I have been waiting for Retro City Rampage to be released for years, and it turns out it was anticipated for years even before I found out about it. The idea of an open world GTA style game with NES era graphics and tons of 80’s references sounded pretty fantastic. The game finally released last week and guess what? It’s pretty fantastic.
You take the role of Player, whose primary task is to collect a series of time machine parts for this game’s version of Doc Brown, Doc Choc. The plot is of course quite minimal and solely exists to loosely string all of the chaos together. The side missions tend to be the most interesting stuff, where you’ll team up with the Go-Go Busters, and make things shitty for the cast of Saved by the Bell.
The first 15 minutes or so of this game are incredibly chaotic, almost to a fault. You’re thrown reference after reference, frantically introduced to the driving and shooting mechanics, and tossed into the insanity with little to no warning. It’s once these sequences are finished and you are left to go at your own pace when the game really starts to take shape.
The game has a top down perspective in the style of the classic pre-GTAIII games. You are free to roam the map, gunning down civilians (I feel it’s important to point out that some of them have Kid N’ Play style fades) and stealing cars as you please. Some have said the objects and people are too small but I never had that issue. They’re small but it’s the throwback aesthetic they were going for, and I never had difficulty following what was happening on screen. I love the look of the game. It’s vibrant, colorful, unique, and makes me so nostalgic I want to weep.
The controls both on foot and in vehicle feel pretty solid. There are two driving control choices, automatic and manual, but I highly recommend automatic since you just use the two thumb sticks and it feels great. Shooting is a little less successful. You can either hold the square button or use the right thumb stick like a dual joystick shooter. You lock on to your nearest target but I found it doesn’t always work quite as well as you want it to. It still plays fine, but shooting is not the highlight of the experience.
The highlight is really just how out of its god damn mind the game is. It never lets up. From recreating the bank robbery from the opening scene of The Dark Knight, to a sitcom scene played out complete with a laugh track, to an all too faithful recreation of the infamous underwater bomb level from the first Ninja Turtles game on NES, you never know what the next mission has in store for you and it’s a huge driving force to keep playing through the game. I’m not usually the biggest fan of reference humour, but this game does elevate it beyond the standard Family Guy level of “Hey remember GI Joe?! We remember GI Joe!” by having it blend more seamlessly into the experience. They never call attention to them, they just happen to be there. The humour doesn’t always hit (the Go-Go Busters go for gross-out humour but it falls mostly flat), but it’s usually more successful than not, especially when it’s poking fun at the usual tropes of open world games, such as tailing missions and artificially lengthening the experience by having you drive back and forth across the entire map.
Unfortunately near the end the story leans more towards frustrating than fun. The missions become quite difficult, checkpoints become further apart, and there is a much heavier reliance on shooting dudes. The final boss is a motherfucker too, taking me at least 15 attempts before I finally took him down. Everything up until around mission 50 or so (there are 62 in total) is gold, the others after that become somewhat of a slog.
There’s much more here though than just the story missions. There are tons of murderous side spree missions you can go on, extras to find (my favourite being the invisible walls) around the map, and odes to other famous indie games in the local arcade. You can change your appearance at various stores around town as well. Unfortunately the map doesn’t indicate where the different stores are located, so until you learn the map (which is quite large), you’ll be relying on luck and aimless driving to find the places you’re looking for.
There’s a whole lot to love about Retro City Rampage. It has a great look, a fucking amazing soundtrack, and a great deal of charm. The gameplay is certainly fun, but it does get frustrating and the shooting, while decent, is not the best. For 15 bucks though (which nets you versions for both the PS3 and the Vita), there is a ton here and it’s a very easy recommendation.