What happens when you mix two of the most influental gaming trends of the last two generations together and put them in a thinly veiled parody game? That’s right, I’m reviewing the retro-themed GTA-styled Retro City Rampage! So it’s time to hijack the DeLorean and hit 88 pedestrians per hour to seeif this game is a bad enough dude to handle the blast processing.
I think I’ve made it fairly clear in the past that I am not a fan of the retro trend that gaming has seen in the past few years. Especially from the side of indie developers it’s often been debatable how far developers can push retro as a graphic style before it comes across as lazy and uninspired. Another instant problem for me is my severe disapproval of sandbox games, which is, to me, another form of developers being lazy in their inability to give us enough to really progress through in a game.
With these two gigantic marks against the core of Retro City Rampage, you’d expect me to outright hate this game from the start. If I’d have to be honest, I expected to hate it myself. Surprisingly, I found Retro City Rampage to be a heartfelt and charming title. Even if the controls were problematic at points.
This is a good case of a game owning its very identity, even when its identity is largely dependant on the appreciation of other games. Quite a lot of the game’s strength lies in appreciating the 8-bit era for what it was, with at least 1 or 2 references to that golden era on your screen at all times. While Retro City Rampage’s introduction stages go full-overdrive on the references in a way that makes Abobo’s Big Adventure seem slow-paced, the game really comes to life when you can start roaming around and explore everything.
My biggest problem with most sandboxing titles is that for all the exploration you’re free to do in your own time, there aren’t that many sights to see. There’s never a sense that one area is all that different from another other than maybe a color filter or pallet swap. You can increase the surface area of the map, but the overall map still tends to have the same sights to see as normal. No matter where you are, you’ll always be doing the same things anyway, so exploration can often come across as pointless.
While this largely holds true for Retro City Rampage in terms of the gameplay, visually, the city really is stacked with unique sights to see. There are so many different shops, advertising signs, buildings, and other structures, it’s hard to get confused as to what is where because everything really comes across as different. And it’s not just that it’s different, pretty much everything is a reference of the late ’80s or early ’90s, with a large amount of recent internet memes thrown in for good measure. From “Al Bundy Wedding Chapel” to the entire Paper Boy neighborhood, there’s always something in the area to set it appart from the rest. It’s quite refreshing to see a game like this with this amount of effort put into it, rather than just easily sprite ripping everything and putting it together.
The game’s story is a awkward. You play as a character named Player, a henchman of some bad guy who is about to rob a bank situated in the iconic Mega Man 2 title screen building. This plan goes so wrong that, in the middle of a lot of confusion, you end up stealing Bill & Ted’s time machine and travel to the future where you end up having to help the professor rebuild the DeLorean by piecing together spare parts. In the meantime there’s a subplot following an evil corporation exploiting indie developers for profit, but unfortunately this fades into the background as randomly as it gets started.
Which is something that tends to happen in this game a lot. Quite a lot of work is done to set up potential sidequests, extra missions, and subplots concerning other characters, but they all disappear almost as soon as they’re introduced. Which is a shame, because I would have gladly invested more time into the game’s universe and seen where else it could have taken me. This is not that long of a game, although with the impact it makes at the start of it, I don’t think it was intended to be that long of a game.
My biggest issue with Retro City Rampage is the control scheme. Maybe it’s because I played the game with a keyboard, I’m sure it’ll play better with a controller, but the mapping was a pain at times. Weapon switching was problematic, often getting me killed because I couldn’t switch weapons fast enough. Picking up enemies and throwing them, as well as stomping on top of them was counter intuitive, even after switching the native directional arrows with wasd settings, it was confusing to excecute some moves properly most of the time. What especially didn’t help was the delay in movement speed while shooting. It felt like a jab at the terrible shooting controls of the Grand Theft Auto games, but if it is, I can’t say I appreciate intentionally bad controls. The second of slow movement after shooting often had me time my evasion wrong completely and felt absolutely unnecesary.
Which doesn’t mean all of the controls are absolutely horrendous and that the game is unplayable. Most of the gameplay mechanics are in fact very made and intuitive. It just serves to underline the problems that bit more because you don’t expect them to be there.
Retro City Rampage was a big surprise to me. Built upon two components I usually don’t like, it still managed to charm me with its representation and some very solid gameplay.
- Bit.Trip Runner and Meat Boy arcade games
- Awesome visuals
- Al Bundy wedding chapel offering no refunds.
- Sluggish shooting controls
- A bit too short, doesn’t fully live up to own potential
- Wasn’t a fan of the Rad Racer or Underwater Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1 stages.