Retro City Rampage Review (PS3/PS Vita): “A Beloved Gaming Era Receives a Proper Love Letter”

When it comes to gaming, the late 80s and early 90s era was one that many found to be the golden age of gaming. Simplistic, yet addictive and downright fun games where you didn’t focus so much on getting those “cinematic experiences”. Nowadays, it’s rare that we come across a game with that same feel. However, a single person has spent years of his time just taking a beloved gaming era and pouring his soul into a game to rekindle that classic gaming experience, Brian Provinciano. After a long development process, his long-awaited Retro City Rampage is now available on the PS3, PS Vita and Steam, while still wrapping up the final touches on bringing it to the XBLA and WiiWare as well. However, did the long development payoff for Mr. Provinciano or does it rely too heavily on nostalgia and falter on everything else?

Retro City Rampage is a top-down, GTA style game with 8-bit visuals. You’ll take control of Player, who’s looking for some dirty work to make some cash. From here, he’ll partake in a wild adventure that’ll span over a few decades of gaming and pop-culture that influence the city of Theftopolis. Right from the beginning, you’ll be pulling a bank heist that replicates the intro of The Dark Knight and from there, you’ll run into a time machine to evade the cops, teleport back in time, meet up with Doc (Back to the Future reference) and “borrow” his DeLorean. From there, you’ll be working with Doc to get the DeLorean working again and if Player’s journey wasn’t wacky enough already, the events that await him are only more above and beyond. There’s even a mission where you’ll plant bombs underneath the dam, which happens to be the same area as the bomb defusing mission from the original TMNT NES game, electric seaweeds and all. It’s these moments where the game shines at its top.

As I mentioned before, Retro City Rampage is a GTA style game where you have the whole city of Theftopolis to explore at your disposal. When it comes to combat, there are a whole variety of weapons you can utilize. Interestingly, there are two forms of shooting mechanics: standard lock-on and twin-stick shooter. Fans of twin-sticks will really dig this feature and those who feel that locking-on to enemies is easier for them can go that route too. This gives players options so they don’t feel restricted to only one style. You’ll have your standard firearms but also get weapons that pertain to classic franchises such as Ghostbusters, Bionic Commando and Zelda, just to name a few. These mechanics apply not only to firearms, but melee weapons as well. There’s also a cover mechanic in place that works pretty well. Simply pressing the Triangle button near an object will let Player snap to cover and you’ll be able to move around, peek out of cover and take aim at enemies with ease. If you’re evading enemies, you also have an “air stomp” ability so that you can get the drop on foes. Later in the game, you’ll upgrade this ability to the point where enemies go flying away from your stomps (thanks to a “Radioactive Plumber”). When “borrowing” vehicles, it’s as simple as pressing the Triangle button and handling them is an absolute cinch. All the vehicles have their own speed and handling differences but no matter which type it is, they’re incredibly simple to use. Vehicles range from your average cars, to the TMNT van (which when you “borrow” it, a Ninja Turtle comes out of the vehicle), to bikes and skateboards, and even shopping carts.

Brian Provinciano clearly has a love for the classic gaming era and it shows in this game. The city is superbly crafted, littered with gaming references and pop-culture around every city block. Whether you come across “Bimmy and Jimmy’s” (Double Dragon), Pizza Gaiden (Ninja Gaiden), and billboards that pertain to certain 80s/90s culture, Retro City Rampage is littered with a ton to see. You can go to a variety of places to change Player’s hairstyle and overall image, and there are a ton of different styles to choose from (over 200 styles). Should you come across specific guest appearances in the game, you’ll get the ability to play as them. There’s also Nolan’s Arcade, which contains three mini-games based on other particular franchises out there. You’ve got Bit.Trip Runner, Virtual Meat Boy and Epic Meal Time. Bit.Trip Runner is exactly what you’d expect if you’ve played it on the Wii, 3DS or Steam. If you’ve never played it, you’ll run along a 2D plane and have to jump and kick your way to the end of the stage while collecting the coins. It starts off simple but quickly ramps up in difficulty. Virtual Meat Boy plays like a Rad Racer, where you’ll run along a trap-infested street and have to perfectly dodge everything coming at you. As the title insinuates, you’ll view the game with a Virtual Boy filter and should you have red and blue 3D glasses, you can use those to view the game in 3D. Lastly is Epic Meal Time. Here, you’re presented with a Mortal Kombat “Test your Might” mechanic in which you must rapidly button press to fill up your meter and press the action button after passing the success line to dig in to that food and survive. These mini-games are a ton of fun to play and found myself coming back to Nolan’s Arcade quite often during my downtime.

Upon completing 62 story missions, you can still free roam the city and raise complete carnage. there are also 40+ additional Arcade mode missions to tackle on the side. All the Arcade missions provide a solid challenge and will keep you occupied for some time if you try to achieve a gold medal in each one. There’s also leaderboard support for all of these missions, as well as for the story mode. For those that like to watch replays of their footage, you can save footage of anything you’ve done in-game as well. After completing the story, you’ll unlock “Retro City Rampage Turbo” mode, which greatly accelerates the game’s speed. It’s a fun addition to toy around with but what’s strange is that once you beat the final boss in the story mode, you’ll be stuck with “Turbo” mode on and if you left any side-story missions open, you’ll have to complete them on this setting.

There’s one gripe I did have with Retro City Rampage, and that’s it’s unbalanced difficulty curve. As you advance through the game, you’ll complete missions without much of a problem but all of a sudden, a mission may come along that ramps up dramatically in difficulty. Upon completing that, you’ll get a few more missions that aren’t too bad and then, once again, get hit with a mission that is just absurdly hard. It doesn’t help that checkpoints are occasionally few and far in between. By the end of the game, RCR will test even the most hardcore of gamers, especially those that grew up completing games like Ninja Gaiden, Battletoads and Batman for the NES. However, while this is my one gripe I had with it, I still felt a sense of satisfaction only replicated by old-school challenging games. It may be tough-as-nails at times, but I was always coming back, no matter how discouraging certain missions may be.

There’s one particular feature that Brian Provinciano incorporated for the PS3 and PS Vita versions that is truly commendable, Cloud Save support. While some PS3/PS Vita games are supporting this, using this feature in RCR is as simple as could be. When I was done playing some of the game on the PS3, I would always save the game on the HDD but then to the Cloud Save as well. Then, I’d turn on my PS Vita and right from the main menu click “Cloud Save”, “Load from Cloud Save” and within 2 seconds I was literally right where I left off on the console. Then, I could do this vice versa when I wanted to continue on the PS3. Kudos to Brian for implementing this feature between the two versions.

To be blunt, the visuals are absolutely spot-on. The 8-bit style works perfectly here, full of vibrant and detailed sprites. Everything about it screams “retro”, between its color palette, sprite designs and animations. To make things even more “retro” and in-depth, there are a ton of visual filters and frames to mix and match to your liking. Want an old-school TV frame with scanlines and NES color imaging? You can do that. Want to play the game with a Game Boy frame and color filtering? You can do that too. You can even make the gaming have SEGA Genesis, Virtual Boy, Black and White, and DOS color filtering as well! Just toying around with these settings and seeing the different visual styles appearing on-screen was an absolute blast. In terms of audio, you’ve got over 2 and a half hours of 8-bit composed music from Jake “virt” Kaufman (Bloodrayne: Betrayal, Double Dragon Neon), Freddy DNA (NBA Jam) and Norrin Radd. The soundtrack really fits the game perfectly and could see myself driving around town listening to this. It’s a retro-style soundtrack and a darn good one that’s memorable.

Retro City Rampage takes elements from a very beloved gaming and pop-culture era and meshes them all together into a single package. It may have taken years and years of hard work for Mr. Provinciano, but it clearly paid off in one of the best games I’ve played this year. The amount of content and features is staggering but what makes it stand out even more is that it was all done by a single person, not a 600 person studio. Retro City Rampage is an absolute must-own title and for PS Vita owners, this is by far one of the best titles for your portable device.

Overall Score: 9.5 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thank you to VBLANK Entertainment for providing us a review copy of Retro City Rampage!

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