Didn't know where to post or even if someone would care so... why not here? I've recentle reviewed Retro City Rampage on Videogamegeek.com and wantd to share it on TIGForum
Note: I played the game on the Playstation Vita, but I think this review is valid for all versions of the game.
On paper, Retro City Rampage is the perfect recipe for success. If there is one thing that is more popular than Grand Theft Auto, it’s a retro game made of big, fat pixels. So, Retro City Rampage, a GTA-like set in the 80’s and made to look like it’s been developed for good old Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), must be the Game of Year, right? RIGHT?
Well, not really. I mean, sure, why not, it seems that any game can call itself game of the year nowadays (even Dead Island, despite a metascore of 71 or 80, depending on the platform). But if by GOTY, we mean a title that will forever be associated with the pinnacle of gaming in 2012, then I’m afraid we’ll have to look some other directions.
The problem doesn’t reside in the audio-visuals. It would be very harsh to find a flaw to Retro City Rampage in that domain. The graphics are nothing short of exquisite. The vehicles are super-cute, the tiny NPCs have recognizable features, and the whole city looks perfectly 8-bit too. And that’s not all: there are at least a dozen graphical modes to be tinkered with in the options menu. Would you prefer a Gameboy look (monochrome green)? Or a 4-colours CGA mode of old IBM PCs? The game has you covered, along with many other style (C64, Virtual Boy, you name it). It has been done before, but never this well. Each graphical mode has a distinctive style and none of them is impractical. You can make a choice and stick to it or mix and match as you play, the graphics are always going to look awesome anyway. There even is a couple of levels that encourage you to put on those red/blue 3D glasses and experience them is retro 3D.
Likewise, a lot of efforts have been invested into the music. Three musicians (Freaky DNA, virt and Norrin Radd) have teamed up to provide one of history’s longest chiptune soundtracks (reportedly some 150 minutes). While the music only rarely elevates itself to the level of, say, VVVVVV’s tunes (by Souleye), it is never mediocre and has its fair share of memorable melodies. In contrast, the sound effects are much more basic, but this is in keeping with the 8-bit feeling that permeates the whole thing.
Retro doesn’t stop at technical aspects either. Retro City Rampage is positively littered with humorous references to 80’s and early 90’s pop culture. From video games (obviously) to TV shows and movies, they are virtually impossible to count. Some references are easy to get by almost anyone, but others will be completely oblivious to you if you haven’t grown up in the 80’s with a gamepad or remote in your hands. Because those references are the game’s biggest selling point, you ought to really wonder if you belong to the target demographic before you commit your cash, as your enjoyment will greatly depend on that factor.
Alas, this is where the unconditional praise must stop. For here comes the section about the gameplay. In truth, there is nothing truly terrible about it. But it fails to live up to the game’s great audio-visual charm. The main missions present varied challenges (although that’s not the case for side-missions - more on that later) with different mechanics, mostly borrowed from Good Old Games of YesteryearsTM(not really). But the problems are three-fold.
First, the game is much funnier than it is fun. The beginning of most missions would make me smile at the idea on which it is based, but the actual execution would often disappoint. Next come the frustration and chaos. In many fighting levels (and they abound), the game makes you mash buttons and hope for the best. The difference between failure and success is often due to randomness, not skill. Add to the equation the sometimes punishing difficulty and you’ll have many missions that will kill you tens of times before letting you pass, often leaving you scratching your head at what went differently that time. In truth, the majority of missions are better designed than what I describe, but you’ll spend so much time replaying the same unfair levels over and over again that you’d be forgiven to not notice.
Then we have the side-missions and so-called “killing-sprees”. While the former are mostly OK, though usually less creative than the main missions, the latter are mostly forgettable affairs. Virtually all of them consist of trying to kill the greatest number of people in a limited time. A couple of them are a blast (who wouldn’t like a tank killing spree, or playing as the Grim Reaper himself?), but the rest quickly gets repetitive.
You could argue that all of these problems stem from the fact that Retro City Rampage is, essentially, the labour of love of a one-man team, namely Brian Provinciano. This is a game of incredible scope and because of its nature, it touches on a huge variety of Video Games genres. How could a single man nail all of them? The answer is obvious: it’s impossible! In fact, it’s already a small-scale miracle that so much feels right already.
The game is huge and there are many features that I have not mentioned: free-roaming modes, character customization, virtual arcade games,… There is a lot of value for the (very) reasonable entry fee. The problem is: with the brilliant but flawed game design, will you still enjoy the game after beating the main storyline (which should take about 10 hours)? I know I won’t get back to it before some time has passed. The frustration is still too fresh!
The bottom-line is this: There is a lot, and I mean a LOT to love in Retro City Rampage. On many levels, it is beyond amazing. But, by trying to be too many things at once, it is somehow less enjoyable than the sum of its parts. I would still recommend that you give it a try, but only if you grew up in the 80’s, otherwise you’d miss the best that Retro City Rampage has to offer: nostalgic spoofs!
Ups & Downs
+ Nice chiptune music
+ Hundreds of Retro references
+ Great ideas a-plenty
- Very frustrating at times
- Some levels lack polish
- Less interesting side-quests