Nostalgia is an interesting feeling. Elements throughout our lives rekindle memories of things we knew in our younger days, and generally bring a smile of remembrance to our faces. In the world of video games, which is a relatively young world all things considered, it’s when a game presents an homage to the games of yore or outright copies them in respect. If it’s a game we’ve played at a younger, it’s going to bring that same grin to our faces as we recognize a significant gaming moment from our past. With Retro City Rampage, the game doesn’t only present small homages to the past, it outright paints itself from head to toe in shout-outs and moments of remembrance.
Originally conceived as a way to recreate Grand Theft Auto on the original Nintendo under the title Grand Theftendo, Retro City Rampage quickly grew into something bigger. With countless pop-culture elements to pull from and dozens of games to tip the hat to, almost every aspect of the game is a nod to something. As a gamer approaching thirty who recognizes almost every one, the game’s flow kept me significantly entertained and bathed in the warm light of the days of yore. But at the same time, this excess of callbacks and references makes me worry about any younger generations picking up the game. Will they get it? While more modern catch-phrases like “more car bell” are dropped into the game, what child of the nineties is going to recognize Roger Wilco’s ship from Space Quest III in the junkyard of Retro City? But in the game’s favor, it has excellent gameplay and can be a successful experience for anyone who picks up a controller. And if any parents happen upon their kids playing the game, they’ll spend the entire time saying “isn’t that?” or “that looks just like” or “I remember that!” and it will be like a living history lesson.
The gameplay is simple. You control a pixellated character from a top-down view who can maneuver in all directions, jump and attack. You can also get into cars by pulling out the driver or stealing one from its parking space. You’ll find additional weapons like pistols, uzis, bazookas, baseball bats, molotov cocktails and more along the way. There is plenty of mayhem to undertake. Using the joystick of the Xbox 360 controller (or PS2 controller as was offered in this build of the game) it’s quite easy to control who or what you’re shooting. The game features an adept lock-on system so you don’t have to get your angle perfect, just close to your target.
If your crime starts getting out of hand or you happen to murder someone in front of the police, your wanted meter raises on police cruises and bikes begin hounding you. To the game’s credit, the cops are more difficult to shake than any prior installment of Grand Theft Auto I’ve experienced. If the cops get on your tail during a mission, you’re going to be looping, circling, parking in alleys, and generally trying to hide yourself from the fuzz – which is no easy feat. The cops are able to zip right up to your bumper and try to ram you off the road, but if you thread enough traffic, pull of illegal u-turns and generally drive dangerously, you might just get away.
On the note of driving, the game offers two control schemes. In one you can turn your car with the joystick and accelerate with the normal trigger, and in the other the car automatically drives in whichever direction you may be holding the joystick. I preferred the latter. It’s easy to maneuver through traffic, around (or over) pedestrians, and generally get to your destinations unscathed. The cars are all pretty solid and can take a beating without exploding, but it still pays to drive safely.
The missions throughout Retro City Rampage pull a lot from the games of yore. Your character is called simply PLAYER, in an entertainingly self-reflexive manner. The game begins when you find a job ad looking for henchmen, and you’re crime career begins in earnest. From planting underwater bombs a la Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on NES (though the heroes-in-half-shells definitely defused them) to escaping a laser-filled base in the vein of Contra, you’ll experience a lot of memories as you work your way through the game’s story. One mission has you trying to rid the local high school of a student with the name “Norris,” one letter off a certain TV-troublemaker. And throughout the city, almost every business has a sign that’s a play on game history. From “Gargle Quest” mouthwash to the “Fresh Prints” copy shop, you’ll be experiencing a lot of “oh yeah!” moments throughout.
Along the way, the game manages to shake up its general gameplay with unique twists on what might be called mini-games. At one point, you’re helping a team not unlike the Ghostbusters rid a possessed van of spirits. To do this, you head to the local retirement home where they throw bodies out of the window and you have to “feed” these bodies to the haunted car in order to satiate its possessor. Nobody said the game would be politically correct in its mission structure. Later on, while in disguise as the town’s superhero “Biffman” in order to “offset your criminal footprint,” you’re kidnapped and lowered into a tank of crocodiles. But to save yourself you have to swing back and forth, catching henchmen from a henchmen-dispenser (every villain’s dream machine) and feeding them to the gators in place of yourself in order to stuff them and keep them from eating you.
The missions are varied and hilarious and will keep you entertained throughout from the cheesy dialogue to the hilarious situations you’ll find yourself in.
The game also features a series of sprees in which you unleash timed havoc on the city. From a bazooka with unlimited ammo to a DeLorean that can only get up to 88-mph by running over pedestrians to how fast you can flatten fifty people in a steam roller, the challenges are varied. You’ll see skulls on your mini-map indicating where you can launch one of these challenges. The game tracks your scores and records, along with a staggering numbers of stats from “Invisible Walls Found” to “Bikeapults.” In fact, it appears that the game keeps tabs on more elements than most full retail releases to a hilarious extent. Want to know how many swimming lessons you’ve given? No problem! It’s all there. For 8-bits of sound and graphics, the game has gigabytes of stats (not literally).
The music and sound effects are fabulous throughout. With composition that could truly be coming directly from the 8-bit era, everything from the explosions to the game’s theme song are great. Just check out the soundtrack trailer we posted a few weeks ago to hear it in action.
The aspects that linger long after you’ve shut down your console are the details. From the clever signs spotted about the city to PLAYER’s tiny little feet pedaling a bicycle.
Retro City Rampage was originally announced as a Wii title to be released by the end of 2010. But as of now the game has been pushed into next year (hopefully February) as the platform of choice is now up in the air. If you have any inkling of interest in the game, make sure you’re following it on Facebook and Twitter, and we’ll have any key updates and trailers right here at DIYgamer along the way.