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Retro City Rampage DX PC Review

There’s a lot to love about Retro City Rampage, particularly if you’re a goofball nerd that was born sometime in the late 1980’s (like I am). The gameplay is distinct but reminiscent of a thousand childhood favorites, the bright 8-bit sights and sounds are a delight, and the obscene overflow of pop culture references and jokes had me laughing out loud at a shockingly regular rate. It’s already being described as Grand Theft Auto filtered through a Nintendo Entertainment System and I’ll be darned if it doesn’t deliver on that promise and bring the old school thrills I’m always hunting for.

Your character, ‘Player,’ is doing some low level henchman work for a cartoonish supervillain in the futuristic hell pit that is Theftopolis (and you thought San Andreas was a rough place to live). Player is also trying to escape back to his own time with the help of a not so subtle Doc Brown parody. There a various missions, most of which are of the ‘go get this and kill anyone that gets in the way’. There’s still a decent bit of variety in the gameplay, including missions which are jokey homages to classic 8-bit games (Super Mario Bros, Paperboy, etc) and lots of weapons and vehicles to play around with (dozens and dozens of each, to be a little more exact).

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The immediate pleasure of Retro City Rampage is its bevy of sometimes stupid and sometimes highly crude pop culture references. Some jokes and references may be lost on those players who didn’t live through the original Bush and Clinton administrations but for gamers of a certain age there’s no cultural cow that’s left un-butchered. Back to the Future, Bill & Ted, Ghostbusters, Saved by the Bell, Legend of Zelda, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and several different Batman franchises (just to name a few) are mocked and skewered in their own ways, most of which actually have something to do with the main plot of the game. It’s hard to take in everything being lampooned here, and lampooned everything is. There’s almost an ‘everything but the kitchen’ sink feel to the humor here, loose and gonzo and expulsive, but more often than not the experience is laugh- rather than groan-inducing.

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But I’m not trying to knock the gameplay itself, which is both quite engaging and at times fairly challenging, not unlike the lo-fi ancestors from which it takes inspiration. Shoot outs with the cops and general sprees of vehicle theft and other illegal activities are just as enjoyable in Retro City Rampage as they are in its modern lawless cousins. All the toys of destruction you have access to are oodles of fun, and the retro music and sound effects provide the perfect soundtrack to this oddball appropriation of childhood images and gaming tropes. There are some levels which are more difficult than others, some quite difficult in fact. To me this only adds another layer of old-school credit to Retro City Rampage because, let’s be honest, some of those beloved gaming classics of yesteryear were and still are hard as hell. Thankfully in this homage certain difficult missions can be momentarily circumvented and put off until you’re head’s a little clearer.

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As in similar crime spree games, the more chaos you cause the more your notoriety grows, bringing more police and eventually military units to the scenes of your crimes. But that just adds to the fun, and the pandemonium of an absurdly violent crime spree that has never been more fun than in Retro City Rampage. The success of the Grand Theft Auto series and similar games has proven undeniably that pixelated rampages make for a darn great time, but something about the innocent, childlike (though still shockingly expressive, considering their simplicity) sprites and the way they react to your bloody minded butchery is just incredibly entertaining. Imagine being a career criminal in the Mushroom Kingdom or Hyrule circa 1993 and you’ll start to get an idea about what I’m talking about. Maybe it’s just the bloody sendups of so many artifacts of my childhood, but I personally had many a squeal of sick delight while playing through the various missions and maps (some of which actually were from my childhood).

Retro City Rampage delivers wonderfully on its twin promises of nostalgia and carnage. While it’s not the most complicated or intellectually stimulating game on the market right now, it is exactly what it promises to be: an 8-bit bloodbath of humor and crime. I can honestly say I was entertained pretty much the entire time and often had a hard time turning the game off, even when I had other things that needed doing (I’m looking at you, laundry). Anyone looking for a goofy modern throwback to keep you giggling for hours will definitely enjoy this experience.

8 out of 10