Retro City Rampage is a love letter and parody of everything 8-bit. In the first five minutes of the game, you’ll see spoofs of Mega Man 2, Duck Hunt, Mario 2, and Frogger. Later on you’ll spot other parodies of Metal Gear, Bionic Commando, Skate or Die, Paperboy, and probably more that you might miss if you blink. Even the graphics and sound are designed to look like an 8-bit NES game. Anyone remember the first two Grand Theft Auto games that were 2-D and viewed from a top down perspective? That’s what this game plays like. Retro City Rampage is a downloadable title available for PS3, Vita, and PC, and later on Xbox 360 and WiiWare (PS3 version reviewed here).
In the game you play as “Player,” who has chosen a life of crime for fame and fortune. Because the whole game is a parody, the nonsensical storyline doesn’t mean to follow any kind of plotline. You’ll start out as a henchman on a heist led by “The Jester” (Batman parody), but soon you’ll find a phone booth that sends you to the future, where you must help a doctor rebuild his time machine car so you can go back to the past. So yeah, lots of movie and pop culture parodies, too. This is where the game opens up and lets you do your own thing, like a GTA title. You can do main missions to further the story along, or try side jobs for extra money and goodies.
The missions range from fetch quests where you have to get from point A to point B, steal something, fend off the police, sneak around guards, deliver papers, and more. As someone who likes to play as the good guy, I was a little disappointed that you didn’t have an option to follow the law instead, but oh well. Other things you can do in the game include buying outfits, haircuts, and accessories to customize your character’s look. Although, since your character is just a few pixels, it really doesn’t matter much. You can also play Mario 3 style bonus games at the casino, or arcade games based on other indie titles like Super Meat Boy or Bit.Trip Runner. YouTube video fans, be on the lookout for an Epic Meal Time game, too!
The game comes packed with options as well. Play through story mode, try arcade style challenges where you have to do things like destroy the most objects in a tank or run over pedestrians with a steamroller, or do Free Play Mode where you can explore the city and not have to worry about missions or money. You can change the borders of the screen to look like things such as an old TV with knobs, or change the colors of the game to match various game systems, like the black and white Game Boy or all red Virtual Boy.
Aside from not being able to play as a good guy, the only other problem I had with the game is that occasionally the missions are overly difficult. Sometimes the checkpoints that start you off after dying are in good places, other times they are not. Luckily they teach you the basics of the game as you play, showing you how to shoot, take cover, drive cars, and more 2-D shenanigans (like jumping on people’s heads for points). And even though the nonsensical story sometimes makes goals a little unclear, there are always plenty of arrows and map markers to show you the way to go. If you have any fond memories of playing games on the NES as a kid, you really should check out Retro City Rampage.
Retro City Rampage is rated T for Teen with ESRB descriptors of Violence, Blood, Use of Alcohol, Crude Humor, and Sexual Content. While you can run over pedestrians and shoot down cops, since the graphics are so small and pixelly it really negates a lot of the violence. The use of alcohol is a parody in itself, as you can get ‘sick’ by drinking ‘milk.’ And as a parody game, it is full of crude humor and whatnot. But really, the best reason why this one is best for teens and older gamers is the high level of difficulty.
I would be OK with kids a little younger than teens playing this, on one condition. That the parents and or older caregiver gamers play with them! That way, you can do two things. One, you can discuss with them what things are in the game that you think are inappropriate. And two, since most of the parodies will probably go over their head, you can share with them what games were like when you were a kid. So it could be lots of good opportunities for discussions, lessons, and bonding time. But your mileage may vary.