Nostalgia is a funny thing. When you reach a certain age you begin to look at the past in soft focus. We remember the summers riding our bikes in the greenest of fields and kissing the pretty blonde girl with curly hair and dimples. The years tend to erode the part where we fell off the bike into a large patch of nettles or the girl’s brother finding out about your brief liaison and not being very pleased about it.
To say that Retro City Rampage deals in the sweet remainder of our memories is an understatement. It deals in nostalgia pretty much wholesale and fires references at you constantly in a manner that’d put your average episode of Family Guy to shame.
Naming every last TV programme, game, device and trend from the 80’s and 90’s referenced could be turned into an article all of its own. However I’ll just outline the main points of the game’s fairly straight forward, if ridiculous opening, and if you are grinning like an idiot by the end of it I suggest you stop reading this review and buy the game. Here goes.
You play as Player, a henchman for a super criminal known as the Jester, who lives in a fictional city called Theftropolis. While escaping from a bank heist and gunning down some green vigilantes in a van, he decides to hide in a phone box which magically appears in front of him and turns out to be a time machine. Player is then transported into the past, by about thirty years or so. He is then accosted by a crazed inventor called Doc Choc, who arrives in a very familiar looking car, and told that he needs to collect seven artefacts in order to fix the phone booth and return to his own time thus repairing the timeline which may be about to collapse in on itself.
In short, it’s the original GTA crossed with Bill & Ted, Back to the Future and Toonstruck with reference to Batman, TMNT, The A team, Mega Man, Sonic and The Fresh Prince plus more I’ve probably missed and that’s in the game’s opening 20 minutes. All presented in gorgeous 8bit graphics with a thumping chip tune soundtrack that sounds like something straight from the NES era.
What makes Retro City Rampage so special though is its ability to deftly handle its a million and one sources of inspiration and recombobulate them into a brilliant narrative and world all of its own. The nods and winks come so thick and fast that you might assume that it could become tiresome however, unlike the aforementioned TV series; it’s never a case of just feeling like something was shoehorned in for the sake of a cheap gag. It feels more Mel Brookes than Seth MacFarlane in its approach to parody and is all the better off for it.
The references don’t stop with the setting and characters though the gameplay also parodies several other games. The general minute by minute gameplay is best described as a cross between old school GTA and Zelda as the camera isn’t entirely top down and you can go inside several buildings.
However during several missions the style of gameplay will change. For example in one mission you have to sneak into a compound, with a guy that looks a lot like the love child of a certain spy and Kurt Russell, in a manner very similar to the original Metal Gear. In another you are captured and have to fight your way through a ‘Smash TV’ style game show, on another mission you find yourself playing an 8bit version of Splosionman in everything but name.
Another time you have to help the owner of a paper shredding company get rid of some pesky turtles by placing bombs underwater in a dam while working for a group of exterminators known as the Go Go Busters. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as the perspective shifted to 2D and some very familiar weeds came into view from one of the most infuriating levels ever created. I have to say it felt kind of cathartic swimming around as Player, planting the bombs that had given me so much trouble as a kid in the original NES TMNT game.
Although the most epic part of the game was its finale, in which you have to chase the game’s villain; Dr. Buttnick, in a sequence which manages to effortlessly merge Super Hang On, Chase HQ and Back to the Future. Though I will warn you up front, this level was an absolute bastard. But like most hard fought battles when you finally nail the git, there was a feeling of exhilaration that modern gaming rarely provides.
The variation of styles throughout the game manages to overcome that problem which plagues most modern open world games, in particular GTA, repetition. It’s hard to get bored when every other new mission brings with it a different way to play the game.
There’s plenty to get on with aside from the main missions, there are also several job missions that have Player working for various businesses around Theftropolis as well as attempting to get gold in the game’s numerous challenges. Which mostly boil down to kill as many people as you can with a certain weapon before the time runs out but are still tons of fun all the same.
As well as all of this once you’ve finished your first play through you can also try to play the whole of the game again in TURBO mode, which as you’d expect makes everything a hell of a lot quicker and, as a side effect, a damn sight harder too.
So should you get Retro City Rampage? Oh god yes. Hells yes. A million times yes. If you were born between 1975 and say 1988, this is the game for you. If you remember gaming first hand from a time before Sony made consoles, loading times were an alien concept to some and disc swapping was something that happened every couple of minutes for others, this game will bring back some fond memories.
I’m not sure younger gamers will appreciate it quite as much; the lack of explosions and abundance of colour might put off some people. But in all honesty the miserable youngun’s don’t know what they’re missin’.
For the rest of us crotchety, misty eyed old bastards though, RCR is a marvellous love letter to simpler, sillier times.