Retro City Rampage

Warning: there will be some spoilers.  The gist of this review is that Retro City Rampage is fun in spurts but the Grand Theft Auto stuff is the only parts that are good.  Every classic gaming section is boring or worse, and most of the jokes are not funny.  I don’t recommend it.

Retro City Rampage is a good game destroyed by a lack of restraint.  It’s popular among older players because it hits all the right buttons that get their juices flowing.  In other words, it references a lot of 80s gaming and pop culture, and that’s all you need to do to get most retro gamers happy.  Sean Penn is statistically proven to be the most boring man in the world, but if he ever just blurted out “our princess is in another castle” you would have the entire gaming population over the age of 30 lining up to give him head.  That’s the basis for all the humor in Retro City Rampage.  If it’s 80s and pop culture, it’s here.  Do you remember Metal Gear?  Back to the Future?  Battletoads?  Bill & Ted?  The dog from Duck Hunt?  Married with Children?  Saved by the Bell?  Pitfall?  Mega Man?  Smash TV?  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?  The guy who made this certainly did.

So what’s the punchline?  “Hey, it’s that thing I remember from my childhood!”  Well that’s not funny.  There has to be some kind of gag to go with it.  When Retro City Rampage has an actual joke, with a beginning, middle, and end, it’s typically funny.  Otherwise, it’s just painful.  I never got how humor like this is supposed to work.  You know how every Adam Sandler movie has a Col. Sanders look-alike in it?  What exactly is funny about that?  Someone please explain it to me.  I’m hoping some context will make it funny in time for his next shitty flick.

This section looks like Contra. I think we’ll all agree that Contra is a pretty good game. The problem here is the game only looks like Contra. It doesn’t play like it, or more importantly, feel like it. It plays and feels like a bad ripoff of Contra that was lifted straight out of the 80s. I’m guessing that isn’t what the developer was aiming for.

When Retro City Rampage is good, it’s really good.  That might sound like high praise, but the flip side of it is when Retro City Rampage is bad, it’s really, really bad.  The sad thing is, the game does the old-school Grand Theft Auto better than the last two official 2D GTAs did.  It controls reasonably well, there’s a fun variety of weapons, and the game keeps track of all the damage you’ve rang up.  If the game had stuck to this stuff, it would have been sublime.  But it doesn’t.  Because it’s so married to the whole classic-gaming thing, it keeps doing “homages” to that era.   And the material chosen here is head scratching.  The dam stages from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES.  I’ve never played it, but I know of its reputation and it’s not a good one.  The same goes for the hoverbike sequence from Battletoads.  I don’t know if it improves the mechanics (since I didn’t choose suicide over finishing the stage, I’m guessing it must have), but why include them in the first place?

The shitty thing is the guy who made this obviously knew sections of the game were not fun, because the game outright tells you such.  When you have a mission where you have to tail a car without being spotted and also refilling on coffee every ten feet, the game outright tells you that it’s “one of those boring missions.”  Which would be funny if it somehow took the piss out of the genre, but it doesn’t.  When it turns out the mission really is boring, it crosses a line from being cute to being to being obnoxious.  When you do the Ninja Turtles dam sequence, it moans “oh no, not another water stage!”  And then it proceeds to be slow, boring, and not fun at all.  I acknowledge that I’m probably not Retro City Rampage’s target audience, but with all the great stuff in gaming history, why pay tribute to the crappy stuff?  Even worse, why keep it crappy?  If you know what’s wrong with something, why not fix it?  If I have a leaky sink, I don’t build a fucking shrine to it.  I fix the damn thing.  Retro City Rampage decided to go with the shrine, and as a result this tribute to bad games itself becomes a bad game.

The Paperboy section, which feels like a bad clone of the real thing.

Whenever it deviates from the Grand Theft Auto stuff, the game sucks.  Sadly, the game keeps forcing you to do these “classic gaming” sections like you’re being dragged by a choke chain.  With no exceptions, I found those fell into two categories: boring, or long and boring.  A section based on Paperboy?  Boring.  And bad, because the engine isn’t suited for Paperboy.  A section based on Contra?  Boring.  An extended section based on ‘Splosion Man?  Long and boring.  And again, the engine isn’t suited for it.  Nor is it suited for a boring Smash TV section, or especially a long and boring Smash TV section.  Yep, there’s two.  Or a portion of the game based on Tapper.  There’s an extended boss fight with Dr. Robotnik (or Buttnik as the game calls him) that is long, boring, and has no check points.  For a game that I was so overjoyed when I started it, and even after several hours, I couldn’t believe how horrible it had become by about eight hours in.  I had just beaten the Robotnik boss, and suddenly the game decided to pay tribute to some 3D motorcycle racing thing.  The good news is they actually used a different engine for this part.  The bad news is this is where I finally said “you know what?  All the fun I’ve had in this game has long since been drowned out by shit like this.”  Exact quote.  I made Brian write it down.  This was somewhere near the end of the game.  After three stages with a motorcycle, you end up in a time-traveling DeLorean, fighting a boss.  I spent an hour with this thing, fighting spotty collision detection, unfair enemy placement, and tedium on a level I didn’t think was possible in something I had previous had a lot of fun with.  Finally, after getting close to the end of its lifebar, something happened and I went from having all three of my hit-points left to having none.  I’m not sure what happened.  I think I should have taken one point of damage from getting hit, but my health was instantly all gone and it was time to restart for the 35th time.  Fuck.  That.

If Retro City Rampage had stuck to gameplay like this, I wouldn’t be calling it Retro Shitty Rampage to Brian right now.

For those of you who will love this game no matter how flawed it is, go ahead and tell yourselves that I only disliked it because I grew up with a PlayStation instead of an NES.  Yea, I probably didn’t get all the references (or “jokes” as they are being passed off as), but if that’s all you really want in a game, you need to get your head examined.  Why punish yourself with a game that sometimes brags about being boring (and it’s not a joke, it really is boring in those sections) just so you can see a reference to Mr. Belding or the raccoon suit from Super Mario 3?  Retro City Rampage can be fun, but it’s so bad in so many sections that you’ll never really reach that apex of satisfaction.  I was practically floating two hours into it, before the game lost me forever by rubbing in the fact that a section designed to be boring had been placed in the game.  That really soured the mood, and it never recovered.   There were still fleeting moments of greatness, but the threat that the game might decide to intentionally be bad again tainted it all.  It also brought to light some stuff I might have missed if I had remained in a blissful state.  Stuff like close-quarters combat being shitty, club-based weapons being useless, and having too much recoil from getting hit.  And then the game would have more sections of intentional badness.  Sigh.  Who could possibly think being bad is a good thing?  Nobody likes things that suck on purpose, unless it involves a mouth and genitals.

Retro City Rampage was developed by Vblank Entertainment

$14.99 killed more dogs than hip dysplasia in the making of this review.

Cathy was assisted in gameplay while playing Retro City Rampage to help her avoid having a seizure due to epilepsy.  The bulk of the game was played by her.  All opinions in this review are her’s alone. 

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13 Responses to Retro City Rampage

  1. Rik Swift says:

    As a UK retro fan I was hoping for a fantastic GTA rip-off ( GTA being an amazing Scottish game ) but as Nintendo was worthless over here then maybe I’ll miss out on most of the in-jokes. Having said that, if they’re not funny anyway then I’m not losing out. Thanks for the heads-up Cathy, but I’ll demo the damn thing all the same. No Alex Kid? Tut.

  2. I think this might scrape by people who played all the games it references, in the same way that certain people lapped up the XBLIG release of Manic Miner. It controlled like arse and was less fun than taking hair tongs to your balls, but people who liked the original also liked this faithful reproduction, because it was exactly how they remembered it. I can imagine Retro City Rampage being the same.

    As a member of its target market, I have to at least try Retro City Rampage. Sigh. I hope this is one of the times when I disagree with you.

  3. Adam Sandler was pretty funny in Zookeeper, You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, and I think Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and The Wedding Singer. But those movies are so old now, that I forget…

    I guess if I can hardly remember movies from 15 years ago, then all of the 80s jokes from Retro City Rampage would be lost on me too.

  4. Argamae says:

    I am definitely of the target audience. But although I appreciate a certain old-schooliness in many aspects of gaming I am totally on par with Catherine that shitty gameplay is not among them. Also, I found that nostalgia clouds the opinion on a lot of games back in the day. It would be way better if re-creationists focus on improving on the original instead of cloning it. Something about genre emulation vs. simulation, I guess. There is however a strong sentiment towards just “re-living” the exact same moments and emotions you had back then playing a certain game. I guess people strive to achieve this by playing games that remind them of their childhood. A futile attempt in my opinion as you can never truly recapture the naivety and wonder of your unconditioned mind. That’s a novelty sadly worn off. We should treasure those memories from those days and move on to discover new frontiers and avenues of wonder instead of constantly posting a border watch at the ones we’ve already mapped.

  5. CJ says:

    For someone who’s not a native English speaker, you’re typed English is pretty good! :D Don’t worry about being good at English, you’re already doing better than half of the people who DO speak it! Not only that, millions of our country’s people don’t even know it anyway! XD

  6. This game lost me when you had to do the Ninja Turtles water level for the second time. The first time, I figured I’d just let it slide because at least it’d be over and done with. But there are so many sections in this game where you just die, and there’s nothing you can do about it. The endless Super Smash TV section, what the fuck was up with that? At first, this game rocks. I loved this game when I started playing it. But now, when I’m done, I fucking hate it.

  7. Jay says:

    I think it’s a great game. The controls are as awkward as the games it references, however it gives the player a challenge just like the old NES games. So basically, you gave it a bad review because you suck at it. Bravo.

  8. Pingback: Guacamelee! | Indie Gamer Chick

  9. Olaf says:

    Well done Jay, point missed entirely. The shitty controls are not a good thing, even if, against all common sense, they were just a nod to shitty 80s controls. It isn’t challenging like the old NES games, it’s cheap and unfair like the BAD ones. I defy anyone to be insta-killed for the 9th time by a rocket to the face which they had 0.03 of a second to dodge to think “my, what a challenge, just like the good old days!” Unavoidable one hit kills aren’t challenging, they’re bad design. So basically, you left a stupid comment because you suck at it. Bravo.

  10. crispben says:

    Although this does not excuse some of the glaring faults with this game I believe it does help to understand the history behind the game.

    Retro City Rampage was originally developed as a homebrew hobby by Brian Provinciano on his site BriPro.com. He developed it under the working title of “Grandtheftendo,” and its original purpose was to make a functioning game that could run on the actual NES hardware (meaning he could bake the ROM into a chip and place it in a cart and run on native NES console) or play on an emulator. To do this he created a custom made assembler to work with the very limited NES hardware. The work done is nothing short of amazing, especially for a single person on his off time.

    He eventually altered the engine to work with modern devices which allowed more artwork and flicker less sprites. In an update to the game, there is an arcade in the city that allows the player to play mini games, one of the games is the original unaltered 8bit game (ROM City Rampage) that would have worked in the exact same way as it would on an NES console. His original goal was to recreate something like GTA on NES hardware and I think he completely succeeded.

    That being said, there are many things that are still less desirable in the game. A game can be hard and enjoyable, but there are times when it isn’t just hard it’s nearly impossible not to die. Being hard because of bad design doesn’t make it good. Rehashing hated aspects of games (TMNT water stage) isn’t fun without a catch to it otherwise it’s the same frustration. (Earthworm JIm water stage is very hard, but at least it has tight controls and is rewarding, TMNT water scene is mostly down to luck because of bad controls).

    However, by far my biggest complaint is the fact that the developer will not update the xbox RCR to include the extra features he has included on other platforms (PC, PSN, wiiware, 3DS). The developer has such a bad experience with Microsoft (which he genuinely did) that he is unwilling to update his game and I think it’s undeserving to the many fans that followed his work for years and supported him early on, however apparently on the wrong platform. He obviously shows his strong bias which is fine, but undeserving to those that supported him with the Xbox.

    I enjoy the game on the vita, but I definitely recognize the many issues with it.

    • Would it surprise you to learn that, after publishing this review, I became really good friends with Brian Provinciano? He taught me a few things about publishing to multiple platforms, and all the trials and tribulations associated with that. I didn’t love his game, but I think he’s a great person.

      I’m never a fan of “passing personal bitterness onto your fans”, regarding the Xbox stuff.

      • crispben says:

        It wouldn’t surprise me at all. Brian seems like a very good guy and true testament of what can be accomplished with hard work. It is unfortunate that he got jerked around so much by MS. I just wish he could get past the bitterness and support those that supported him, he doesn’t have to release another game for MS but he can at least be fair with those that purchased it earlier (now that the ridiculous update/patch fee is no more).

        Anyway, as usual I loved the review. Keep it up!

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