Review: Retro City Rampage is an awesome NES game

Back at E3, Retro City Rampage was my personal game of the show. I was so captivated by the endearing NES influence and the charming 8-bit mayhem that developer VBlank Entertainment offered that all I wanted was for the game to finally launch so I could play it in its entirety. Now that creator Brian Provinciano has finally released the game, it’s evident that Retro City Rampage is not just a love letter to NES games from the ‘80s – it is a NES game, and a damn great one, too.

You take on the role of a street thug who goes by the name of Player. Your main objective is to aid a senile mad scientist as he scavenges for different components to repair his time-traveling car. Though there’s plenty of dialogue in Retro City Rampage, it often feels like most of it is meant to amuse you rather than progress the actual story, which is fairly minimal. That’s fine, though, because the appeal in Retro City Rampage rests on its satisfying gameplay, witty dialogue, and clever ‘80s references.

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They specialize in nose jobs!

Speaking of references, they’re everywhere in the game. Within the first few minutes, you take on a group of sewer-dwelling heroes in a half-shell, which is certain to bring joy to any old school Ninja Turtles fans. There’s a location called Bundy’s Wedding Chapel; the line “I was feel slept” is uttered early on; you can even stomp on enemies. The plugs to old school video games and pop culture are quite abundant, and discovering them makes for some great surprises.

Retro City Rampage isn’t just hilarious and nostalgic, though. The actual gameplay is incredibly solid, too, and it provides plenty of variety so you can enjoy the game as you see fit. Missions task you with collecting time machine parts for the ol’ scientist, all the while infiltrating enemy bases, brawling with schoolyard preppies, and challenging powerful bosses. These objectives range in difficulty, and they’re highly rewarding affairs. The game sees a difficulty spike in certain parts – specifically toward the end – but if you’re a NES fan, you’re no stranger to difficulty spikes. That said, it’s easy to see how these sequences may frustrate some folks. There are also a few missions that aren’t very rewarding. One objective, for example, tasks you with following a car stealthily, all the while pointing out that such missions are a drag.  It’s funny that Retro City Rampage points out that fact, but it doesn’t make the mission any more enjoyable.

When you’re not clearing missions, you’re welcome to complete several side quests throughout the wonderful city of Theftropolis. These play out a lot like the Rampages from Grand Theft Auto. You’re given a weapon, and it’s up to you to dispose of a set number of people (or cars) before the timer runs out. These are generally entertaining, and while you can complete these after a few tries, shooting for the gold medal is often quite challenging and will keep you trying for several minutes at a time. Unfortunately, doing so may once again frustrate a few folks, but luckily, these are optional objectives that will likely appeal most to completionists.

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Wait till you meet the guy named (null).

Simply traveling through the mean streets of Theftropolis can be a satisfying experience in and of itself thanks to just how accessible Retro City Rampage is. Jacking someone’s car and driving on the sidewalk is awesome, and it’s ridiculously entertaining running down mobs of people at any given time. The cops are always waiting to bust you, and that’s when you can take it upon yourself to run them over, too. Or you could just get out of your car and engage in tense pixelated shootouts. The choice is yours, and it’s evident right from the get-go that Retro City Rampage is a true open world experience.

Visually, Brian Provinciano has managed to create something that’s absolutely gorgeous. No, the game may not win any awards for technical excellence, but it manages to bleed pure, unadulterated 8-bit style. Character sprites, environments, vehicles, and landmarks all sport a wonderfully pixelated design. The most important factor to take into account, however, is the game’s accuracy. Retro City Rampage is an accurate portrayal of how games used to look. Several visual options are available to alter the experience as you see fit. Want to add some Blast Processor brightness to your adventure? Maybe you’re a fan of old Commodore 64 games. Or perhaps you’d like to see the world in a bloody Virtual Boy red. You can adjust the graphical settings to your heart’s content.

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Behold the graphical power of the Blurst Processor!

The visual presentation isn’t the only aspect of Retro City Rampage that harks back to the ‘80s. Composers Freaky DNA, virt, and Norrin Radd have contributed a couple of hours worth of impressive chiptunes themes that serve to enhance the game further. Hearing different tunes as you drive around, get in gunfights, and pursue objectives never gets old thanks to the robust soundtrack which, like pretty much every other aspect of the game, would fit in nicely in the ‘80s.

Others will call Retro City Rampage a love letter to the NES era. While that’s certainly a fitting statement, I think it would be more appropriate to say that Retro City Rampage is a NES game. If you were to create a time-traveling machine like the good old scientist and take this game back to the ‘80s, it would blow NES gamers’ minds. It’s not without a few flaws, particularly abrupt difficulty spikes and a few questionable missions, but ultimately the game manages to accomplish what it sets out to do: It delivers an old school action game experience that’s hilarious, memorable, and entertaining. If you’re a retro gaming fan, or if you simply want to enjoy one hell of an open world crime game, don’t hesitate to experience the captivating and cathartic joyride that Retro City Rampage has to offer.

[Reviewed on PC]

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