I had recently looked at Retro City Rampage and gave it some criticism that many didn’t appreciate. Not that my take on the game wasn’t valid or even original; I read many reviews that also viewed the referencing and nostalgia pandering as either passé or gratuitous. What most people had to say in the game’s defense fell into two categories: 1.) “You should just relax and enjoy the game for what it is,” and 2.) “It’s an homage to our childhood. Just take it in.” To the former camp, I say: “Nope! I’ll like and hate whatever I want, thank you very much!”
Yeah, that was a Phineas and Ferb reference. Suck on it!
I don’t want to rehash what I said in my last post, so it’s suffice to say that the “Parody without Satire” aspect of the game really irked me and ultimately came across as cheap and lazy storytelling. If that doesn’t bother you, then great. Please enjoy RCR, Family Guy, the Wayans Bros., and studying for your 7th Grade Algebra exam. Because you are a Middle Schooler and probably wouldn’t have caught that I’d just insulted you. Because you like all the aforementioned dumb things. Because that’s what Middle Schoolers like. Because Middle Schoolers are dumb. And you’re one.
And by “one” I mean a Middle Schooler.
I’m sorry. Did I insult your intelligence? You probably didn’t like that (unless you’re really a Middle schooler; in which case, why the hell are you reading this when there’s so much porn to be had!? Ah, if only I had the internet when I was in Middle School…). Well, that’s how cheap and lazy storytelling makes me feel. So, of course I couldn’t fully enjoy the game when I felt it was catering to the lowest common denominator by using the lowest form of comedy. And that’s why I couldn’t “enjoy the game for what it was.” Because I don’t enjoy crap.
As for the “It’s an Homage” camp, you’re not wrong. That is definitely what it is, and Provinciano does a great job in recreating the graphics, music, somewhat simplistic gameplay, and overall aesthetic of 8-bit games (really, the music is outstanding). However, my appreciation for RCR pretty much ends there. Remember, kids: graphics aren’t everything. And just because a game looks retro doesn’t make it feel retro, despite the amount of Vanilla Ice references you can put in one shot.
Though, it doesn’t hurt.
The tone of RCR was never that of nostalgia for me, though I’m sure it wasn’t primarily supposed to be, which feels like a missed opportunity. I’m sure Provinciano just wanted some laughs, and, to that extent, he succeeded. Even I succumbed to some of his “low-brow” humor (the “Cold Iced Tea” scene got a chuckle from me). And though I can say RCR is a technical feat, I just wanted more. I want homages – labor’s of love – to resonate with me on a deeper level. And, so, in order to feel that resonance, I popped out the retro-centric video game that got it right: Retro Game Challenge!
I talked about RGC in another post as well, so I won’t tread familiar ground too much. What I do want to say is that Retro Game Challenge does what Retro City Rampage does, only ten times better. RCR tried to recall feelings of nostalgia by superficial means, such as showing and reminding the player about cool things from the past, which, as logic dictates, will vicariously make the game cool, too. It’s kind of like how that shallow kid from High School and college was always name-dropping to sound important (to my Middle School readers, you’ll meet that person soon enough. Also, stop reading my stuff! I can get pretty inappropriate).
In RGC‘s case, nostalgia is brought forth not solely by imagery, referencing and set pieces but by atmosphere, subtlety, and genuinely great gaming experiences. I say “experiences” because there are a total of eight full, albeit short, 8-bit games to play, and none of them are half assed. Each is a unique and fun experience that accurately emulates the genre or particular game it’s parodying while providing its own take on established game mechanics and level designs. Conversely, RCR provides you with quick, repetitive missions and mini-games that become derivative long before you even play them.
Even Provinciano knew this was pointless and boring.
Retro Game Challenge‘s story is done a lot better as well. It’s nothing epic, but it was a hell of a lot funnier, though that’s subjective. I can objectively say that the plot and character motivation was a lot clearer than in Retro City Rampage (if you’re interested in RGC‘s story, you can check my previous post). The best part about RGC was how it took a meta approach when establishing its nostalgic tone, and it nailed it. Instead of focusing on the crap we grew up with on T.V. (video games and T.V. shows) and parading it at us, RGC focused on the crap we grew up with around the phenomenon called the Nintendo Entertainment System (or, more accurately, the Famicom).
Now you will know why Pols Voice is sensitive to loud noises.
The games and challenges in RGC are framed. Before and after each game you get to interact with the fake games’ instruction manuals, gaming magazines (which were full of cheats, tips, fake rumors, and interviews with developers and game pros), and your friend who chills with you while you play games. He can offer you advice, talk trash, cheer you on, speculate about playground rumors, bring more magazines, and argue with his mom about playing too many video games. It frighteningly and accurately depicts my childhood.
The subtle stuff that RGC did was just as effective, if not more so. The best example is the progression of the Robot Ninja Haggle Man series. The first two installments are comical action platformers while the final plays like Ninja Gaiden, effectively changing the tone and the genre of the series. It wasn’t uncommon to see such drastic shifts in series during the NES era, and the change was as disorienting as it was hilarious, just like when it happens in real life. I also like how the RPG the characters were agonizingly anticipating kept getting delayed. Man, that hit home and took me back to being a kid again. And that’s where Retro Game Challenge succeeds at being an excellent homage. It didn’t focus on pop culture like Retro City Rampage did; Retro Game Challenge focused on a subculture, the nascent hobby that would one day develop into the institution that it is today.
Unfortunately, RGC only appealed to a niche demographic, ultimately dooming it to obscurity. People younger than twenty probably don’t fully understand the subculture this game resurrects, but those same people will always appreciate mass murder, larceny, guns, and sexual innuendo in video games. And that’s why Retro City Rampage will win.
Basically, if you haven’t played Retro Game Challenge, then shame on you. If you’ve played Retro City Rampage and haven’t played Retro Game Challenge, then you owe it to yourself to find and play RGC. Not only is it the better nostalgic game, it’s an awesome game in its own right. Honestly, I don’t think anyone who has played both games would disagree with me.