Tuesday 30 October 2012

Retro City Rampage (PC/XBOX/PS3/Vita/Wii)

Retro City Rampage is a game with a legacy, a long history dating back to 2002 - when it was known as "Grand Theftendo." A pet project of Canadian programmer Brian Provinciano, over the years it grew from a hobby project of demaking Grand Theft Auto on the NES to a full-blown commercial multi-platform and original open-world parody adventure. Finally, on October 9th, 2012, the game was released, and as a pre-order customer, I had first dibs on this unique labour of love.

Right out of the gate, Retro City Rampage pimp slaps players with its, well, retro references. I don't even remember how many nods to 8-Bit gaming were included in even the first few minutes of play. Even the title is a reference to one of my favourite childhood beat-em-ups. These little gems are more than peppered throughout play - the game is simply smothered with them. It's extremely tempting to share some of them with you, dear reader, but for those of us who spent their days hunkered down in their bedrooms, Nintendo Power in hand, muttering semi-curses at Ninja Gaiden and staring blankly at the mysteries of Castlevania II after watching Saturday morning cartoons, I won't ruin them for you.

It's status as an homage to the slightly basement-dwelling days of my younger years aside, Retro City Rampage is simply a fantastic game on its own. In addition to the obvious Grand Theft Auto connectionm, the game plays like a combination of a tweaked version of the overworld from the infamous NES classic TMNT and frustrating Roger Rabbit, albeit with significantly better play control. The game masterfully blends classically frustrating/endearing gameplay methods of shooting tiny guns with tiny bullets and simple 8-way movement with fresher features such as a simple cover system, the ability to "lock on" to targets, and multi-directional shooting with dual stick controllers. This makes navigating the world more of a pleasant stroll down memory lane than a disappointing, annoying experience.

In this 2D, overhead view open sandbox of sorts, your player (known as Player, of course) has free reign, and can either complete main story quests or "second rate" side-quests. A variety of weapons are available, from firearms to broomsticks, and are either discovered around the map or bestowed upon Player during quests. Most of these quests are of the "go do this/kill this person/whatever and get this reward so you can progress to the next stage" type thing, but RCR ensures this is never boring through an entertaining, and often attention-deficit inducing randomness. One minute you're hiding from guards to sneak into a truck and the next you're meeting your future self who has travelled back in time to give you a spin in his sweet ride, running over pedestrians. Adding to the variety are a number of fantastic mini-games that can either be played in the arcade (including an Epic Meal Time themed button masher, an 8-bit BIT.TRIP.RUNNER, and a Rad Racer influenced Meat Boy complete with "3D" mode) plus a casino and other interludes (early on, you even get to be a paperboy... cough cough)

This madcap mayhem is presented in a cohesive pixel art style, reminiscent of Battletoads, with impeccable details in almost every visual element available. Tiny lifebars appear above enemies, every character portrait is unique, the billboards and signs across the city all have their own style - it's clear not one thing wasn't hand-created or well thought out. The soundtrack is no less awesome, considering that talented chiptune artists virt, Norrin Radd, and Freaky DNA were involved.

In its final form, Retro City Rampage is clearly a game that could not have been made on the original NES, if for no other reason than space requirements alone, but yet it feels like the fever dream of every third grader in 1989 - a ridiculously deep, detailed, violent, open playground. It's a game I would have wanted then, and playing it now tickles reward pathways in my brain I didn't know existed, or that have perhaps been dormant for a few decades.

I'll be more than happy to curl up with a beer and a snack and slowly bask in the world of Retro City Rampage in a futile attempt to warp back to the days before Twitter, Justin Bieber, and iPhones. However the land of RCR's Theftropolis might not hold the same allure for younger gamers. The gameplay will be enjoyed by all, don't get me wrong. On the other hand, the synergistic and intoxicating effects of the limitless nods to times gone by will fly right past the current generation, and this is perhaps its greatest weakness.

Purchase the PC version of the game here (from the Retro City Rampage website).
4.5 out of 5

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