Published on January 2nd, 2013 | by Cameron Woolsey
Retro City Rampage (XBLA) Review
Developer: Vblank Entertainment
Genre: Retro, Classic Action Adventure
Platform: Xbox 360 (via Xbox LIVE), also available on PC, Ps3 and PlayStation Vita
Release Date: Jan. 2, 2013
MSRP: 800 MS Points ($10)
Review Note: A copy of the game was received for review purposes. You can check out Indie Games Editor Derek Strickland’s review of Retro City Rampage on PC by clicking here.
It has been around three months since Vblank Entertainment’s long-developed, oft-delayed, pixelated throwback adventure, Retro City Rampage, hit the scene on PC, PlayStation 3, PS Vita and Wii. The game received critical acclaim, gathering praise for its astounding presentation, music and playability. As we make our first steps into the new year, Retro City Rampage finally makes its way onto the Indie-friendly Xbox 360 via Xbox LIVE. Thankfully, not a single pixel was lost in the transition to Microsoft’s console. Everything that we loved about Retro City Rampage several months ago is still present in its latest iteration.
The game styles itself after the original Grand Theft Auto, putting the camera high in the air over a colorful pixelated landscape of buildings and streets, alive with roaming NPCs and vehicles. Much like GTA, Retro City Rampage is an open-world adventure brimming with pixelated life. The game looks as if it could be played on an NES, but I doubt that the amount packed into the title would fit in one of those old cartridges. Combined with an excellent chiptune soundtrack, Retro City Rampage is a game that will transport you to a simpler time when men were pixelated and the most complicated things in life could be fixed by blowing into them.
As a gamer who started out on consoles like the Atari 2600 and NES, Retro City Rampage was a retro treat. The game, however, doesn’t alienate those who didn’t grow up rescuing princesses or figuring out what the hell that blotted pixel clump was supposed to represent. In a world where many independent developers derive influence from classic titles, Retro City Rampage digs the deepest of all.
Retro City Rampage is less of a game and more like a celebration of everything we love about geek and pop culture. There are references in nearly every colorful frame that flashes past. Children of the ’80s, such as myself, will no doubt smile or laugh at every throwback that game designer Brian Provinciano stuffed into this deceptively large game.
Gamers can go from swinging on poles like Bionic Commando near the Convenient Barrel Factory, to sneaking around in a box like Snake, to jumping through green pipes and bashing bricks with your head, finally capping it all off with a glass of ice cold “milk” not unlike what you get from Lon Lon Ranch — except this dairy treat has more intoxicating effects, causing the screen to shift and shimmy wildly. From Sonic, Mario, Contra, Legend of Zelda, to modern gems like Super Meat Boy and ‘Splosion Man, Retro City Rampage isn’t shy on using as much source material as possible.
There are plenty of other cultural influences beyond games. Provinciano uses source material such as comic books (most notably from Batman), television and film to turn the world of Retro City into a playground of memorable moments new and old. Quite a few real-life people make a cameo appearance as well. Don’t be surprised to see Provinciano during one mission, Mr. Destructoid (Destructoid.com) or run into John Romero (Doom, Quake), who gladly hands out a cheat code of ultimate power.
The story behind Retro City Rampage is relatively forgettable. The introduction moves far too quickly, as do most cut scenes during the game, which can be a problem if you aren’t a speedy reader. Most of the missions revolve around fetch quests or taking out bad guys. The protagonist, aptly named Player, is on the hunt to find missing parts for Doc Choc’s vehicular time machine, not unlike the one seen out of “Back to the Future.” Side quests will pop up from time to time, and will have you running missions such carjacking, delivering papers like Paper Boy or zapping grungy NPCs using the “Ghostbusters“-inspired Ion Tapper AS5. Including side missions, I clocked in around five hours for the story mode. Beating the story unlocks Turbo mode, which speeds up the game to near-silly levels.
The controls in the game are finely tuned and no doubt work far better than they would have if the game was made on the NES. Driving around is smooth and easy to get the hang of. Soon enough you will be driving, skating or biking on streets, sand, grass or sidewalks, wherever pedestrian traffic can yield the most hit-and-runs. The game features plenty of weapons form the typical pistol or shotgun, to items inspired by games, and include such items as the BioClaw and Grogotov. Firing is done using the right thumbstick on the game pad — basically just point and shoot. Holding down ‘X’ will allow you to lock on to nearby enemies. Player will also learn Mario’s stomp ability early on. Using it can be a little risky, but once mastered the stomp works well if you’re low on health and ammo.
The game is easy early on, but expect a sudden difficulty spike near the end. I was surprised at how hard the game got as the final missions started rolling in. You don’t have lives in the game, but your deaths are tracked. Around two-thirds of the way in the game I couldn’t have more than a dozen deaths. By the time I put away the Dr. Robotnik-inspired final boss in a frustrating racing/shooting battle, I had died more than 50 times.
As I mentioned early on, the game is larger than it appears. Beyond the story and side missions, there are a ton of extra things to do in Retro City Rampage. Players can trim hedges for green coins, the in-game currency, or engage in one of more than 40 arcade challenges which will have you either rampaging throughout the city in a tank or running around on fire trying to immolate as many helpless citizens within a time restriction. You can gamble at a casino or hit up the local arcade to play games like Bit Trip Runner.
Player sports a greaser appearance, complete with leather jacket and some big hair. His look can be changed at various shops around the city which will cater to whatever style that suits you. Player can get glasses, a new hair style, hat or get inked at the tattoo shop. There’s nothing wrong with aviators and a “Fresh Prince” haircut that reaches to the ceiling, right? You can also wear costumes such as the Batman-inspired Biffman suit.
Are the graphics not quite nostalgic enough for your tastes? The game features a wide variety of visual settings and filters that cater to whichever classic system you desire. The border around the game can go from an arcade cabinet, to an old television set or to something that resembles the Game Boy. Different filters let you change the color scheme to match the NES, SNES, Genesis, Game Boy and more. You can even run around in the blinding monochromatic black and red of a Virtual Boy screen. That is, if you’re fond of migraines.
Completing tasks during the game will unlock exclusive Avatar awards such as Player’s “manly mullet” as well as his pixelated jacket, pants and shoes.
Despite some late frustrations in the story mode, Retro City Rampage is an indie game gem. In just 10 minutes into the title I was hit by enough nostalgic memories to make my head spin. From the beautiful NES-inspired graphics to the incredible chiptune soundtrack, the game succeeds on all senses.
Retro City Rampage sure took its sweet time getting here, but after experiencing everything it has to offer I can honestly say it was worth the delays. If I were to change anything, I would have wanted it to continue a while longer. With such an enormous wealth of classic games in the world there’s plenty more that Vblank could have included. I wouldn’t be surprised if Provinciano is already sketching out early details for a sequel. Hopefully if it does come around we won’t have to wait nearly as long for it. But even if we do, I’m sure that it will once again be worth the wait.
+ Inspired by some of the best in retro gaming
+ Visuals and music
+ Plenty to do
+ Worth the wait
– Jarring difficulty spike near the end
– Cut scenes move too fast