October 29, 2012
Vancouver-based team VBLANK Entertainment have done what few retro-inspired indie developers aim to do, and that is to actually create an 8-bit game in an 8-bit world with all the limitations and the restrictions that 256 colours would allow. Typically, and while it's important not to generalise, with games like Fez, Phil Fish aimed at making a retro styled game that really was too technically impressive to be a game of yesteryear. Retro City Rampage, however, feels like it would have been released on the early generation consoles. The developers even went so far as to include the dimensions for a faux-game box and NES cartridge, if you pre-ordered directly from their site.
Retro City Rampage is a parody of the open-world genre, much like Saint's Row. You play The Player, who is trying to make an honest living by committing crimes in the world of Theftropolis City. The evil good guys don't like that at all, and will stop at nothing to ruin your fun. This is the fundamental premise to Retro City Rampage, and it's really all the motivation you will need to embark on your adventure full of chaos and destruction.
VBLANK have given players the freedom of an open-world sandbox. You could follow the main storyline if it pleases you, or you could dismiss it entirely and make the game your own. The best part about Retro City is that it encourages you to both play the campaign for the hilarity and the nostalgic styled cutscenes, and it rewards you for going off on your own. There's no right or wrong way to play it. There are around 60 story missions, but it most certainly does not end there. On top of that beefy campaign, there are 40 arcade challenges, and an extra 'Free Roam' mode with the ability to use 6 playable characters.
The controls are simplistic and tight. You can attack with a face button, or if you are more familiar to the twin-stick style of a lot of PSN/XBLA games, VBLANK allows you to use that as well. There are over 25 weapons to use in your anarchic romp, from pistols to rocket launchers to bionic arms. There are also over 50 vehicles to hijack. If for whatever reason you're displeased with how your pixilated Player looks, there are even over 200 character customizations to choose from. It's clear that the developers wanted to encourage freedom.
The music is, simply put, fantastic. Jake Kaufman, who is also responsible for the Double Dragon Neon score, once again returns with an incredible sound that adds to the authenticity of this game's retro feel. His soundtrack is available for free on the game's website, or if you're like me and have been blown away by not only the sound, but the package as a whole, you could also get the extremely limited (500) Vinyl record.
It quite surprising that an 8-bit game can visually outclasses some of the 3D games released this year. Every bit of Theftropolis' open world has been meticulously crafted to the point of sheer madness. There are roughly 80 building interiors you can enter, and also bonus arcade and casino games to further your play time. You could play for hours and barely scratch the surface of what this package offers. VBLANK goes above and beyond the standard for visual fidelity and even offers different screen styles varying from an old tube television theme, a pixilated television, a Bit.Trip Runner theme, and even one that looks like the original Gameboy complete with a 2-bit aesthetic so you can enjoy the game with 4 shades of grey.
From its visual style, to its nostalgic soundtrack, to its sheer sense of chaotic fun, Retro City Rampage can't help but deliver. There is something here for just about anyone, and similarly, there's a reference for just about everyone. Even if you're unfamiliar with the Tardis, or The Doc, you may instantly recognize “Toasty!” or the hilarious recreation of the opening bank robbery of The Dark Knight. This is a game made by a team who simply loves the entertainment industry holistically. While it's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, what's here is deserving of your attention.