Developer: VBlank Entertainment Inc.
Publisher: VBlank Entertainment Inc.
To say that there was a certain level of expectation going into Retro City Rampage would be an understatement. Tales of a four year development cycle by a single person (for the most part) and a chiptune soundtrack that garnered attention across the net several months ago made sure of that. However, the labour of digital love from Brian Brovinciano is to reach the online stores of nearly every gaming platform available, so it’s time to see whether all the effort is worth your time and money.
RCR sees the main character of ‘Player’ stomp his way through the 8-bit streets of Theftopolis in three different modes; Free Roam, Challenges, and Story Mode. The main campaign follows Player’s quest to help ‘Doc Choc’ repair a mobile time machine that looks not too dissimilar to a certain Delorean. Of course, this is just a loose excuse for the real reason to get in the game; to cause as much pixelated carnage as virtually possible. With the aesthetic of an 8-bit video game version of Grant Theft Auto, players will have an entire city to explore in the top-down perspective, but thanks to some throwbacks to come classics titles of yesteryear there is more to do than just driving over hapless pedestrians and thwarting the local law enforcement (although there is a LOT of that.)
While the initial gameplay comparison will be to that of the classic GTA games, the story mode is filled with sections that change the mechanics to emulate other titles from the past. 2-D platforming makes an appearance, as do some stealth elements, but my personal favourite was a throwback to Paperboy which managed to generate a rage within me similar to when I used to play the newsprint-throwing game back on the Master System. For the most part though, players will be traversing the streets of Theftopolis utilizing familiar controls for the perspective, although a few additional mechanics have been thrown in to help it feel like a modern game, such as entering cover and an auto-locking system when the attack button is held down. Gamepad users will also have twin-stick shooting at their disposal, but I found myself going back and forth between the manual and auto-locking depending on the scenario. Regardless of how you go about your mayhem, the controls are responsive and well implemented.
It is hard to ignore the love and care has been put into the game, with bursts of nostalgia ready to jump out at you around every corner. It would require more article space than I can spare to list all of the references players waiting to be found, but it’s safe to say that cult classics (and some not-so) from the world of gaming and film get the lampoon treatment throughout Theftopolis, be it the parody bit-characters or the names of the shops. Even some modern releases get a mention in RCR, whilst some indie gaming darlings of the last few years find licensed cameos in the form of unlockable characters and mini-games, but their inclusion is seemless enough to not distract too much attention. On top of this, the much-publicized soundtrack (which apparently boasts 2 hours of original composition) helps to complete the retro ambiance as you play, with enough variation to keep chiptune fans happy.
You can even change the screen type to look like an arcade machine or something akin to a Gameboy should you so wish, which I found to be a classy touch.
The presentation of 8-bit games isn’t the only thing that was emulated in RCR, as it can be quite the fiendish customer from time to time in terms of difficulty. Your main obstacles to completing missions are the police, who range from mild nuisance in small quantities to downright annoying when in huge numbers, bouncing you around like a pinball. Elsewhere, enemy goons during specific missions will be a sudden jump in both ability and firepower. Unseasoned gamers may find this frustrating as a result, a feeling that could be further exacerbated by an occasionally punishing checkpoint system that can send players back to the very start of a mission (instead of what you would think is a more logical point of entering a specific area or building.) While some will relish this challenge as a mighty foe to conquer, others will (understandably) dismiss it as unfair.
Although these are also available to do in the Story Mode, RCR contains a Challenge Mode to test the skills of players. Unlocked as the player proceeds through the Story Mode, the Challenges range from 30 second brawls to a few minutes of carnage, each having a bronze, silver and gold target to reach. Some of them are not as easy as others (the one where you have to throw people into water can go straight to hell) but I found the Challenges to be the most enjoyable part of RCR as they reminded me of my arcade-based youth. If there was one criticism, it would be that once a player has achieved Gold, they have no real reason to return, and for that reason a basic online leaderboard could have instantly added some longevity to proceedings. A Free-Roam mode is also included for those that want a mindless jaunt around Theftopolis, but without the missions and Challenges it’s a mode that I found a little bare.
Although I did find the gameplay fun, the problem I found was that I was only enjoying the game in short bursts. The story, whilst raising a giggle from time to time, ended up feeling slightly repetitive to the point that I found myself deviating from objectives during missions, just to cause some unscripted mayhem. I realised that this was because RCR is at its strongest when approached from an arcade perspective by racking up the points and getting huge multipliers, and while there is some enjoyment to be had in the story mode, it will be the Challenges that will have players returning for more. It’s for this reason I feel RCR might feel best as a portable game than anything else (which should please Vita owners out there) but that’s not to say that console and PC gamers should be discouraged from giving it a go, as it handles just as well on those systems.
Ultimately though, all the nostalgia and pop culture references aren’t enough to stop RCR being a game that is only enjoyable in short bursts. No matter how much I tried, I always found myself turning it off and returning a little while later, where I would once again enjoy myself for ten to fifteen minutes and then want to turn it off. You have to commend Brian Brovinciano for his achievement in bringing this game to the masses, but the lack of lasting appeal or urgency to keep playing makes its launch price tag one for debate. However, treat it as a pick-up-and-play arcade title and you could find it a worthwhile purchase.
- Visually and audibly pleasing 8-bit presentation.
- The nostalgia factor is through the roof.
- Capable of being a lot of arcade-esque fun…
- … but only manages to do it in short bursts.
- Lack of lasting appeal.
- Can occasionally feel cheap by spiking the difficulty.
The Short Version:
Not as addictive as it probably intended to be, the lack of longevity means it’s a game that is best approached with an arcade mentality for maximum enjoyment. That said, Retro City Rampage is capable of providing bursts of nostalgia-fuelled moments of pixelated mayhem, something Brian Brovinciano should be proud of.