Grand Theft Retro
I feel the need to open this review with a disclaimer. I grew up in a simpler time of gaming, one in which games were relentlessly and unfairly difficult, 8-bit sprites were the norm, and our ears were tickled with the sweet sounds of bleeps and bloops. As such, I’m pretty much in love with the idea of 1980s retro gaming coming back in vogue.
Retro City Rampage is designed with old fogeys like me in mind. It basically takes our grumpy old behinds and plops us back into a world we fondly remember as a better, simpler place. So yes, I am smack dab in the center of Retro City Rampage’s target demographic, which means you’ll have to bear with me here and put everything I say about the game into that context.
That being said, Retro City Rampage is a sort of demake/parody of the original Grand Theft Auto. Sort of. It draws a bit from GTA, but it also draws heavily on pretty much every single game ever made in the 8-bit era. For example, in my first three minutes, I had already run dozens of civilians down in a car from a top-down perspective à la GTA, found myself on top of a bank that eerily resembles that building from the intro of Mega Man 2, and attempted to shoot down a helicopter but accidentally hit a duck instead, at which the dog from Duck Hunt popped out and laughed at me. And yes, his mockery still stings all these decades later.
But classic video games aren’t the only thing on the parody table here. For example, you’ll rob a bank that’s an obvious reference to Scrooge McDuck’s money bin in a scene that plays on the opening bank heist scene from The Dark Knight . And the game has barely begun at this point.
Also, you’ll be attacked by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at one point, which makes sense considering you’re the bad guy here.
As you can clearly see, this is an irreverent, schizophrenic love letter to gaming’s formative years. The old school references hit hard and fast—so fast that you’re likely to never see them coming. In fact, even the most hardcore of retro gamers will probably find themselves missing some of them as the game progresses at its breakneck speed. (And then there are all the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, “Holy crap, was that a Ninja Gaiden reference?” moments. It all happens so fast.)
But once your head stops spinning from the speed at which retro gaming/pop culture references are thrown at you, you realize there actually is a campaign here, though the plot is a barely-there excuse to riff on pretty much anything that’s been displayed on a TV screen in the past thirty years. You’ll have to rebuild a time machine by collecting various parts (à la ToeJam & Earl?) After a few brief missions that get you acquainted with the super simple gameplay, the game opens up, letting you do things at your own discretion. There are the main story missions, which you can ignore to pick up various jobs around town, test your mettle in arcade challenges, or just run around on a rampage, murdering civilians and outrunning cops.
Now, I should probably point out that the side jobs here play out far more like something in, say, No More Heroes than like what you’d expect from a truly open world game. They’re really just far-too-spread-out attractions that give you an excuse to do something different for a change while scraping up a few extra in-game bucks. That’s not to say they aren’t fun. Quite the contrary, the über nostalgic will love peddling smut in a Paperboy-based minigame, for example.
Now, with the classic-style visuals comes classic-style gameplay. And that’s going to be a problem for some. You see, Retro City Rampage begins fairly easy, but the difficulty ramps up later on, and some of the later missions become downright brutal. This isn’t helped by the unforgiving checkpoint system. Sure, it’s a throwback to the early days of gaming, but seriously, guys? Some of the sections you’ll have to redo upon failure are quite long and can get tedious. Some of us have been conditioned by the original NES to just grin and bear it, knowing that the harder the battle, the sweeter the victory. Others, though, will most likely hurl their controller in rage.
And this, for many, will be the game’s biggest downfall. Personally, though, I felt the gameplay stayed downright fun throughout the entirety of the campaign. (As a side note: I still haven’t decided if I should play this with the joysticks or the D-pad. My modern gamer side says sticks, while the retro part of my brain screams for the feel of a D-pad.)
Of course, there’s more than just the story mode here. There’s also a series of arcade challenges you’ll unlock during the campaign, and these can be revisited by finding them on your world map or accessing them through the start menu. Additionally, you’ll unlock cameo characters that can be played as in the game’s free play mode. And present on the roster, believe it or not, is Minecraft’s Steve.
As any good 8-bit game should, Retro City Rampage features a soundtrack of chip music. Yes, these are the low-fi, 8-bit sounds that will make you reminisce about blowing into NES cartridges. In fact, several of these tunes were composed to sound eerily similar to actual video game tunes from the 80s. (I definitely heard some Mega Man influence here.) Admittedly, not everyone is going to enjoy that aspect of the game, but quite frankly, it’s one that I absolutely love.
I don’t often admit to giggling in public, but Retro City Rampage had me giddy as a schoolgirl. I think it’s safe to say that if the thought of 8-bit nostalgia appeals to you at all, this game will make you weep gigantic pixilated tears of bliss. Of course, it’s also possible that those are actually tears of frustration.
Either way, you should probably just man up and download this title. It’s well worth the $15, even if you can’t get past the tougher sections later in the game. Just try not to break any controllers, ‘kay?
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
If you love 8-bit visuals, you’ll be in gaming heaven. If you hate them, you’ll definitely be grumpy at Retro City Rampage’s visuals. 4.2 Control
The controls are exactly as responsive as an 8-bit throwback game should be. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
I adore the chiptune soundtrack that riffs on classic game themes. 4.5 Play Value
A hefty campaign with tons of arcade challenges to complete, and a free play mode with unlockable bonus characters. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|