Retro City Rampage: DX Review
For ‘80s/’90s kids who grew up with an NES.
Video game parody is hardly something new. For generations, games have found plenty of subtle (and not so subtle) ways to lampoon iconic games, the industry, and culture. Until Retro City Rampage, I’m not sure we’ve had a single work that’s so utterly dedicated to the practice. You won’t find a single mission in the game that’s not parodying games, or ‘80s/’90s culture, or something you’re sure to remember if you grew up during the days of the NES.
It’s really fantastic in that way. I mean, the very first mission in the game manages to cram in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reference, a lampoon of brick breaking in Mario, and a call out to Frogger, not to mention the overtones of Batman given the central villain, Jester. It doesn’t take long for Doc Brown, I mean Doc Choc, to enter the picture with his iconic time travelling DeLorean. Unfortunately, it breaks down after travelling to the future year of 20XX. The main character, Player, must help Doc Choc rebuild the DeLorean so he can get back to 1985.
Performing this task is done via a set of missions in the open world city, Theftropolis, reminiscent of the old top-down Grand Theft Auto games -- except possibly more violent. Many missions in the game force you to go on rampages or wantonly kill pedestrians just for the sake of it. It’s a pretty clever and subtle parody of violent games, particularly the series it draws its greatest influence from. All of the trappings of the Grand Theft Auto series are present, including the random rampages, side missions, carjackings, police aversion, and a wanted level.
However, Retro City Rampage’s strength is not in its ability to emulate Grand Theft Auto in 8-bit (though it does do that pretty damn well), but rather the way in which it draws from both of those themes while making countless callbacks to retro games. One mission sends you to a bike shop owned by the trainer from Punch-Out!!, which kicks you into a sub-mission that mimics Paperboy straight down to the break-dancers in the street. It’s such a subtle and well-placed parody, even those who grew up with these games might not even catch all of it. This makes each and every mission exciting because you never know what you’re in for. The end of the game is especially impressive in this department because it manages to recreate a diverse variety of experiences using the core engine of the game.
That being said, the end of the game does become something of a grind due to the high difficulty of some of the missions and their excessive length. Once you hit the final stretch, Retro City Rampage barely gives you a chance to breathe. The once leisurely and casual missions are now brutally tough, expecting a level of precision play and execution that was rarely expected earlier in the game. It’s certainly an adjustment, and from what I understand, the DX version represents a nerfed version of some of the challenge that’s present in other iterations of the game. Be sure to keep that in mind if you aren’t grabbing the updated PC release or this 3DS eShop iteration.
Retro City Rampage feels like the Weird Al of gaming. Part of the appeal is just experiencing the zany parodies and enjoying the humor, but under that, there’s still quality to be had. The general gameplay isn’t perfect by any stretch, but it’s still quite fun to jump in a car and cruise around, or go on rampages for medals, or take out a whole bunch of bad guys with the diverse set of weapons and power-ups in the game. Even unarmed combat is great thanks to your ability to jump and subsequently stomp on enemies.
The game does go quickly, though. After about five hours I had experienced the entire story and completed all of the side missions in the game, while also completing many of the rampages with gold medals. I expect that most gamers will clock a similar number of hours before exhausting all there is to see in Retro City Rampage.
I wish I could go into excruciating detail over all of the fantastic throwbacks in this review, but I’d be ruining the discovery of it all for anyone who is interested in playing it. If you grew up with an NES and never missed an episode of Saved By the Bell, you should absolutely be interested. It’s a game reminiscent of your childhood that makes a strong play against your nostalgia. You need to embrace this game, because it really is something special.
If you've already purchased Retro City Rampage on the PC, you're already set up with all the stuff that makes the 3DS eShop release special, however, those with a copy on other platforms should see the below video to better understand what's new this time around.