|Retro City Rampage|
|Platforms||Steam, PlayStation Network (PS3 and Vita), Xbox Live Arcade, WiiWare|
|Genre||GTA in 30MB|
When I rented the Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law video game a few years ago, I learned that some comedy has a minimum speed limit. I loved the rapid surrealist gags in the Adult Swim cartoon, but fifteen minutes was all I could take of the same humor decelerated to account for player input. What worked at twenty jokes per minute just didn’t translate to a relaxed visual novel speed.
Retro City Rampage has taught me that the funny/fast correlation works both ways. What was shaping up to be a parade of lazy puns and toothless parodies is acceptable entertainment when marched at a sprinter’s pace. It’s all in the delivery.
And Rampage delivers ‘80s nostalgia in spades. From head to toe, the game is decked out in pop culture knockoffs. You’ll accept missions from Principal Belding, find Game Genie codes, and change your appearance in a Michael Jackson facelift shop...with slight alterations that abide by intellectual property laws, of course.
Parody projects often result in utter disaster, and Rampage has its share of flatliners. It stumbles the most when going blue: sophomoric humor is tricky to pull off, and Brian Provinciano is no Judd Apatow. But even the worst offenders, like spoofing the Ghostbusters into an adult theater cleaning crew, tend to exude a warm reverence to monuments of the ‘80s and gaming icons of all eras.
The most palatable allusions imbue the multitude of storefronts, vehicles, and powerups that populate Theftropolis. Cruising through Rampage’s top-down city is a bit like touring Disney Land, with every square inch of real estate committed to the retro theme. Exploration is the open-world genre’s bread and butter; Theftropolis’ distinct boroughs and the scavenger hunts therein offer the game’s purest entertainment, though the modest sprawl means you can see it all in a day.
It’s more fun to sightsee at leisure, but Rampage’s story path also sends your career criminal avatar to almost every corner of the map. The 62 missions demand various misdeeds, from fistfights to shootouts to car chases. Few take longer than five minutes, and the itinerary hops among those core activities and minigame sidejobs enough to ensure the quest never gets stale. Unfortunately, the final stretch overshoots the reliable limits of the game mechanics, asking more of the player than is reasonable and resulting in unnecessary frustration.
Outside of the story missions, dozens of rampage challenges task the player with causing as much carnage as possible in a minute, with specific focuses on certain weapons, vehicles, and powerups. These and other minigames come equipped with online leaderboards and gold medal challenges to encourage practice and perfection. The intricacies of the scoring system aren’t well clarified, though bonus points are clearly awarded for simultaneous and consecutive kills. But the medal rankings, friend comparisons, and short durations frequently kept me coming back for “just one more.”
If there’s one reason to stop playing, though, it’s that the core systems don’t offer much depth. Melee combat is the clear low point, a stodgy affair best ignored unless no other options are available. Guns can be fired with lock-on aiming and supplemented by a cover system, though those options are a bit crude. It’s more effective to play twin-stick shooter style, moving with the left stick and firing with the right, a setup that is entirely capable if not remarkable. Driving is intuitive enough, though the limited top-down view discourages faster rides, unless you can play without blinking.
Though ordinary, the action mechanics serve as foundation for plenty of ways to find fun. Touring Theftropolis is enjoyable whether on-foot, behind the wheel, or decked out in any of the five mobility-enhancing powerups. Mowing down pedestrians and evading the cops is a tradition well kept. A handful of arcade homages provide adequate distractions alongside appropriate assignments in garbage trucks, taxis, and the like. The shops provide hundreds of ways to customize your character’s mugshot and tiny in-game sprites. Cheat codes are scattered all through the city,though using them disables saves (BE SURE TO EXIT THE ENTIRE GAME BEFORE CONTINUING: simply reloading your last save will not disable the cheat). And outside of story mode, you can free-roam with a full arsenal at will, try individual story missions and challenges from a menu, and peruse plenty of gameplay statistics. Though I finished the story mode in about six hours, I spent a few more exploring the city and attempting challenges. The full package is thick with value if the core mechanics appeal to you.
In the end, Retro City Rampage is Grand Theft Auto distilled down to its base pixels. Its skeleton of competent game mechanics serves as a suitable frame for a smart, nostalgic open world and the possibilities for fun peppered throughout. The flat parodies that lend the game most of its identity end up feeling like confetti: paper-thin and tacky but nonetheless infectious in their unrelenting verve and genuine respect. If you can stomach the copious references (or have a taste for them) then you might do well to consider a trip to this 8-bit theme park.
Is it worth the money? I think so. $15 smells a bit pricey for a retro game, but even a quick run of Rampage will likely last more than five hours, and there's enough worthwhile content to keep you coming back for several more. Full disclosure, review keys for Retro City Rampage were provided to The First Hour by D3 Publisher, Vblank Entertainment, Inc., and designer Brian Provinciano.
Is it worth the time? Yes. The story mode has a few dud missions but most are enjoyable enough. And the rest of your time will be spent scouring the world for optional secrets and making your own fun.