Retro City Rampage is a love-letter to the golden age of gaming. It’s a top-down shooter reminiscent of the original Grand Theft Auto games, rife with the stylistic influences of games, movies, and other popular media that dominated most of our early childhood.
Taking on the role of an enterprising henchman, aptly named Player, you’ll progress through a story-based mission structure centered around primary objectives. Stealing vehicles, evading the authorities, and wreaking havoc are par for the course. Along the way, you’ll encounter characters and scenarios from popular culture with all the visual and auditory aesthetics of a legitimate 8-bit adventure.
The opening bank heist is lifted straight from the 2008 blockbuster film The Dark Knight, which quickly transitions into a Frogger sequence, followed by a car chase, then a segment where you’re running from the cops, the A-Team, the Ninja Turtles, and the duo from Contra. This all within the first fifteen minutes of the game.
The city of Theftopolis is teeming with nostalgia-inducing details, and it may become overwhelming at times to recognize multiple references while keeping pace with the frenzy on screen. Still, the jokes are so cleverly constructed that even the most subtle billboard will bring a smile to your face. What I admired most about Retro City Rampage was it’s faithful recreation of classic console gaming. Character sprites blink and flicker out of existence upon death, and every chirp and beep is accurate to it’s source. There’s even a video filter option that emulates the color palettes of past consoles, including the Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy, Commodore 64, Sega Master System, Apple II, and tons more. References aside, every aspect of its presentation is a veritable relic of the ’80s, like some heartfelt highlight reel of the NES library.
Retro City Rampage is both a nod to the past, and an inclusion of the present, creating consanguinity between the two periods. The inclusion of modern 3D mechanics in a game that is entirely 2D is surprisingly natural, and bridges the old with the new. Taking cover behind walls and waist-high barriers, and locking on to enemy targets all within an expansive open-world environment felt quite novel, despite being conventions to which we’ve grown accustomed over the past decade.
Driving mechanics are divided between using the right analog stick for steering and acceleration (dubbed “Automatic”), and the more traditional setup using the left stick for orientation and the face buttons (“Manual”). I found it extremely easy to maneuver around the city using either configuration, though Automatic made transitioning between vehicular and on-foot travel seamless. The standard controls are in line with the twin-stick shooter genre, but other buttons can be used for attacking, switching weapons and jumping as well.
Despite being a patchwork of popular culture from the past 30 years, from story content to contemporary controls, Retro City Rampage is a virtual voyage with smooth sailing from start to finish. Nothing overstays its welcome, and often a joke will have just left the screen by the time it registers and you chuckle to yourself.
Retro City Rampage is available on the PlayStation Store and Steam for $14.99.