Review: Retro City Rampage
Retro City Rampage began as Brian Provinciano’s remake of Grand Theft Auto 3 for the NES, and much like the GTA games, you start off doing one thing, then get distracted which results in having more fun playing around than you would have if you just finished the mission. I’m glad this game exists. So many games rely on some pixel art and a couple of “A winner is you” references and think that it accurately captures what the 80’s pop culture/video game scene was like. Retro City Rampage finally gets it right.
You assume the role of a low level henchman named Player, who soon finds himself in a time travelling phone booth and stranded in the past. Player needs to help “Not-Doc-Brown” build his “Not-DeLorean-Time-Machine” to get back (dramatic pause) to the future! To do so, you will need to take on missions to get specific items, including a 72-pin connector, and a Game Genie-like codebook. Some side missions will have you arming some familiar underwater bombs next to a familiar dam, fighting a commando with a bionic extending arm, or impregnating a Bayside High student. If any of those last two sentences stimulates your nostalgia gland, then you are precisely the target of this game. In addition, you will be playing the usual tropes of an open world game such as rampages, hidden packages, street racing and the most entertaining “chase” mission found in these types of games.
The missions, dialogue, and superb pixel art only make up part of the experience, with the sound design completing the package. The composers nail the soundtrack, which is also available to download. Each song sounds authentic to the era, familiar but not repetitive. I could go on how Retro City Rampage’s missions mimic specific games in unique ways and still not feel crammed in, but I think by now I have made my point that this game captures my childhood gaming experience. Unfortunately, the nostalgia cuts both ways.
Expect to try several missions over and over. Not every mission requires you to break out your best gun and fire away, but some missions require a level of control that is just not present in the game. The overhead perspective does not do you any favors in sequences that require you to stomp on enemies, usually resulting in missing your target and getting shot before you can jump again. Time limit missions require cracker jack timing, as a missed turn will cause you to have to restart and essentially play it perfectly. One mission in particular has Player blowing up cars by throwing dynamite, but the game world doesn’t generate many cars at once, and the cars it does generate can take 2-3 sticks before they explode, meaning you risk getting caught in the splash damage. I had to exploit the game by finding a health recovery vending machine and sticking next to that and hoping to pick off motorcycles that only require one stick as they drive by. (Provinciano has announced via Twitter that he is patching RCR to include tip screens that appear after you die several times to suggest different strategies. The example he gave was for this specific scenario)
Situations like that make this game difficult to judge, since Provinciano goes so far out of his way to craft a nostalgic experience, it is tough to distinguish if these frustrating moments are unintentional or an homage. Whatever the answer is, Retro City Rampage occasionally commits the one sin that should not be acceptable in any era – it stops being fun. Of all the nostalgic elements it could have nailed, the desire to break my controller ranks up there with the visuals and sound. Getting past the game’s tougher missions did not leave me feeling accomplished as much as I was glad I didn’t have to do it anymore.
This game is not for everyone, it is punishing and relies on references that will only resonate with those who remember the good ol’ days of gaming first hand. However, I get the feeling that this game is not trying to be for the masses, which is the refreshing change of pace that you find in indie development. In addition, Provinciano takes this opportunity to skewer big corporate game publishers exploiting the indie scene in a mission that seems oddly biographical.
In a way the entire game is biographical – we are playing Provinciano’s childhood – which happens to be a shared experience for most in his generation. It is kind of like the movie the Expendables, unapologetic in the bucking of current trends and giving people a classic experiece that just is not made anymore. Just like the Expendables, it may have its flaws, but it executes exactly what it is trying to evoke, and can only be made and enjoyed by someone who has a genuine love for the era. The frustrating parts are not insurmountable, but it does halt the fun from time to time and that cannot be ignored.
I give it an 8.