Retro City Rampage

Retro City Rampage
Retro City Rampage Cover
Platforms Steam, PlayStation Network (PS3 and Vita), Xbox Live Arcade, WiiWare
Genre Grand Theft Nostalgia
MtAMinutes to Action 1
Keep Playing? Yes

Ladies and gentlemen, we are experiencing a full-blown Easter Egg epidemic. In just the last month, Dishonored re-enacted a scene from PC classic Thief: The Dark Project. The newest World of Warcraft expansion contains homages to everything from Battletoads to Harvest Moon to Star Fox.

There are even veritable egg trails: Torchlight II pays homage to Borderlands 2 which references Dark Souls. If this trend continues, it won’t be long until we have a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon on our hands, counting references back to either “Cake is a lie” or “Arrow in the knee.”

And Retro City Rampage isn’t helping matters. Released last week on PlayStation Network and Steam (and coming soon for XBLA and WiiWare), this Grand Theft Auto “demake” touches on dozens of classic NES-era videogames, if not hundreds. The trailer alone portends a never-ending assault of sly winks, like a pirate blinking War and Peace in morse code.

I planned on using our "Minutes of Note" section to identify every cheeky pop culture allusion I recognized in the first sixty minutes of Retro City Rampage. Within minutes of beginning the game, the reference counter topped a dozen, and there's just no way I'm listing them all. If you skip to any frame of the follwing video, there's a good chance you'll see something familiar.

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 1

The avalanche of puns and parodies is just one aspect of the game's overwhelming opening: tutorial information, stage cards, and dialogue boxes all wrestle for screen space while I'm trying to discern the tiny pixel-art objects and adapt to rapid location changes and musical cuts from one NES-true chiptune to the next. It's a disorienting visual cacophany that recalls my first trip to Arkham City, when the Joker's PA announcements blared over henchmen conversations that drowned out Oracle's whispering in my ear as waypoints and reticles and tutorials flickered across the screen. Retro City Rampage begins with the same information overload, though the linear tutorial path and forward momentum provides some comfort in the chaos. But at least it starts with a bank robbery! Can't go wrong starting with a heist mission.

Thankfully, the player (named "Player") soon settles in the den of Doc Choc, his first story mission billboard. This is the first good chance to expore the open world of Theftropolis. It has all the expected distractions of a lo-fi Grand Theft Auto: vehicles to steal, pedestrians to assault, cops to provoke, stores to visit, and curious locations to explore. "Rampage" missions are available for those with itchy trigger fingers and the munchies for destruction, and Loot Bags and Phone Booths are scattered through the urban sprawl. And thanks to the iconic, singular locations and scrolling top-down view, the city should be easy to read, remember, and recall without frequent map checks, further boosting the game's lean pace.

Retro City Rampage Heist

It may have cut some of the typical open-world fat, but Retro City Rampage folds in some welcome options and features. Vehicles can be controlled either completely with the left control stick or classic perspective-driving style, where the player always uses left/right to turn the vehicle, Micro Machines style. When on-foot, a passable target-lock option is available or the player can gun down cops with more freedom of movement with a twin-stick shooter style. Player's dialog portrait can be customized with dozens of hair, hat, accessory, and even new face options. Other visual personalizations include screen borders when playing in HD and even a color-filter that simulates plenty of classic systems' color palettes (even Game Boy greenscale and Virtual Boy redscale). Finally, leaderboards and replays are readily-accessible for Rampage missions.

Bias: I'd been looking forward to playing Retro City Rampage for a few years, actually. I'm a bit of an 8-bit nostalgia junkie, though I tend to be leery of sandbox games for their emphasis on grandeur of scale rather than micro-polish. Full disclosure, review keys for Retro City Rampage were provided to The First Hour by D3 Publisher, Vblank Entertainment, Inc., and designer Brian Provinciano.

Would I Keep Playing? Yes. It remains to be seen if Retro City Rampage's indulgence of hollow references will wear thin over time, but so far it's a passable potpourri of popcorn parody. After the clumsy first sprint down memory lane, Theftropolis promises a very legible sandbox with simple but serviceable top-down gunfights, police chases, and oddball activities.

Retro City Rampage Title_0