The golden age of gaming was a wonderful time; unique and challenging gameplay concepts were brought to life through bright and colourful sprites, backed up by pulsating chiptunes that brought smiles to the faces of children and headaches to parents. Retro City Rampage is an unabashed love letter to the games that raised a generation, with random pop-culture references rounding out a nostalgic hit of epic proportions.
VBlank Entertainment have been working on Retro City Rampage for ten years now, the development history alone reveals just how much the games of old influenced the final product, which launched across digital stores today. The development started in 2002 when Brian Provinciano constructed a custom-made Nintendo Entertainment System development kit, with the intention of releasing an 8-bit port of Grand Theft Auto III. Over the years he tweaked the design, adding in characters and locations from some of his favourite games growing up, before deciding to create an entirely new game with original content.
The opening screens of the game will be enough to bring out a goofy smile from any 90s gamer; a border fills the screen which looks just like an old CRT television, which can be interchanged for various models and even an arcade machine in the options, the chiptunes fill the speakers and the no nonsense menu lets you jump straight into the action. Once you hit that start button there is no going back, be prepared for an assault on all fronts.
Retro City Rampage plays out as a top-down bird’s-eye view, much like the original Grand Theft Auto as gamers fill the shoes of Player, a henchmen involved with a major crime syndicate controlled by The Jester. The first mission throws you right in the deep end; a bank job based upon the opening scenes from The Dark Knight takes place, introducing players to the basic mechanics of the game at a hectic pace.
It wasn’t long before I was met with my first gaming reference – a barrage of school busses wouldn’t let us onto the highway for our big getaway, so I was tasked with crossing the busy road and hitting the pedestrian light. There was a squashed frog on the pavement and VBlank didn’t hold back any punches when taking the mickey out of Frogger. Retro City Rampage knows exactly what it’s trying to do, and that’s how it pulls it off with such poise.
While the majority of the game plays out as a top-down destructive spree, certain sections of the gameplay will change depending on the scenario. Once again near the beginning of the game I was treated to the stage below which was an obvious re-creation of a certain Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game from the NES era. Eventually I was tasked with killing four green turtles and I unlocked the “Cowabunga” achievement, a smile across my face as I remembered the unimaginable frustration of the swimming sections of that TMNT game.
Just like the classic Grand Theft Auto titles, players will move through story-based missions and side missions to rack up those points. Along the way you will also find challenge markers; areas where you are given certain equipment, objectives and a time limit to rack up as much damage as you can. Once you have successfully completed a spree your score is recorded and you can compare it with your friends or the world via Steam.
The references simply did not let up during my first hour of gameplay. I faced off against Bionic Cop; a mashup of Robocop and Bionic Commando which had me jumping for joy. Doc Choc, RCR‘s version of Doc Brown from Back To The Future came to find me in his time travelling car, which then paved the way for a quest that involved running over eighty-eight pedestrians, along with finding a number of supplies. I also ran into Snake from Metal Gear Solid and ended with a threat from Dr. Von Buttnick, a nod towards the evil genius from Sonic the Hedgehog.
At the end of my first hour I simply want more. For any hardcore gamer out there, particularly those who were around during the NES days, Retro City Rampage is the game you have always wanted. This is not a hit of incredible nostalgia, this is a modern-day love letter to those classic games that helped create the gaming culture we have today.
Written by Stephen Heller
You can buy Retro City Rampage from GOG.com for $14.99 USD or the PSN Store for PS3 and PS Vita owners.