After the dust subsided in the great video game crash of 1983, a new era arose from the ashes with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985. Gaming became cool. Everyone had an NES. Brothers and sisters played it together, friends came over to play, and even mom and dad played from time to time. Wonky marketing images of overly happy families playing in the living room together were a big thing during 80s advertising, but they weren’t too far from the truth.
There was something special about growing up during the life cycle of the NES. If you grew up with the NES, then you were lucky enough to experience the Nintendo vs. Sega war during the 16-bit generation. No one seemed to really know what bits were, but it held great weight in arguments.
The time of the NES was a bit simpler. Bits didn’t quite matter yet. Games were just awesome to play. There was no war. The odds of finding an NES in someone’s house were really high. Occasionally, you’d come across someone that owned a Sega Master System and wonder how they can possibly live without Super Mario Bros. To this day, the Nintendo Entertainment System can still be located hidden off to the side in homes. It can be a neat conversation starter when found in college dorm rooms. Nintendo’s Virtual Console service even provides many glorious NES games for play on the Wii and 3DS.
If you ask people what the best NES game is, there will be a ton of different responses. But what if there was one game that everyone could agree on? What if there was an NES game that was so awesome, you would be playing it right now? Thanks to developer Brian Provinciano, that game exists in the form of Retro City Rampage. Provinciano, founder of Vblank Entertainment, started development on what would later becomeRCR in 2002, as a fan-made port of Grand Theft Auto III. It grew into much more, a large 8-bit open world parody of many of the great NES games you loved, while paying homage to 80s movies and TV shows. It doesn’t stop there. The parodies also reflect games and popular entertainment from the 90s up to today. The subtle and not so subtle ways that the game introduces these humorous parodies are so great that I wouldn’t dare spoil even one moment for you.
The story begins with Player, yes that’s your name, a henchman of a baddie named Jester, set in 1985. Correction, set in 20XX, as you’re sent on an “excellent adventure” to the future where you get to wreak havoc on the city while attempting to repair a time-machine that will allow you to return home. I’ve already said too much.
The gameplay is heavily influenced by Grand Theft Auto, but that’s not a bad thing. Control is simple: X to jump, square to shoot. But it utilizes more buttons than an NES controller, which alleviates controller-specific problems I can recall with old-school games like River City Ransom where two buttons wasn’t enough. An interesting feature in this game is the ability to take cover behind objects during shootouts, plus you can lock on to enemies if you hold square down.If you choose to make use of more modern control, the game allows aiming with the right analog stick in the vein of Smash TV.
There are over 25 weapons and power ups to play with and over 50 vehicles to drive, including skateboards and bicycles, offering different ways to plow into pedestrians, a twistedly encouraged feature of the game. Video games give you a chance to be someone you’re not and act out in ways that may be unethical or inhumane. It’s refreshing to see a game encourage free will and committing such actions, knowing that people are going to do it anyway. It even pokes fun at the notion that violence in video games causes people to be violent in real life. The game is rated T for Teen accordingly, so parents beware. Don’t play this unless you are mature enough to understand that it’s all a joke.
The graphics are beautiful. Proviciano put a ton of detail into the game’s vast world. He even enlisted the aid of artist Maxime Trépanier. The sound was handled by three very talented chiptune musicians: Leonard “Freaky DNA” Paul, Matt “Norrin Radd” Creamer and Jake “virt” Kaufman. The default game options have the sound effects set higher than the music. I found myself nudging the effects down to four notches and maxing out the music so I could appreciate the tunes that are very reminiscent of great game soundtracks like Mega Man and Contra.
RCR has three modes selectable from the title screen: Story, Arcade Challenges, and Free Roaming. A multiplayer option is sorely missing, but the amount of packed content makes up for it in the form of over 60 story missions and over 40 arcade challenges. You can also unlock other characters to play as and customize your character using over 200 different styles. Various characters and real life people make cameos and if you feel the need to kill any of them, nothing is stopping you. The game is one gigantic tribute to anyone that grew up with an NES, but it’s also a good introduction to newcomers of the great days of old. It’s very easy to pick up and play and the difficulty is about right. Some missions can be a little irritating, but not as irritating as past NES games could be. Auto-saves and the ability to save anywhere really help at easing tension.
Leaderboards and trophies (achievements on the 360 version) allow you to post your scores and accomplishments online for bragging rights. Video replays can also be saved for arcade challenges. The challenges allow you to go nuts around the city without risking losing your life and all of your weapons, which does happen if you die outside of a mission. Challenges give you a time limit to kill as many people as you can, using a specific weapon, power up or vehicle.
Mini-games are littered throughout the story and some can be accessed by entering an in-game video arcade in a throwback to 1999’s open-world adventure game, Shenmue. You can also access shops and vending machines using money you receive from hurting others, where you can purchase weapons, food, haircuts, tattoos, hats, plastic surgery (you read that right), vehicles, power-ups, etc.
Missions are marked on the map: blue for story missions, yellow for side missions. Like GTA, you are free to run amuck or choose which missions you want to play that are available on the map. Hidden items and power ups can be located around the city, encouraging exploration. The police and military will come after you if you attack civilians, but you can get them off your back by repainting your vehicle, starting missions, or finding a special coin that calls them off your back, etc.
The game may appear to be an NES game, but it doesn’t have to. One of the most interesting aspects of the options menu and something I find myself tweaking with a lot, are the numerous video options available. You can choose different virtual monitors to play the game on, from an arcade bezel to an old monochrome Game Boy. Different color modes allow you to tweak the color palette to the liking of old systems such as Nintendo’s failed Virtual Boy or an EGA DOS game. True widescreen play is available as well, for those of you who were disappointed with Mega Man 9 and 10’s forced 4:3 aspect ratios. Bravo on the customization, Provinciano.
And that’s exactly why you need to get this game. When you see how much content that one man accomplished by himself, with a presentation that is a true swan song for the NES era, how can you not want to throw money at this guy? At a reasonable $15 price, this game will satisfy your 8-bit needs and keep a smile on your face for hours on end. Cross-play is also supported if you own both a PS3 and a PlayStation Vita, allowing you to start a saved game on the PS3 and load your saved game on the Vita or vice versa. As a bonus, the Vita version comes free with your purchase. If you really needed to read this to determine whether it’s worth buying, rest assured, a demo is available on the PlayStation Store. Let’s hope that we will see a Retro City Rampage 2 one day. Provinciano, if you’re reading this, how about a 16-bit sequel?