I must have been living under a rock the past five years or so because I had never before played Retro City Rampage, despite the fact that it’s on practically every device under the sun. So, when it suddenly appeared on the Nintendo Switch eShop, I figured it was high time I gave it a whirl. Similar to movies like Scary Movie or The Naked Gun, both of which parody, make fun, and even emulate other popular movies, Retro City Rampage DX is filled with references to other games and pop culture. As a person who grew up playing video games in the 1980s I absolutely love the attention to detail and all of the in-jokes hidden throughout the game that today’s kids probably wouldn’t even notice. It doesn’t hurt that the underlying game is fun to play as well.
At its heart, Retro City Rampage DX is a Grand Theft Auto clone, complete with the old-school top-down view of the city and its inhabitants. You’re encouraged to steal any vehicle you come across and to mow down anyone who gets in your way. The plot is all kinds of crazy, with you working for an evil boss to steal money from a bank. Soon enough the heist goes sideways and you’ll be hunting down parts to fix your time machine.
In the first few opening minutes you’ll be banged over the head with tons of video game references. Many of these are super short nods to other franchises. From Mega Man 2’s iconic opening where the camera pans up the side of a high rise building with Mega Man standing on the roof, to a complete section where you have to hop on bicycle and deliver newspapers (hello, Paperboy), the game doesn’t hold back with homages. In fact, they come so fast at you that you might miss a few as the story zooms by at light speed. By the time you’ve played into the game about 15 minutes you’ll have encountered references to Ikari Warriors, Frogger, Super Mario Bros., Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Metal Gear, Sonic The Hedgehog, Contra, Duck Hunt, Bionic Commando, and more. Not only are other games parodied, but also so are movies like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Back To The Future.
In fact, it’s Doc that has you go out and search for different components to help rebuild your time machine. The game will place markers on the overworld where you need to go next to try and locate these items. There are side quests along the way that you can choose to play, which will often reward you with new weapons and money. The game has plenty of things to do and I never felt restricted in the open environment.
Retro City Rampage DX is, appropriately enough, extremely 8-bit. In fact, some things, like buildings and other environments are rather detailed. The character sprites are a bit on the low-res side though, and I feel in some cases look worse than something you’d see in an average NES game. This is perhaps to avoid any potential legal issues with using characters from other games and properties, but I found the graphics to be a little too archaic in some cases. However, one cool thing is you can go to an arcade in the game and play a classic version of Bit Trip Runner, which was pretty neat to see with these retro graphics.
The music is the real star here, with amazing 8-bit chiptunes that really sound fantastic. They’ve managed to emulate the NES sound chip and create some really awesome tracks. The score sounds like something that would have come out later in the NES lifecycle, with similar sounds to games like Mega Man 2, Ninja Gaiden, and even stuff like Maniac Mansion and Journey To Silius. The sound effects are equally antiquated, but fit the style of the game perfectly.
Retro City Rampage DX is a super fun game and is especially relevant to those who grew up playing video games in the 1980s. Much of the value of the game might be lost on a younger generation of gamers, but the underlying gameplay mechanics still work well enough that I think most will find something to like. The nostalgia played a huge factor in my enjoyment of the game, and even then sometimes I felt the game relied a bit too heavily on copying exact portions of games. Still, we don’t see this type of parody game too often and although it’s been on every other platform, it’s a nice fit for the Switch. There’s not a ton new in this version, so I’m not sure if it’s really worth a double dip, but the ability to play on the go and at home is a nice inherent value. I had a blast and think it’s a great game, especially in small bursts.