Retro City Rampage DX Review (Switch) – “Old-School Perfection”

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”. Back in 2012, Brian Provinciano released a dream title of his, Retro City Rampage. Single-handledly developed by him over the course of five years, it released to consistent high praise. In early 2014, he released an updated version called Retro City Rampage DX, which tweaked a variety of elements to fine-tune the game even further. Vblank Entertainment has tried to bring this game to virtually every platform possible (it even got an MS-DOS version!). With the studio’s latest game, Shakedown Hawaii, preparing for release, they’ve decided to also bring their predecessor to the Nintendo Switch. How does the title fare on Nintendo’s new platform?

Retro City Rampage DX 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, then 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 X 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”). Handling vehicles is very accessible and easy to grasp. 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 has a Ninja Turtle driving it), to bikes and skateboards, and even shopping carts.

Brian Provinciano clearly has a love for the classic gaming era and it shows. The city is superbly crafted, littered with gaming and pop-culture references 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 DX 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 before. If you’ve never experienced it before, it’s a title where 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.

When I last review RCR back in 2012, I had mentioned that my main gripe was the unbalanced difficulty curve. With the DX version, the difficulty has been rebalanced to be much less frustrating. That’s not to say the challenge has been removed, but certain missions were absurdly difficult in the original release. The tweaks made here are very noticeable and make progressing through the story much more enjoyable. Also the HUD and camera have been tweaked. In the original, there was a status bar on the top of the screen. Now the layout is much cleaner, removing the bar entirely for more in-game screen space. However, the original status bar can be turned back on in the Options menu. Additionally, the camera has been adjusted to be zoomed-in a bit, bringing you closer to the action. This truly made the gameplay feel even better than it already was. Like the HUD though, you can adjust the camera zoom from between 1x to 3x.

The visuals in RCR DX are absolutely spot-on. The 8-bit style works perfectly here, full of vibrant and detailed sprites, while running at 60 fps. 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 game have SEGA Genesis, Virtual Boy, Black and White, and MS-DOS color filtering! Just toying around with these settings and seeing the different visual styles appearing on-screen is 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, Shantae), Freddy DNA (NBA Jam) and Norrin Radd. The soundtrack really fits the game perfectly and I could see myself driving around town listening to this. It’s a retro-style soundtrack that’s very memorable.

Retro City Rampage DX takes everything that made the original awesome, and further refines it to perfection. RCR DX oozes of beloved gaming and pop-culture references that is impossible not to smile or chuckle at. The amount of content and features are 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 DX is an absolute must-own title and Switch owners should not dismiss this title by any means.

Overall Score: 10 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Retro City Rampage DX! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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