Reviewing Retro City Rampage in 2014 seems a bit odd since the original release date was almost two years ago. It’s definitely not a bad thing, though, because any excuse to play through this hilariously retro title is one I’m willing to take. Brian Provinciano, the sole developer of the game, has been supporting his project since release, giving fans tons of updates and freshly implemented ideas to toy with.
While Retro City Rampage: DX retains the updates that have been released thus far, it also adds an amazing amount of depth to the already enticing game with a completely reworked version that serves as the definitive iteration for fans to enjoy. It also helps that it only costs $9.99, coming in cheaper than other versions while still offering the best possible experience.
If you haven’t played through any of the other versions before, the rundown is simple: created as an 8-bit version of Grand Theft Auto, Provinciano’s game lets players wreak havoc in Theftropolis as they try to fix the time machine that brought them to the future. The set up is goofy and the story doesn’t quite hold up throughout the entire game, but it’s too campy to fault it for not being enjoyable. One mission might find you fighting go-go dancers with a Ghostbusters team parody while another finds you arming bombs in a dam, a la Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Along with the story, two other modes are offered to keep you coming back. Roaming the city with unlockable characters is a blast, and being able to access the challenges found throughout the game from the main menu is a convenient feature.
Retro City Rampage: DX is bursting with homages to classic games, movies and TV shows, and a majority of them are enough to make you laugh out loud. While some of the moments of parody come off as excessively heavy-handed (game producers asking for first-born children, openly acknowledging cliches), it’s done with enough heart that you can look past the shortcomings.
The top-down perspective is reminiscent of the original GTA series, but the action is faster-paced and much more fluid than the original. Navigating Theftropolis is easy thanks to the ability to hijack any car available and power-ups that make you run faster than traffic. Missions are easy to find and are usually bookended by hysterical cut scenes, and combat is fluid and responsive. Locking on to enemies is problematic, though, and free shooting doesn’t work as well as it should.
There are more than a few issues that keep the game from being perfect. The combat in previous versions, while not perfect, at least offered something that’s sorely missing from the 3DS version: twin-stick shooting. Guns lock-on similar to before, but the free shooting aspect is handled by pressing L and then using the control stick to aim. The limitations are obvious, but it’s still a shame that the Circle Pad Pro wasn’t utilized or at least offered as an optional tweak.
Top-down games always have a bit of a learning curve when it comes to driving, but Retro City Rampage: DX assuages this by making the police more lenient than before. Steering vehicles is always a bit of a mess if you can’t orient yourself due to the perspective, but running over four blocks’ worth of pedestrians doesn’t result in a national manhunt on par with recent GTA games. If you start a mission, enter a store, pick up a cop coin or spray paint your car, you can lose the cops immediately. It’s a fantastic balance, and the 3DS version tweaks it even more to make it an enjoyable system.
As I said before, Retro City Rampage: DX is the definitive version of the game because of the major overhaul that fixes many of the issues with the original version. Each mission has been altered slightly for the better, more checkpoints are available, the difficulty is much more balanced (although still challenging at times), arcade challenges have been reworked for more focused distractions and the city has more things for players to do. The changes range from subtle to, “Thank God they fixed that,” but just about all of them are helpful and welcome.
The second screen on the 3DS is perhaps the best part of the new experience, as a majority of the stats that took up the top of the screen have been relocated there. The mini-map is also larger and easier to navigate, making it harder to slide past objective markers. You can change the radio station and choose your favorite chiptune bits to listen to, and weapons can be chosen instead of cycled through. It’s not always easier to select weapons this way, as the bottom screen can be a major distraction, but when it works, it works well.
All in all, Retro City Rampage: DX has put in a lot of work to earn that “DX.” Rather than create a lazy port and continue to add updates one at a time, Provinciano reworked many of the game’s mechanics to create a version that is truly superior to the others. While the gameplay itself is still flawed and not quite as tight as it needs to be, the 3DS version simply adds too many new features that work to not forgive that.
At its core, Retro City Rampage: DX is a game made by a gamer for gamers. It’s a love letter to the games we played as children and the games we adore as adults, and it’s so full of heart that it’s hard not to love it. Even if you’ve played any of the other versions, check out Retro City Rampage: DX. It’s still a blast to play, it’s one of the funniest games available and it sends up classic titles in a unique way.
This review is based on a Nintendo 3DS copy of the game that was provided to us for review purposes.