how you play, RCR has you covered.

There’s also a great number of vehicles, weapons, missions, and mini-games for you to play around with. You’ve got sportscars, Ninja Turtle-esque vans, trucks, tanks, Oregon Trail wagon-trucks that can kill people with dysentery when you toss them into it, and 50+ more other vehicles to run over citizens and policemen alike. The weapons range from ‘average action game fare’ [pistols, baseball bats, machine guns, rocket launchers] to ‘holy crap’ [Bionic Commando grabby claw, Ghostbusters-like ion guns, grogotovs]. No matter your appetite for destruction, you’ll get a full course meal of BOOM.

I also must mention that, though it looks like an NES game, there’s a boatload of various filters that can be applied from the menus to make it look like a wide variety of other systems, ranging from C64 and CGA styles all the way to Virtual Boy  ’ow my eyes’ red. Every filter is beautiful [or beautifully ugly] in its own right, so it’s fun to at least tinker around with them a little to see what it might’ve looked like on some other system.

The main story line is, for the most part, a breeze to play through… but what retro-styled game worth its salt wouldn’t have moments that make you want to fling your controller–or perhaps even your entire computer/console–across the room in frustration? Some of the missions and challenges are painfully difficult, but it never feels like it’s because the game messed up. You know you died because it’s actually difficult. However, what drives me nuts about it is that said difficulty ramps up rapidly and can drop back to an easy-breezy level just moments later. I won’t really fault the game for this fact, because that’s exactly what used to happen back in the 8-bit days. So, basically that means that as a tribute to 80s gaming, it includes not just what we loved about it, but what we hated, too. It makes it feel all the more like a game that very well could have been released on the original NES if it had been able to handle such a large overworld.

SUMMARY: Overall, Retro City Rampage is an impressive piece of work, and any gamer who has fond memories of both games and movies past would do well to add this to their collection. Newer gamers may enjoy the quirky charms of Theftropolis and have fun just playing the game, but the retro references will likely go over their heads.

Retro City Rampage is currently available for $14.99 on Steam for PC and as a Cross Buy on PlayStation 3 and Vita. It’s also coming soon to WiiWare and Xbox Live Arcade [1500 Nintendo Points and 1200 Microsoft Points, respectively].

  • THE GOOD: The game looks like it jumped right out of the 80s, and older generation gamers have plenty to appreciate no matter where they look. It’s fun to be wreckless, like in any open world game, and it encourages you to do your worst. There’s a great variety of things to do for a game that’s ‘NES sized’.
  • THE BAD: If you’re not an older generation gamer, over 95% of the game’s humor will be lost. Frustratingly difficult at times in ways that might make you want to walk away from the game. The open world gameplay can feel a little dull if you don’t break it up with the other gameplay types every once and a while.
  • THE UGLY: 3D mode when you don’t own a pair of red/blue specs. [Seriously. Go get a pair!]


Bryan Todd [aka DieselBT] -- This is where I'm supposed to say something clever about myself. Let's pretend I did, and it conveniently mentions all of my top interests, such as anime, video games, crazy gadgets, electronic music, voice acting, sound editing, and countless other ridiculously fascinating topics. I also like to write stuff about things, which is why I'm here.

...That, and I like your shirt.

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