Parody in games can be tricky. If you don’t do it right, it can really come back and bite you in the kiester. Luckily, Retro City Rampage avoids any parody pratfalls and manages a funny and wonderful homage to the 8-bit childhood full of action movies that we all remember lovingly. The game isn’t without its flaws, but a high sheen of good ol’ nostalgia polish is good enough to cover any blemishes the gameplay holds.
You play a henchman named “The Player” who gets caught up in a bank heist gone wrong (as they tend to do). Of course, the bank heist goes wrong. In a fit of road rage, your boss accidentally blows up the bus full of loot that you are driving. Jester, your mad-hatter boss, decides you need to go rob a convenience store to get them some quick cash. On your way there, a telephone booth (calm down Whoovians, not that telephone booth) and a few familiar wild stallions pop out. The Player, seeing an opportunity for some time-traveling hijinks, commandeers the machine and shoots off into the unknown. He lands in the year 20XX and the time machine promptly goes kaput. Luckily, Doc Choc (take a guess) arrives in a very familiar looking Delori-car. A very familiar car. He mistakes you for some hero, not the thug you are. Doc Choc offers to help you fix your machine and so your adventure really begins.
The game doesn’t waste time in submerging you into a nostalgia dream. By the time you have finished the first mission, you’ll have encountered some ninja turtles, the T team, a Rambo-esque character and John Matrix look a like and battled a Robocop-like grabber armed mech. Oh and you’ll be listening to a Major Lee. He may look like a bit like a certain Metal Gear Solid Snake. So yea… childhood… check. The game borrows a lot from its other 8-bit counterparts. Whether it is levels inspired by The Legend of Zelda, where you clear bad guys out of a room to gain a keys or car theft missions that require you to run a paper route, this game has early Nintendo all over it. It doesn’t just extend to mission types but also gameplay as you are able to jump and stomp on enemy heads like a plumber on mushrooms.
As I stated earlier, the game runs a lot like the early installments of Grand Theft Auto. It is a top down directional shooter; which means you shoot in the direction you’re currently facing. This of course means that you can’t always easily find the right angle to pop an enemy or power supply. To counteract that, Vblank implemented a lock-on system. It doesn’t always grab the target you may want but I found if you lock on and circle the target(s) you can quickly eliminate groups. They’ve also included a free roam mode where you can play as a multitude of characters in mayhem-inducing freedom without worrying about Story Mode.
This game is all about the nostalgia though. There is a reference in everything. Both the story and side missions are steeped and soaked in a nostalgic blend of parody and homage. In one particular set of missions where you’re required to steal a set of vehicles it culminates in stealing a talking car – K.A.T.T. from a man named Hoff. As you’re riding away the car informs you there is a cheeseburger on the floor if you’d like it. And that is where the parody comes in. I’m pretty sure someone has said if you love something you should be able to laugh at it. If not then well I’m saying it now. Some people jealously guard the memories of their childhood, placing it on a pedestal. I’m not of that persuasion. I loved every reference I caught both big and small. I can’t help but feel that I was the target demographic for this particular game. I was born in the ‘80s and grew up in the ‘90s. I devoured all of the references aimed at me.
They’ve included filters that change the complexion of the game allowing you to give the game your own prefered feel to it. The filters give it that toning of older TVs and systems like Atari and the NES. The game also has an amazing soundtrack of chiptunes from great composers like Leonard “FreakyDNA” Pau, Jake “Virt” Kaufman and Matt “Norrin Radd” Creamer.
Retro City Rampage is a lot of fun and, in the end, that is what every game strives for. It includes leaderboards, plenty of side missions and a lot of skill challenges, all framed around the idea of causing chaos. The gameplay carries the flaws always found in this kind of game — limited aiming and a fairly repeated process — but that process is fun! So, who the fuck cares, right?
When Dylan Tano isn't floating amongst the clouds in his beautiful balloon you can find him up to his ears in work at Comics Bulletin. As a fellow writer once said if he gets paid in the morning then he's drunk in the afternoon. He dwells in the realms of video games and comic books, writing about both till he is either drunk or delirious. He has yet to confuse the two but his editors are working on it. If he had it his way, all robots would have pain receptors.
You can follow him on Twitter as @BroSpider. You can join him on PSN at Blues_Doc and Steam at Frostbite21251. You can read some of his musings on Blogger and he keeps a list of short stories on his Tumblr.