At its best, Retro City Rampage is a compelling open-world game. But at its worst, the game is a disjointed mess of parodies that’s both frustrating and repetitive.
Video game throwbacks that adopt visuals and music from the Nintendo Entertainment era have become increasingly popular over the past few years (some of them include Oniken, Dark Void Zero, Mutant Mudds and Mega Man X.) Nevertheless, Retro City Rampage is a bit different, since this was supposed to be a Grand Theft Auto conversion that was going to run on NES hardware. But the project was so promising and big in scope that it eventually mutated into a game of its own. Enter Retro City Rampage.
In Retro City Rampage, you assume the role of The Player, an inhabitant from the city of Theftropolis. At the beginning of the game, The Player decides to work for the leader of a powerful crime organization. But when he runs into a time-traveling booth, he uses it without taking into account the consequences of his acts. After landing in the future (in the year 20XX to be more precise,) the main character starts collecting parts to repair the time booth that sent him there. Although the main story doesn’t make any sense, Retro City Rampage follows the same structure as most open-world games, allowing you to “borrow” cars and “put pedestrians to sleep” in order to complete a handful of missions.
As soon as you start playing the game, you’ll notice that Retro City Rampage remains true to its roots. The music mostly consists of chiptunes and the visuals are pixelated. The purposely retro-styled visuals are impressive and the painstaking attention to detail is staggering, something that becomes apparent as soon as you start exploring the meticulously recreated city of Theftropolis. But the chiptunes and the pixelated visuals aren’t the only aspects that make Retro City Rampage a retro experience. The game has dozens (if not hundreds) of references to titles and films from the NES era. There are references to to Mega Man, Duck Hunt, Mortal Kombat, Frogger, Contra, Back to the Future, Bionic Commando and Paper Boy, among many others.
The overall mission design follows the same structure of most open-world games. You steal vehicles, kill pedestrians, have access to a slew of weapons and so on and so forth. Most of the times though, you’ll go somewhere to pick up an item to then come back and give it to the quest-giver. As usual, committing crimes fills the threat meter and to evade cops, you need to collect special coins. Unlike GTA, you’ll never feel threatened by cops and at no point during my playthrough I felt like I was being overwhelmed by the police.
A lot of variety comes from side quests that are scattered around Theftopolis. These endeavors (called part-time jobs) encourage you to accrue a specific number of points in mayhem events, kill pedestrians in massacre events or play arcade games. As you make progress, you get costumes, hairstyles, “plastic surgery” looks, masks and hats.
But once the initial hit of nostalgia wears off, faults begin to emerge. Although Retro City Rampage works well as a throwback, the game adopts some of the most frustrating aspects of the games it parodies. For example, Retro City Rampage tries to emulate some mechanics of the GTA series, but not all of them work as intended (getting rid of the police feels harder than it should, controls can be cumbersome, shooting is imprecise and so on.) Although Grand Theft Auto is an obvious inspiration, Retro City Rampage uses the gameplay of some of the classic games it takes inspiration from.
For instance, one particular scene parodies Metal Gear Solid, so to escape a prison, the main character has to sneak past some guards inside a cardboard box. If a guard sees you, you need to restart the mission. Although this is supposed to be yet another funny reference to a classic game, you’re still dealing with some of the most frustrating aspects of the series the game parodies.
This leads me to my next point. At times, Retro City Rampage is a disjointed mess of parodies that even those familiar with the source material will have problems keeping up with. The fast-paced nature of the game is an issue, because sometimes it feels like you’re seeing references to classic games just for the sake of it.
Sadly, these aren’t the only problems with the game. The structure of the game is as plain as they come (moving from point A to point B becomes tiresome) and while the game tries to break the forth wall by making reference to this a couple of times, you never stop doing it. In terms of gameplay, the isometric view is very limited and when you’re driving fast, it’s easy to crash into incoming enemies and obstacles.
Retro City Rampage could have been a funny and entertaining throwback to the NES era, but its frustrating gameplay, repetitive mission design and plain structure prevent this game from taking off. In the end, Retro City Rampage proves that some things are better left in the past.