I’m an 80s child. Born in 1983 specifically. I have a nostalgic streak that borders on the edge of being a mental illness. In fact, I have spent the best part of the last decade obtaining toys and memories from my childhood. He-Man, Transformers, Ghostbusters, Thundercats, The Goonies, TMNT – the list of cultural influences on my life is almost endless. I was rocking Masters of the Universe T-Shirts well over 10 years ago, before it was considered ironically cool. So there’s a good chance that if I had any programming ability, I could’ve been the mastermind behind Retro City Rampage.
Retro City Rampage is the brainchild of Brian Provinciano, the single soul that started work on the title as a devolution of the original Grand Theft Auto. In fact it started out as a project to see if GTA could be accomplished on the original NES, entitled Grand Theftendo, which in turn evolved to Retro City Rampage – a labour of love ten years in the making.
There is just so much content crammed into Retro City Rampage that it’s difficult to know where to start. Coming from it’s initial seed of an idea, the core of the title is still based around the GTA style gameplay. The crucial difference is that this is in a world turned 8-bit, complete with vivid colour palettes, beautiful pixel-art and a tremendous array of chiptune beats to accompany the non-stop action.
Taking control of ‘The Player’ you are thrown immediately into an absolute storm of cultural references from the (read: my) golden era of gaming, television and movies. It’s so packed with characterisations and imagery that this quickly stands out as the defining feature of the game. It’s like taking a trip through one of my favourite dreams with a joypad in hand. It starts off by raising a smile as you start to notice the not-so-subtle nods, through to feeling almost overwhelming as you try to take in everything thrown at you. It’s not just through the narrative of the story mode either, Ninja Turtles will occasionally pop out of the sewer, the A-Team van (sorry, ‘T-Squad’ van) will drive past. It’s woven throughout the fabric of the game and fundamentally, it is the driving force that keeps you playing with a desire to see just what else has been thought of and how it could possibly be crammed in. The references don’t just stop at retro pop culture either, there is a clear sense of brotherhood with it’s indie gaming peers, with cameo elements from Mojang, Super Meat Boy and even Mr. Destructoid.
Frankly, it’s almost a contemporary art piece without taking the actual game element into account.
Ah yes, gameplay. I used a Xbox 360 controller on PC. The core GTA-style mechanics control well and shooting on foot is controlled through either a lock-on system, or my preference – twin sticks. The gameplay elements are explicity retro, almost painfully to some extent. This is where the pixel-perfect presentation slips a little. My concern is that the gameplay itself is almost entirely propelled by the desire to delve deeper into the pile of references, rather than being deeply enjoyable in it’s own right. Driving around the city starts to feel a tad laborious quite quickly and the saving grace becomes the different game modes embedded into each mission. Surprisingly, the GTA element being probably the most recent influence on the game, is possibly the least satisfying, with each platforming or racing element proving more fulfilling However, I fully appreciate the insane level of detail and creativity that has been poured into the creation of Theftopolis and almost everyone’s gameplay preferences will be met in different ways throughout the experience.
I almost don’t want to attach a review score to this, yet I must. It defies convention in so many ways through being more than a retro-styled GTA clone – it has soul. Retro City Rampage is a unique experience that could only have come from someone so deeply passionate about the source material. An experience that could only have been so intricately woven over the course of several years and it is beautifully and flawlessly finished and packaged. The engine supports different visual modes, emulating everything from the original NES display, through to Game Boy, Virtual Boy and even PC CGA! Everything has been thought of and executed to an excellent standard. Yes the gameplay can feel occasionally ropey, but this is seemingly a result of emulating foibles of the past. The bottom line is that you’ll know whether or not the concept of Retro City Rampage appeals to you or not. If it does, play it, revel in it and reward the guy that poured ten years of his life into his obsession. After all, it could’ve been me.
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A REVIEW COPY WAS PROVIDED BY GOG.COM