‘Retro City Rampage’ Review – Good Habits Formed At Youth Make All The Difference

Dear Old Video Games,

I love you.

Brian Provinciano
V-Blank Entertainment Inc.

That pretty much sums up Retro City Rampage.

Retro City Rampage is an anomaly on multiple levels. It started off as a pet project of sole developer Brian Provinciano and was to be a “reinterpretation” (read: de-make) of Grand Theft Auto as a homebrew game for the Nintendo Entertainment System (yes, that NES). That is not what Retro City Rampage ended up being. In the end, it’s a thoughtful, caring, love letter to games from days gone by. Ultimately it’s a mix of hundreds of different games and pop culture references mashed into one top-down festival of carnage for your PlayStation 3 and/or PlayStation Vita.

Every corner of Retro City is packed with sight-gags and call-outs to classic games, even the main character of the game is a joke – his name is Player, and he is a henchmen for the Jester. As you try and climb the ranks of the seedy underworld of Theftopolis and help a crazy old man reassemble a Flax Combobulator to help fix a time machine, you play through over 60 missions that range in style and goal. Player will be doing everything from robbing banks to rolling around the city in a tank – basically, it’s all the criminal mischief of Grand Theft Auto, without those pesky graphics getting in the way. In addition to the story mode, Retro City features Arcade Challenges that are unlocked as you play through the campaign, and are individual missions that can be replayed to beat your best time. A Free Roaming Mode is also included, and it really just lets you wreak havoc on Theftopolis – money and ammo aren’t a problem – just go destroy things (oh, and you can play this mode as a couple of indie game guest stars as well).

With gameplay modeled after that of the original GTA and GTA2 games, Retro City Rampage has a few tricks up its sleeve. In addition to stealing cars, and shooting anything that moves, Player can also jump and use cover – two mechanics that are new to this kind of game, allowing it to venture into the platformer, and cover-based shooter genres. It’s a nice update to a genre that doesn’t get too much attention any more, and the additional options make a retro-styled game like this it feel fresh.

The story is a little bit all over the place, putting Player into all different kinds of odd situations, mostly doing favors for characters that vaguely resemble personas from the 80s and 90s. While one of the game’s few drawbacks is the repetition of the overall “go over there, do this thing for me, and come back” format, the “do this thing for me” meat on that fetch-quest sandwich is where RCR shines. Each mission puts Player in a compromising position, which he is perfectly fine with, but it’s done with a certain panache that can only be found in 80s games (or movies, or music, or pop culture). It’s impossible to go three seconds without seeing something that’s a throwback to classic games, whether its C64 graffiti on the walls, or wandering into a cave to get a sword and shield from [null] (a reference to Zelda II’s Error). And that’s Retro City’s best selling point – but it’s not the only one.

Retro City Rampage is full of all different kinds of bells and whistles that should make any retro gamer squeal with joy. For example, you can change the display border and filter applied to the game: if you want to play RCR so that it looks like a Virtual Boy game played on a pixilated TV, or perhaps with a PC DOS filter on an arcade cabinet with dot matrix scanlines, you can. The variety of options – just for the visuals – is both exceptional, and creative. On top of that, RCR is one of a handful of games that supports Crossplay, allowing you to play your saved game at home, on your PS3, and then take it with you on the go, on your PS Vita – all for the price of one download. Having the game on the go is ideal, since its small size (around 50 MB) and seemingly never-ending gameplay options make the portable iteration a must-have. However, the PS3 counterpart has one thing that the Vita doesn’t have – slightly better controls.

The look and feel of Retro City are clearly inspired by old games, and, seemingly, so are the controls. All of Player’s movement is mapped to the left analog stick with shooting and targeting (optionally) mapped to the right stick, which are decidedly better on the PS3. Fortunately, precision isn’t required for most of the game, but it helps, and the larger screen, and more fluid sticks on the Dual Shock controllers help complete the overall experience.

To some, Retro City Rampage may be a bit rough around the edges, but to others, it’s the kind of game that brings a smile to your face whenever you play it. All of the time and attention that went into the little details of this game shine through for the initiated, and make it an overall wonderful experiance. However, given that it is a parody of old video games, some of the best parts of the game are likely to be lost on younger gamers. However, RCR doesn’t leave them completely high and dry – they can play the Bit.Trip Runner and Super Meat Boy mini games. See, Retro City Rampage truly has something for everybody (especially if you’re a longtime gamer over the age of 25).

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