Sometimes, going back in time is the best thing you can do in the realm of gaming. Back to a simpler time when things were much easier. Much different. Much more pixelated. That’s why retro throwbacks are such a huge draw for those of us who have been around since the beginning, and vBlank’s Retro City Rampage delivers that deliciously retro tone and aesthetic in nostalgic droves, and though it does falter in some ways, it’s an interesting love letter to a simpler time.
It’s a hyperactive GTA-meets-8-bit motif in this knock-down, drag-out free-for-all. During a particular heist gone wrong you somehow get mixed up with a Doc Brown doppelganger (complete with 8-bit DeLorean), at that, who has you fetching items, facing off with bizarre robot soldiers, and completing zany side missions in a bid to thwart the evil Dr. Von Buttnick and peanut gallery of baddies. The streets of Theftropolis City are rife with opportunities to pack plenty of ’80s and ’90s gaming and pop culture references into a frenetic game with over 60 mission to plow through.
It’s all speed and silliness all the time, from a dream sequence in which “The Player” has to run over as many civilians as possible while riding a tank to jetpacking through the city a la the Rocketeer. The neighborhood is jam-packed with a beach area, smaller residential areas, and special merchants with punny names as a nod to classic gaming characters and franchises from the golden years. There’s something new to discover around every turn, and that’s the bulk of the game’s charm. What gaming milestone will you see next?
But just like GTA, Retro City Rampage has its own set of issues. You’ll often be left wondering where to go next and get lost in the freeform sandbox gameplay roaming around to find new activities to mess about with, and sometimes the missions themselves aren’t as exciting as they should be. Paperboy-esque jaunts are more frustrating than fun, and some of the “destroy all opposition” missions begin to wear on the nerves. There’s so much to do, but the fun factor simple feels diminished after clearing the first couple of levels.
Plenty of detail was lovingly heaped upon ensuring the locales, soundtrack, and character designs of Retro City Rampage were as accurate as possible, at least to the era, and when everything clicks it shines, making it feel like you’ve been transported back to a basement back in the 80s. The rest of the time, however, it’s a mixed bag of modern-day mechanics that usually get in the way of the game’s larger picture. This is really a shame since so often VBlank is certainly on the right track, but too often shuffles its feet to be as fantastic as we’d like. Perhaps a sequel (or sequels) can flesh out the concept in the future.
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