Ever look at a video game and say, “This is totally up my alley!” The concept, the premise, the graphics: whenever it all comes together, you feel like you’ve found something special. But, naturally, upon discovering something so unimaginably “you,” you develop expectations, and high expectations can be damning. Retro City Rampage was one of those games that clicked with me when I first caught wind of it, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting its arrival. Well, it’s finally here, and, let me tell you, having high expectations didn’t do it any favors.
Console: PSN, XBLA, WiiWare (Played on the PS Vita)
Developer: VBlank Entertainment
Publisher: VBlank Entertainment (Everything but XBLA) & D3 Publisher (XBLA)
Release Year: 2012
It’s kind of awkward putting a download-only game in a section called The Game Shelf, but it’s on my Vita, and I put that on my shelf. So it’s cool, right? Sure it is! Anyway, I’m glad I got RCR as a free Playstation Plus membership benefit, but even then I feel it wasn’t a very strong game or good use of my free time. I blew through the game in only three days, but those are three days I’ll never get back!
But how can I stay mad at you when you have a death screen like that?
All right. I’m being unfair and getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.
And yet you still did it.
Retro City Rampage is an 8-bit game laden with late-eighties and early-nineties video game and pop culture references that was almost exclusively developed by Brian Provinciano, a Canadian developer, back in 2002. RCR started life as an 8-bit recreation of Grand Theft Auto 3 and later developed into its own game. And here we finally are ten years later with the final product that started when I was a Sophomore in High School and ended a year after I got my Master’s. Man, how time flies! I only mention its long development time because I find it detrimental to the game. But more on that later.
I LOL’d at each of these stores’ names.
As I stated earlier, it took me three days to complete this game. That’s about 8 hours. Length’s not a big deal to me, especially when the game was free, but everything is still fresh in my mind and I still don’t know what the hell was going on in the game! The gaming and pop culture references we very distracting, they hardly ever added to the plot, and the plot was ass! I don’t even know what my character’s motivation was! Not that that’s typically a big selling point to me for a video game, but it kinda is when the game’s text heavy, which this one is.
Any time there’s an homage to Engrish, an angel gets its wings.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but I’ll do it anyway because I’m just so confused and frustrated. Here’s the game’s plot in bullet-point form:
- Player (That’s the protagonist’s name! How clever!) answers a Help Wanted poster for an aspiring henchmen and, wanting very desperately to hench, starts working for The Jester.
- Three years pass, as on-screen text against a pitch black background abruptly points out, and you knock over a bank with the Jester, Dark Knight-style.
- In a fit of over-zealousness, The Jester explodes the loot, and Player has to rob a convenience store.
- Upon reaching the convenience store, “Bill” and “Ted” show up in their phone booth.
- Player hijacks the booth for some reason and shoots to the future.
- “Doc Brown” and his “DeLorean” conveniently and immediately meet Player upon landing. He calls Player the chosen hero (because video games) and says he’ll send Player back to his time if Player helps him fix the “DeLorean.”
- Player does a bunch of crap and collects a bunch of stuff. Also, Billy Campbell is there.
- Player time travels.
- The next scene has Player sleeping a la Super Mario Bros. 2‘s ending. He wakes up thinking it’s a dream only to look outside and see he’s surrounded by the cops and the army. The end.
There’s three major problems I have with this outline:
- The entire plot and its ending
- 66% of that outline is done in the first ten minutes of the game
- All the crap you do and stuff you collect. I’m cool with Billy Campbell, though.
Hi, kids! I’m in that movie you’ve never seen!
The ending’s easy to explain: It sucked! But it only sucked because the plot was so lame. Seriously, I have no idea what Player was doing. I guess he was trying to get back to his own time, though he never expressed he really wanted to go back or if he was even concerned with whatever time he was currently in. All he seemed to want to do was whatever job somebody gave him. The plot and the missions felt pretty hallow, and that’s why all the “doing crap and collecting stuff” just didn’t click with me. It was pretty obvious that the developer was just creating set pieces for the next reference, and that never works for me.
Look! Two references and a thing collected after doing stuff! Well met!
Parody is a funny thing (again with the unintentional wordplay found in editing!). It either works or it doesn’t; there’s hardly ever any middle ground. Princess Bride and Spaceballs hit the mark by taking things we know and lampooning them while adding their own original content. South Park nails it by adding social commentary. However, Family Guy and ANYTHING from the Wayans Bros. always fall flat because their parodies mostly go for shock value or scream, “Look! It’s a thing you know! Laugh!” Or they just straight rip shit off.
Damn it, Wayans Bros.! That’s the same damn joke!
I’m sad to say that, even though Provinciano does add his on flavor, RCR falls into the “Wayans Bros.” category of parody: it just does it to do it, hoping for some chuckles. But at least the references are abundant! Not that that’s a good thing. Seriously, the first five minutes of the game were just one reference after the other: Mega Man, Duck Hunt, Duck Tales, Dark Knight, Frogger, Sonic the Hedgehog, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Magnum P.I., the A-Team, Contra, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and, of course, Grand Theft Auto. And the references just keep coming throughout the game. It wouldn’t be so bad if maybe Provinciano added some social commentary into the mix.
But he does! Sort of. He kind of ham-handedly stabs at Jack Thompson (who’s long been irrelevant for some time now) and the thought of video games corrupting people:
I have an unstoppable urge to suck because of this Suck Simulator.
Provinciano also mocks the current publishing climate in the gaming industry as it relates to indie developers:
Understand what? How the satire works?
These commentaries would have been great had they had any bearing on the plot. Instead, they’re just thrown in amongst the set pieces and references, never explored or extrapolated on. It’s a shame because I bet Provinciano could have made a pretty entertaining and meaningful game around these messages.
My last gripe is that the game is dated, but not for the obvious reasons.
But Maniac Mansion references are timeless.
I feel RCR‘s long development time made its humor irrelevant. All these references and recreations would have been hilarious years ago before everybody and their fat, ugly mamas became steeped in retro-gaming culture. None of the stuff in this game is new; people have been parodying 8-bit games for awhile now. Not only that, but people have actually been creating brand new 8-bit games for the NES. Nostalgia about video games in the eighties has pretty much been tapped. If only this game was released a few years earlier it’d have had a bigger impact.
What kind of deranged lunatic would recreate the Dam Level!?
In the end, the game was actually pretty fun, and anticipating the next gaming or nostalgic pop culture reference kept me going and never disappointed. However, ironically, RCR’s focus on nostalgia, one of its primary strengths, ultimately made it feel unfocused and weak. When it comes to gameplay, RCR hit it out the park. The game controls very well and feels like a GTA game with its mission layout, vehicle abduction, and police escalation meter. The overall experience was enjoyable, though the missions did start to wear thin and the game started becoming derivative. The music was a definite high point with some tunes that I’d actually like to listen to outside of the game. I recommend this game to all Playstation Plus members, GTA enthusiasts, and anyone else who just has to see all the references. Because there are a ton.
Thanks for your playing! I now leave you with a picture of me after hijacking the Turtle Van:
I stopped traffic so everyone could see how awesome I was.