There have only been a handful of games that feel like love letters to certain eras. Vblank Entertainment’s Retro City Rampage is an example of that catering to a variety of eras from the 8-bit NES days all the way to the modern gaming generation. Retro City Rampage --the 8-bit game that takes the Grand Theft Auto formula back to its old days-- has been a long time coming since its original announcement strictly for the Wii. Now it is out on the Playstation 3, Vita, and PC with the XBL version coming at a later date. Is Retro City Rampage worth the long wait for gamers that want to revisit their childhoods in one game?
The story for Retro City Rampage is about a guy simply named “Player” and he is in the middle of a big heist at Theftropolis in the 1980s. Player stumbles into a time machine and is transported to the year 20XX. He immediately meets Doc Choc as he assumes the player as some time-traveling hero. The time machine that the player used was broken, so it is up to him and Doc Choc to find the necessary parts in Theftropolis to fix it. Right from the get-go, this sounds a little similar to the Back to the Future movies. Retro City Rampage is filled with references to not only 8-bit games, but also pop culture references of that era.
As mentioned earlier, Retro City Rampage is an 8-bit open-world game that uses the Grand Theft Auto formula to the fullest. Like Rockstar’s infamous franchise, players can roam around Theftropolis bashing civilians, running them over, and get chased by the police. The mission structure is also similar as you have to go to various blips to access missions, whether it is for the main story, or optional side quests. The main story missions are where the references to the 8-bit classics are at. One mission, for example, has players sneaking around Metal Gear-style and then navigating through a room that is straight from Contra. Another mission has players riding a bike, throwing newspapers at mailboxes Paperboy style. Even the dreaded underwater levels of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles make a return in this game. These missions, based on fun factor alone, are mostly hit or miss. The references can only do so much because most of them are simply not fun to play. Some of the worst missions in the game are the GTA-like ones that involve tailing a certain car without being seen. The checkpoint system is not as forgiving like most of the GTA games and it is the case here in Retro City Rampage. Failing long missions like these starts you over from the beginning of it, which makes things frustrating.
These frustrations can also carry over into the control handling. The controls do take time to get used to since the game is in 2D and the shooting is not that great once you have guns at your disposal. There is a lock-on targeting system and the ability to take cover, but most of the mechanics don’t really work in the 8-bit format as I was strafing around shooting at enemies most of the time like I’m playing a twin stick shooter. The shooting can be done that way with the analog sticks, but the square and R2 buttons can also be used to shoot. The driving controls can also be a pain since you’re playing from a 2D perspective, but luckily the game is forgiving when it comes to the cars being pretty durable when bumping other things.
After conquring the controls though, there are a variety of activities to do in Theftropolis in addition to the main and side missions. Similar to Grand Theft Auto, there are rampage challenges to do where you must rack up high scores with specific weapons in a limited amount of time. These challenges can be replayed outside the main game in a separate mode as long as they've been unlocked. There’s also a free roam mode if players just want to wreak havoc without caring for the story. Collectables are also spread throughout the city and a variety of arcade mini-games to try out. One of arcade games combines references from Nintendo’s Virtual Boy and Super Meat Boy while another one is a reminder of the “Test Your Might” bonus game from Mortal Kombat. Also, Player can be customized by look and attire when visiting specific stores. Some of these looks can be references to other games like Halo and even people from the game industry. If you’re just in it for the story, Retro City Rampage takes six to seven hours to beat, but many more if you want to be a completionist by finding everything the game has to offer.
As a homage to a certain era of pop culture and gaming, Retro City Rampage does a good job for the most part of including references that players will recognize the instant they appear. As an actual game, however, it is simply not that fun to play from beginning to end. For a game filled with nostalgia, it is surprisingly boring with most of the references in the storyline being hit and miss. The gameplay is also not as fun as I thought it could be because the controls take some time to get used to, but are also frustrating, especially if you’re are accustomed to playing today’s open-world games. In it's favor though, the ability to cross-play and save with the Vita version is a nice touch if you have both systems. At its $15 price, Retro City Rampage can still be worth your time and money if you love the 8-bit era of games way too much, but the game itself is a bore to play through, which is unfortunate for such a highly anticipated downloadable title.