Retro City Rampage, from VBlank Entertainment, is a sort of national treasure in the video game world. To follow the story – fan made homage, indie joint release, worldwide phenomenon – is to grasp and appreciate the complexity and new blood style of the game marketplace that we experience in today’s age. There was a time when a game came out on a single system, you could only buy it in stores, you had to pay the MSRP and, if the game was sold out, you couldn’t see others play on YouTube, Twitch or whatever. You simply prayed a friend had scored the game, you could feign wanting to hang out and then wait patiently for your turn to play and hog the controller until he yelled for his mom and you had to go home. By comparison, this is my fourth time playing Retro City Rampage (second for the DX version) and it is, without a doubt, still ridiculously fun.
A quick summation: Retro City Rampage is the homage to end all homages. Originally called Grand Theft Nintendo (before obvious reasons forced a name change), RCRDX is the story of one Player trying to make his way in a city fraught with peril, crime and “might makes right”| mentality. I mean, to be fair, almost all the crime is perpetrated by you, at the behest of other criminals, and the peril comes from being a bystander when you’re out on the road. As you run tasks and errands for various members of the city (both above and below board), Player looks inside himself to find out what’s really important in life, where he wants his future to go, and if he can jump a whole schoolbus over a river if he hits that sweet ramp. You only answer one of these questions, and I won’t insult you by letting you guess which one.
If you’ve ever played the original Grand Theft Auto games (before they went all 3D and such), you have a pretty good idea of where you’re at with Retro City Rampage DX. It’s a top down action/adventure with a surprisingly large map to explore and utilize for mayhem and missions. The main adventure mode essentially has three paths that you can follow simultaneously. There’s your main story missions, your side story missions and then your “run around and to hell with missions” approach. Your investment and enjoyment in the 3rd one can more easily be enjoyed by the “open world” mode that won’t affect your life counter, but it’s still possible in the adventure mode. Each mission you accomplish will move you further along the storyline, which really boils down to being the best damn criminal you can be. You can drive a number of vehicles, run around on foot and either follow roads or tear about like a maniac. Anything smaller than a building can probably be destroyed. People will definitely become speedbumps, and the police will absolutely chase you down if they see you committing a crime, be it murder or reckless driving. There are things to buy, such as health and weapons, but you can mostly find what you want/need from doing missions and randomly taking out warm bodies on the street.
The controls for Retro City Rampage DX are excellently laid out for the Switch, with the option to change things up in the menu bar if you don’t feel things are intuitive out the gate. Driving doesn’t inherently request you to push on the gas, but a braking option does make for safer and tighter turning. You can only cycle one way through weapons and need to either open up the menu or toggle quickly if you accidentally pass which item in your arsenal you had your heart set on. As the original Retro City Rampage was designed with the NES in mind, you don’t have a ton of variety for what you can do, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I love that jumping also includes the ability to then stomp on people like Goombas, because, let’s face it, this game alludes to everything from the 8bit era. If you start shooting, you don’t need to worry about targeting, as you will stay locked on as long as you’re in range of your objective. This can sometimes be a bit of a hassle when you have multiple enemies coming at once, and you need to move about without getting shot, but you learn to adjust pretty fast. All in all, the intuition in how to play really irons out any small hiccups with the accuracy of minor details.
You absolutely must play the missions in order to fully enjoy the game, however. Certain other open world games have made a name for themselves by allowing players to invest countless hours into doing almost nothing except building your house and, I don’t know, hunting down deer, but Retro City Rampage DX isn’t quite that kind of game. Following the missions allows you to see all different scenarios you might not otherwise encounter that make the game so worth while. One of the very earliest missions suddenly turns things into a Paper Boy mini game, a semi non sequitur that legit had me giggling. The dialogue and one liners that pepper every interaction is the driving fuel that makes this game so worth while to replay and enjoy. I count eight distinct shout outs and parodies just in the opening mission. If you immediately go off the rails and set out on your own, you might feel a little empty and, aside from occasionally unlocking more challenges for arcade mode, you won’t really get the full RCRDX experience.
Speaking of arcade mode, it’s important to recognize all the extra details in RCRDX that make this game so impressive. Yes, there are a ton of achievements that you can unlock and, best of all, there’s actually a proper achievement system set up right within the game. The arcade mode has a ton of challenges to unlock (24, I believe) and each one plays upon a specific mechanic or element from the main game. I don’t know why on earth Nintendo still hasn’t put a universal achievement system on the Switch, but there’s a major market for gamers who want to feel accomplished when they play their games: Steam, Sony and Microsoft have all recognized this, clear as day. So while we’re dragging our feet, waiting for the Switch to get new online content, any kind of customization for the layout and, I don’t know, virtual console titles (no offense, SNK), at least VBlank can see the hole in our souls and fill it completely with their own achievement system. Thank you.
Lastly, you don’t have to conform to how Retro City Rampage DX looks out the gate. There are so, so many choices for how the game can appear, both visually and aurally. Firstly, cheers to the game for incorporating a shifting musical background a la Grand Theft Auto, and the ability to choose your favorite station from the menu if you just want a singular track to jam out on (shoutout to Pulsewave radio!). But, more than the music, are the choices for how the game appears. There is an insane number of colors and TV simulations that can be implemented in order to give your game a sufficiently retro experience to best match the childhood YOU remember best. I was a little bummed that I never saw ROM City Rampage as a standalone on consoles, but, using the proper color overlays, you end up with the next best thing on your Switch.
To this day, I’m still utterly blown away by what Retro City Rampage was, is and has become. When you check out how tiny the game is, data wise (23 MB!), it’s honestly overwhelming to see how much you can do and how many choices you have. If nothing else, you have to take off your hat and applaud this monument to proper and clean coding. On top of that, a fun and unique game with a boatload of humor and references, plenty to see and unlock and a replay appeal that outreaches a lot of modern and classic games alike. The only negative thing I can say is that, if you own the DX version on 3DS, there’s no incentive to get it on the Switch, except for playing it up on the big screen. If you’ve never played before, this is the time and this is the game to grab. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for VBlank, and it’s always a pleasure to run over pedestrians in 8bit, just like I dreamt of as a child.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Gameplay - /10
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