Starting life a long, long time ago as Grand Theftendo, an 8 bit remake of Grand Theft Auto 3, Retro City Rampage has changed and developed into a parody of both gaming and popular culture from the eighties and nineties. Developed by an incredibly small team, the fact it exists at all is an example of the fighting spirit taken from the bedroom coders of old.
Retro City Rampage starts in a hail of references and fast paced action and very rarely let’s up through its fairly brief play time. Before completing the first mission you’ll have run over, or gunned down, many a group of crime fighters from years of television gone by and been reminded of a number of classic games as well. And that’s pretty much how the game continues.
Each mission normally involves you driving around the 8 bit style GTA city before heading off to a short mini game which is based on classics such as Gauntlet, Smash TV, Contra and many others. It all handles well and keeps the humour throughout. Driving around is fun, though it is perhaps a little too easy to get the cops chasing after you.
The mission games vary in quality from excellent through to tolerable with the ones focusing on shooting working out the best. Some mechanics simply don’t come off though. The ability to take cover is rendered almost useless by it being difficult to tell if you are crouched or not and hand to hand combat can be frustrating due to the small sprite size. This is especially noticeable when playing on the PS Vita’s smaller screen but at least you can cross-save onto the PS3 instead of getting out a magnifying glass.
Aside from the missions there is a ton of content here. There are different filters to apply and the main character can be customised with haircuts and clothes like in many a GTA game. There is also a section which drops into old style 3D (if you have the glasses). All the games missions can be selected individually to challenge for high scores and there are numerous side quests and arcade challenges to seek out.
There is even an old school arcade containing versions of Bit Trip Runner and a weird Virtual Meat Boy game designed to look in the style of Nintendo’s much maligned, head ache generating, Virtual Boy.
It’s difficult to give an overall impression of the levels as they change so much. What can be said is that they always retain their sense of humour and none of them are long enough to cause lasting frustration. This is also one of the problems the game has. There is, if anything, a lack of identity apparent due to so many different things thrown into the mix. Almost every line of dialogue or encounter showers you with references. Some only last a line of speech or fly past on a billboard as you drive by. Often there is so much going on that it’s just a bit hard to take in.
The other problem is that while it will give gamers a nostalgic memory or two there is nothing here doing anything better than before. So there’s a level based on Smash TV or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but they aren’t as strong as the source material and many retro gaming fans may well decide they would prefer to play the originals, while newcomers simply won’t get the reference.
That said it certainly is an enjoyable and chaotic ride from start to finish. It’s like a greatest hits album of nostalgia, only performed by a cover band. You can happily sing along for a while but after that you’ll likely want something a bit more substantial.
It’s very clear that the developers really do care about the project and all the sources which are parodied and that helps most of the games faults to be forgiven. Retro City Rampage is certainly a game that fans of retro gaming should play and you should have a great time - it’s just not likely you’ll return after finishing it.