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Retro City Rampage (Vita) artwork

Retro City Rampage (Vita) review

"Hey guys, remember Saved by the Bell? Isn't it hilarious that Saved by the Bell was a thing?"

Retro City Rampage seems like it was designed specifically to appeal to me, personally, as a deeply nostalgic person. Itís full of references to everything I hold dear. References to classic video games. References to the music and TV shows I grew up with, including things that would only be recognizable to Canadians. (Iíll bet you never thought youíd see PJ ďFreshĒ Phil again.) Hell, it even has references to my beloved Vancouver. I used to live in the Robson Zone.

A game with this much going for it has to try really hard to turn me off the way Retro City Rampage does.

Thatís not to say it does everything wrong. Itís actually a pretty enjoyable game at its core. It plays like Grand Theft Auto designed for the fake NES that exists in the memories of retro gamers everywhere. It looks and sounds the way you remember NES games looking and sounding, and not the way they actually looked and sounded. The graphics seem to be designed around sight gags. Any single screen can have upwards of half a dozen game or pop culture references on it at the same time. To make room for all of those gags, character sprites are tiny. Your player character (conveniently named ďPlayerĒ) is only about 16 pixels high. There can be well over a dozen character sprites on screen at once, not counting cars or flying bullets. Far more than a NES could handle without flickering or slowdown. But thatís ok. Itís an aesthetic, and a pretty good one at that. So many details at such an artificially low resolution mean the game looks pretty busy before your brain adjusts to it, but it looks great on the Vita screen. Colours are bright and sprites look sharp and animate with personality despite their size and lack of facial features. The game even includes a slew of optional palettes and graphical filters that you can mix and match to make the game look like itís running on basically any hardware you could want, from a Virtual Boy to a ZX Spectrum.

The core gameplay is basically what you expect. Player is a sociopath with no qualms about stealing cars and using them to run over as many people as he can. (Even the cars are mostly gags. The first time I pulled a Ninja Turtle out of the Turtle Van and used it to run him over, I took a moment to wonder how my six-year-old self would feel about it.) Causing trouble draws the attention of the police, of course. In fact, you donít really have to do much of anything to trigger a police chase. Player is pretty durable, and so are the vehicles he steals, so constantly being chased by the fuzz is not as frustrating as it could be. In fact, running over cops and pedestrians is very satisfying, especially with their pathetic little five-channel screams. Shooting is a bit more awkward. You can only manually aim in eight directions, and the automatic lock-on misses more often than it should. But hey, when your weapons include a NES Zapper and a Ghostbusters Proton Pack, itís impossible for shooting not to be at least somewhat fun.

The problem with Retro City Rampage is that it starts to fall apart when you realize that the pop culture references are attempting to support a lot of genuinely bad gameplay segments. Itís basically the Family Guy of indie games. The references are nonstop. The second mission parodies the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the A-Team, and Bill & Ted in the space of about 30 seconds. It gets to the point where theyíre just not novel any more. Eventually the jokes just start to make certain missions worse. Perhaps the most prominent offender is the tailing mission. You have to tail Biffman (a Batman parody), but, as Player remarks, tailing missions are so boring he needs to collect cups of coffee on the way to prevent himself from falling asleep. And it really is an awful mission, just as the game says. Following Biffman too closely will end the mission. Following him from too great a distance (which happens when you have to go out of your way to collect coffee) will cause you to lose track of him. It turns out that going ďHa, tailing missions, am I right?Ē doesnít make your tailing mission any less awful.

Retro City Rampage throws in a ton of different gimmicks to keep gameplay from getting boring, but they too often end up trading boredom for frustration. The íSplosion Man parody level is an exercise in instadeaths and level memorization. Missions like this are more frequent and worse the farther you make it into the game. During one stretch of the game youíre faced with a Smash TV parody with endless waves of enemies and not nearly enough ammo, followed by a frustrating stage that essentially boils down to wandering around a giant room full of enemies with rocket launchers until you stumble upon the exit, followed by a sendup of one of the worst, most game-breaking stages of the NES era (the underwater level of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that made everyone stop playing), followed by an excruciating boss fight you donít really fight so much as wait out (with instant death traps covering most floor tiles in the room), followed by an awful Mach Rider minigame with yet more instant death. Basically, the game starts decent and just gets worse from there.

The story missions and side missions found in story mode are the largest and worst part of the game. Thereís a challenge mode, consisting of missions that mostly boil down to killing as many people as possible or causing as much havoc as you can within a certain time limit. Theyíre fun, but score comes down to luck. Killing civilians is easy as long as enough civilians spawn, which isnít always the case. Thereís also a free-roaming mode, which is fun on its own. Youíre given an obscene amount of money and can play as various unlockable guest characters, such as Super Meat Boy and Commander Video from the Bit.Trip series. Basically, the game would have been better if itíd just abandoned the story mission gimmicks altogether and expanded upon the city and core gameplay.

Really, the number of different mechanics and minigames is impressive. I mean, they mostly ruin the experience, but the game was developed largely by one person. Itís actually kind of admirable. Itís just too bad that they donít work. Thereís fun to be had with Retro City Rampage. The game does an OK job of plucking at your nostalgia strings, though it might overwhelm them more often than not. The core gameplay is fine, but itís buried under too much unnecessary gimmickry to make Retro City Rampageís campaign, which is most of the game, something to easily recommend. If youíre in the mood for some nostalgia, Retro City Rampage is worth experiencing to a certain point. It just fails to stand on its own two feet.

Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (October 17, 2012)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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pickhut posted October 17, 2012:

Ha, I can totally relate to what you're feeling with this game, since I just had a somewhat similar experience with another game this week I just finished writing a review about a few hours ago. I've been hearing a lot about this game on and off for the last few weeks, so it's disappointing to hear it's more about nostalgic style over substance. Good review!

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