Modern Review: Retro City Rampage (Wiiware)

Modern-Review-Retro-City-Rampage-WiiwareRetro City Rampage has finally been released as Nintendo Wiiware’s final swansong. Is the game everything we hoped for or does it fail to deliver?

Ten years is a long time to develop a game; just ask Duke Nukem Forever’s developer. However, it’s a lot more forgiveable when you see that one man (in this case, developer Brian Provinciano,) basically did most of the work. Provinciano began working on Retro City Rampage as a Nintendo Entertainment System homebrew project.

Using Grand Theft Auto III’s basic concept, Provinciano began building an 8-bit version of the game, calling it Grand Theftendo. Wiiware users will be able to check out the unfinished homebrew title for free (as will PC users through an update,) as it is built into the game. While I could go into greater detail explaining how the game has changed since it’s early homebrew days, the developer has put together an incredibly interesting video to allow further explanation.

Taking over Theftropolis

With that out of the way, we can now dive into the finished project of Retro City Rampage. Story-wise the game allows you to take over the role of “Player,” a crime enthusiast straight out of the 1980s. The game begins with Player during a regular day of crime-committing when he steals a time travelling telephone booth, rocketing himself into the year 20XX. He later meets Doc Choc, who mistakes him for a hero who travels through time and the two begin working together to get Player back to his own time. However, Dr. Von Buttnik, Doc Choc’s nemesis, has other plans for the two of them. My biggest gripe with the story isn’t necessarily its lack of complexity. I would say the way the story is handled gives the player the feeling of being lost, with no specific narrative in place. Player does a great job teetering back and forth between good and evil but most of the characters aren’t worth learning about, as they are merely props for Player to take advantage. I would’ve liked to see some more fleshed out characters to care for so Player’s world felt more alive.

Since this game was modelled after Grand Theft Auto, it has all the basics mastered. Player can steal vehicles, change the radio stations while driving (we’ll get to the music in a bit,) get chased by police, build an assortment of weaponry by collecting or purchasing them and finally, commit crimes for personal profit. Provinciano has nailed the core GTA concepts down perfectly. While some missions progress the story, others are time-wasters which are mainly to unlock personal achievements and points for bragging rights. There’s plenty of unlockable content, including different hats, power-ups, haircuts and more. There’s so much to do in RCR, one can even argue this is what makes the story seem so forgettable. It’s easy to see why the development moved onto more current platforms.

The world of RCR is called Theftropolis and it’s filled to the brim with obvious retro nods to the 80s and 90s. I couldn’t even begin to go over all the random references this game has in it, but trust me, if you’re reading this review on this site, it’s assumed you’re here for old-school games anyways. Its clear Provinciano has a vast appreciation for most media formats from the golden age of gaming. The script echoes this nostalgia trip, though at times gets a bit personal and awkward. I can’t help but feel Provinciano has been burned in the past by game companies regarding development of his games and there are a few moments in RCR where you’ll laugh along but it’ll leave odd afterthoughts in one’s head. These socio-political commentaries on the games industry and media may not translate appropriately in some countries, but regardless, they don’t ruin the overall experience and you will be laughing during a large majority of the dialog. Trust me, this is a very funny game.

Most of the game is shown from a top-down perspective, similar to classic GTA games prior to its third entry. The world of Theftropolis is colourful and exciting. The biggest problem I had with it is that everything is so small; it is sometimes hard to tell what’s going on. It doesn’t get in the way of the game play though and most players will adjust to the characters and the places they are located. Everything is very clearly labelled when it comes to writing in the game and the dialogue in the menu boxes is very readable. The game’s levels feel messy by their very existence, but it’s not enough to detract from the things you’ll see and do in the game.

Musically, I can safely say this game rocks. Well, in an 8-bit way, of course. Chiptune fans will have a lot to love in RCR. Provinciano was able to score the musical talents of Virt, Norrin Radd and Freaky DNA. Those unfamiliar with the chiptunes scene will be unaware that several tracks actually game from albums released before the game’s release. Several of Virt’s tracks were lifted off of his FX3 album. This might be a problem for those who were hoping for a soundtrack of all new tunes specifically designed for the game. I can’t honestly say that they weren’t created first for Virt’s album and later brought over to support RCR, but if you’ve heard them before, rejoice as they remain awesome. Most tracks completely compliment the atmosphere of RCR. It’s tons of fun to cruise around and jam out while hitting pedestrians, running from the law, or just heading to the next mission while joyriding. I’m a little bummed that some of the songs haven’t been released on the official soundtrack, (particularly the Power Tips song after dying in-game,) but Fans of Konami and Capcom 8-bit soundtracks, or 8-bit heavy metal fans, are in for a real treat.

Control is fairly customizable, though I’d say shooting guns is a bit conflicting at times. There are moments in the game where the right analog stick on the Wii’s Classic Controller feels right to use and other times where you’ll want to allow auto-aim (locking on with Y) to help you. Overall, the game controls well and doesn’t get in the way of the experience. Cars movement sometimes seems unavoidable when it comes to hitting pedestrians. I wish the roads were bigger or had less people at times, because the cops are somewhat relentless in this game. The cops are really good about tailing Player, even into stores after he enters. I’d even go so far as to say the A.I. for the cops is better than in GTA III. There are some really difficult parts to this game, particularly in the later stages of the game. Some side story missions will have you cursing up a storm and are worth skipping. The end boss is very challenging and will give you a run for your patience.

A homage to retro gaming...

We’ve waited a long time for this game. While the final product was worth the wait and definitely one of the best Wiiware games released, it has some lacking narrative and characters, questionably personal and non-relatable dialogue and odd control adjustments. On the other hand, the game is addictive and will make you come back for more each time. I’ve sunk over 10 hours into the game and I still have things to go back to accomplish. The music and sound effects are top notch and the level design is clever and colourful yet sometimes messy. It succeeds in bringing the open world sandbox gameplay era into the golden days of gaming. Style meets substance in RCR, sending Wiiware off with an 8-bit salute; one that pays tribute to being a gamer since the golden days but doesn’t isolate modern gamers entirely by keeping things too old-school.

The wait is over. Fellow gamers: indulge yourself in Retro City Rampage, you won’t be sorry.


Last Updated ( 25 March 2013 )  

Michael "Miketendo" Levy

Raised on an NES, Saturday AM cartoons and sugary cereal, Michael Levy was your average 80's kid growing up. Despite having odd obsessions with bears, peanut butter, zombies and Tifa Lockhart, 'Miketendo' is also the creator of the YouTube review series: D.Y.H.P.T.G?! (Dude, You Haven't Played This Game?!)

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(Link to this comment) SimmyBassline 2013-03-30 14:43
Im gonna have to give this a whirl at somepoint

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