This work, almost entirely the work of Brian Provinciano, is a blast to play that ultimately yields to all of the worst inspirations it lovingly adopts. The core game is inspired by Grand Theft Auto, as realized in an 8-bit engine, and the hook is the innumerable references it works into it.
The emotions evoked by RCR are joy and a deep satisfying sense of nostalgia. Generation NES gamers in particular will get a wry grin from every reference to Super Stomps, radioactive plumbers, Super Speed Shoes, and Bionic Commando claws. Others who might enjoy this game are those who get a wry grin from the Go-go Busters, Bif Wayne as Bifman in his battle against the Jester, and running battles with Green Melee Fighters emerging from a machinegun-toting van called a Shelley, or wry comments from the T Team. The jokes are fun and entertaining, and recall the good old eighties just as kids of that age remember them.
Then there’s the bad part. Arcade gamers may remember the significantly stacked difficulty, and its use to pad the game length. Even with this padding, Retro City Rampage comes to about 10 hours of playtime. Some of the later stages are transparent arcade through backs, and Provinciano expresses a depressing fondness for one of the worst NES levels of all time with the clearly Turtles inspired water levels (complete with rotating underwater flamesticks: I’m so conflicted!). I felt more than a little upset that so many great cameo’s are made so flawlessly integrated as quest givers, and then silently walking out of the narrative never to offer another quest again! Common Dude from the Paper-Shredder company, don’t you have other missions for us to get rid of those Turtles? It’s not like the first one could have worked!
The main aesthetic this game delivers on is challenge, and there’s a lot of it. RCR rarely leaves you clueless about where to go, frequently complicating missions in humourous and believable ways: as Player puts it “A tailing mission? I’m going to have to drink coffees just to avoid being bored to death.” RCR also delivers on exploration and narrative, as Player is relentlessly pulled back into the main quest looking for new quest givers, new rampages and weapons, and new types of exclusive cars. It includes a sandbox mode for rampaging and killing cops, but that seems less than satisfying.
The visual and audio aesthetics are sheer joy, complete with the option to turn off the NES sprite flicker. New age gamers would be depressed by the poly count being zero, but the sprite work is top notch and a credit to some of the very best sprite games of yesteryear. The sounds would likely be torture to modern gamers, but fondly recalls some of the best again, and the truest homage is the complete absence of voice work. Actually, I think there is one clip only. Sega fans rejoice!
For its price of $15, RCR is a good value, and rounds out its offerings with a series of indie games in the arcades, together with a variety of features to change the display settings to match classic old school consoles and computers. I confess tears of joy with the VBrick settings, despite its 4 shades of green, monotone sound being near painful.
Its lasting value as art, well that’s trickier. I certainly like the game enough to value keeping it, but that’s because it hits all of the classic notes for me. It feels timeless for a Gen NES gamer, but I can see others finding its thrills and spills more like yawns. It also doesn’t really do much to advance the medium, despite gleefully looking back and shouting “hoorah!” Give it a download it you’re looking for a cleaned up version of what gaming used to be.