Brian Provinciano’s one man Magnus Opus, his vision of Grand Theft Auto for the NES, is finally here. Granted, it has taken a few months for us in Europe to enjoy staggered releases on various different platforms, but it has been worth the wait, especially for this Vita version.
Back in 1997, the original, 2D, top down Grand Theft Auto was released and Retro City Rampage lovingly emulates this style. You play as “The Player” who is transported to the 1985 version of his city, Theftropolis, by a crazy man called Doc Choc in a time-traveling Delorean.
Yes, the game is littered with references to eighties and nineties pop culture: videogames, movies, TV – from a Saved by the Bell themed mission to procure some Bubble gum, to jumping into an A-Team styled van, from stealing a KITT-like car to battling a Dr Robotnik-esque villain, the references come thick and fast, and whilst not always funny, every instance is welcome and charming.
Once placed inside this retro playground, The Player’s task is to find all the necessary parts of the time machine for Doc Choc to get you back to the correct year. Aside from this there are many other distractions, taking the form of side missions, such as races, and challenges that see you equipped with a specific weapon and charged with chasing a high score within a time limit by using the instrument of death to destroy as much as possible.
Similar to the GTA games, you can roam the city at will, mowing and gunning down pedestrians and being harassed by the law for your trouble. You are able to jump in and out of any vehicle on the map, can enter quite a few buildings, and have the freedom to go anywhere you want right from the off. There are secrets to find in the form of phone boxes, loot bags and invisible walls, and cheat codes are painted on walls around the city, which can be punched in for a variety of effects.
Playing the story mode gives you the chance to follow the succession of main missions, or you can enter free roaming mode and wreck havoc on the city using any power-ups and secret characters you unlock in the story mode. Needless to say, it may be beneficial to do the former before the latter.
The presentation of the game is one of its strengths. The game is unashamedly retro, taking on a NES-era, 8bit style. Graphics are suitably blocky but composed of a wide range of colours, making the game a treat to look at. The action on screen can be viewed in full or you display it within a selection of ‘TV Simulation Modes’, such as an arcade cabinet, a UHF TV or a pixel TV. Further to this you can play around with colour palettes to your heart’s content; if you fancy playing it in green screen or as if you were playing on a Gameboy, you can.
The soundtrack bolsters the retro feel, being completely made up of a wide variety of catchy chip tunes. As in Grand Theft Auto, you can select from different stations and tune when in vehicles, and can also do so via the menu. The sound effects, from honking of horns, to shrieks of fear from passers by, are clearly identifiable whilst the 8-bit nature of these effects adds to the charm.
There is a wealth of things to do in Retro City Rampage and customisation is included, allowing you to change your characters clothes, hair and face. Many of these changes are also themed around pop-culture references, such as changing your hair to a style named ‘The Hoff’. The only drawback to this is that the nature of the graphics makes the changes negligible. It is possible to see clearly if for example, your character is wearing a Viking helmet, but other changes are less noticeable, and are seemingly there only to throw another reference into the mix.
Elsewhere, the player can visit arcades and play mini-games such a virtual boy rendition of Meat Boy and versions of Epic Meal time and Bit Trip Runner. It really is astounding the amount that has been crammed into this game.
Obviously a game of this nature has some drawbacks. The best way to play the game is in short bursts, as it can get a little repetitive if played in long stretches. It may also not be for everyone; the referential nature of the game may bypass some players and the gameplay on its own may not be strong enough to sustain interest, and the raft of constant nods to the likes of Batman, Contra, and Eighties action movie clichés help to cover some of these problems.
There are also moments when it gets hard. The difficulty spikes can stop the flow of the game. Luckily, you always have the choice to back out of these levels and go and do something else, or buy some better weapons or power-ups to assist in another crack at it.
But overall this is triumph of design, well crafted and clearly oozing the creator’s love of videogames. The very fact that one man has poured his love and passion of a variety of generational touchstones into one project is worthy enough of your attention. So, Gaming Nostalgia? Yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds
MLG Rating: 9/10 Platform: PlayStation 3 / Vita / Xbox 360 Release Date: 16/01/2013
Disclosure: Craig Hallam purchased a copy of Retro City Rampage for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of three days on a PlayStation 3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.