Retro City Rampage is a jittery, hyperactive, four-gags-a-minute game. It’s meticulously constructed: spotting the jokes and references nestling in the pixellated streets of its top-down 8bit city feels like poring over Martin Handford’s Where’s Wally? books did when we were children. But Brian Provinciano’s game is also weirdly throwaway. There’s a breathless pace to the way Vblank will pluck games, movies or TV show out from the ether, grasp them tightly for the duration of a single scene or line, and then toss them aside. It’s a game with encyclopaedic knowledge and perfect recall, but no attention span.
It doesn’t need one, really, because the constant churn of reference, parody and pastiche is the point of Retro City Rampage. For every line you recognise, for every lampoon you spot, you’ll have missed a dozen more, and if there’s a Seth Macfarlane-esque air to the way Retro City Rampage seems to believe references alone are enough to make people laugh, it’s made up for by the sheer nostalgic joy of tearing about Theftropolis’ compact, dense streets. That said, anyone under 30 may struggle to keep up.
But for all the games that Retro City Rampage riffs on – and with Mario, Contra, Metal Gear and Frogger parodies turning up within the first half hour, it’s an astonishingly long list even before you visit the arcades – it’s most heavily indebted to one. The first Grand Theft Auto has provided the look and structure of the game, with its top-down shooting and driving. These fundamentals are embellished with a Mario-esque jump, essential for dodging bullets and cars as well stomping enemies. While Retro City’s shootouts and vehicular carnage are diverting if not fully satisfying, they’re really just the skeleton around which the satirical meat has been hung. With the aid of occasional power-ups these basic controls prove vanilla and undemonstrative enough to be twisted to whatever purpose Retro City Rampage needs – be it racer, stealth game or cover shooter – and if that flexibility occasionally comes at the expense of coherence, it’s made up for through sheer variety.
It’s an affectionate and occasionally sharp pastiche, however, executed with just the right amount of authenticity. We suspect Theftropolis wouldn’t be quite as densely packed if it were actually running on a NES, but the limited palette, the pixel art style and the chip-tune radio stations may as well have been delivered by the time machine that – in a simultaneous parody of both Back To The Future and Doctor Who – drives Retro City’s storyline. It’s a game that tries to be everything, in other words, yet through the sheer all-encompassing nature of its irreverence finds an identity of its own.
360 version tested.