When I originally reviewed Retro City Rampage back in 2012, I praised its breathless callbacks to ’80s and ’90s pop culture and classic, top-down GTA-inspired gameplay while lamenting its confusing mission objectives and frequent difficulty spikes. It was a game I desperately wanted to love, and indeed, I’d fallen hard for it after my first hands on at E3 2011. But by the time I’d finished the final game and watched the credits roll, the only emotion I could muster was frustration.
I hadn’t originally intended to revisit RCR when it landed on the 3DS, but thanks to an unexpected invitation to an eShop developer event in late January, I had a chance to sit down with Brian Provinciano, the game’s developer, and discuss my problems with the original release. Much to my surprise, Provinciano told me the issues I’d brought up had all been addressed for the 3DS version, which was being re-branded as Retro City Rampage DX. Now that I’ve played through it, I’m happy to say that RCR DX is a huge improvement over the original, and a pretty easy recommendation whether you’ve played it before or not.
For those who haven’t, Retro City Rampage is the game you and your born-in-the-’80s friends fantasized about on the playground while passing around your older brother’s porn and eating Otter Pops: a shapeless mélange of Mario, Sonic, Contra, Ninja Turtles and Mega Man, mixed with an equally gaseous helping of Back to the Future, Batman, Ghost Busters and Saved By the Bell… all tied together within the free-roaming, choose-your-own-adventure structure of the Grand Theft Auto games. Sounds good, right? And it—
The thing about Retro City Rampage is, it isn’t just spiced liberally with references to the ’80s and ’90s — it is those references. And while having grown up on a steady diet of this stuff means I basically love all of it by default, there were times when I wished the game would slow down with the spoofing and offer up some ideas of its own. Still, the classic callbacks come in so fast and furious that it’s easy to get lost in the game as you race from mission to mission, chasing one hilarious sendup to your childhood after another.
—is, as long as you grew up on this stuff. If you didn’t, you’re missing half the fun.
Thankfully, there’s so much wacky stuff to do here that familiarity with the subject matter isn’t strictly necessary. From feeding corpses to a haunted hearse and rampaging across the city on the back of a giant gorilla, to participating in a televised deathmatch à la Smash TV, most players will find something to love in Retro City Rampage DX’s 60+ story missions. There are plenty of optional activities to engage in as well, from earning medals in arcade challenges to unlocking hidden weapons and even playing a prototype version of Grand Theftendo (the NES homebrew game that would become Retro City Rampage). And there’s good news for those of us who were put off by the original game’s uneven difficulty: every single mission in RCR DX has been redesigned for ease of play, meaning you’re far less likely to give up and quit out of frustration. In most cases, the challenges themselves haven’t gone through any drastic changes, but small concessions like hint cards, additional checkpoints, and the option to skip some missions altogether add up to a game that is much more friendly to modern players, and a hell of a lot more enjoyable as a result. I still had trouble in some missions— particularly those that pitted me against hordes of enemies with rocket launchers—but for the most part, I found myself spending less time in frustration and more time simply having fun, wandering around the city and taking in all the marvelous details that went into the creation of the game.
Speaking of little details, those of you who played the game on other platforms will notice one immediate change—the field of view is a lot smaller than before. That’s the result of pixel-doubling, which gives the impression that the camera has moved closer to the action. And while you’d think this would make the game feel cramped, Provinciano has cleverly implemented a dynamic camera system that zooms out and pans ahead when players are moving quickly, meaning you’re almost never at risk for driving blindly off a cliff or crashing into a building. Moreover, the increased pixel size makes it easier to appreciate the game’s art, which simply oozes with charm, and creates a greater sense of agency between player and character (whose name, by the way, is Player.) Besides, it feels more like an NES game this way, which was kind of the whole point all along.
When I reviewed Retro City Rampage in 2012, I said it was “a great example both of the freedom that comes with independent development, and the perils of having nobody around to tell you no.” Provinciano was so slavishly dedicated to an idea that he sometimes forgot the most important thing: player satisfaction. In contrast, 2014′s Retro City Rampage DX is a marvelous example both of digital distribution and of the two-way dialogue between gamers and game makers: if something isn’t working as originally designed, there’s nothing stopping it from being fixed in a future update. While I’m still not amused by some of the game’s humor, I have an even greater deal of respect for the work that went into its creation than ever before. Retro City Rampage has always been an amazing idea—a love letter to everything that was great about the ’80s and ’90s—and now, in its DX incarnation, it’s finally become worthy of a little love of its own.
Invisible Gamer’s review of Retro City Rampage DX was based on an eShop download provided to us by the developer shortly before the game’s release.