Retro City Rampage (WiiWare)

Game Review

Retro City Rampage Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Rack up those combos, Player!

Retro City Rampage is a lot of things, but subtle isn't one of them. One of the first screens — with the title "Common Sense Warning!" — informs you that the game is packed with parodies, and it continues to bludgeon you over the head as you play. You may be a pixellated character given some freedom to romp around a city causing chaos, but Vblank Entertainment is calling all of the shots, consistently reminding you that you're a guest in its wacky game world. It's also a fun experience, if you sign up and agree to play by its rules.

The title, appropriately, tells you all about what's on offer. Inspired by the first two top-down GTA titles, famous for incorporating a large world of pixellated driving madness as well as controversial violence and satire, this goes well beyond that source material to produce something entirely off the charts. It's a breathless, uncompromising ride that sticks to the top-down driving and shooting for the most part, but dives off into riffs and references accompanied by short bursts of alternative gameplay. We don't intend to spoil too many surprises, but quite a few NES era titles make brief cameos that incorporate side-scrolling and racing genres, and some recent top-class indie releases — from those such as Team Meat and Gaijin Games — are also accessible whenever you please. It's multi-flavoured to an extreme degree, meaning that you often have no real idea what's going on.

The story — and it's in italics for a reason — follows suit. Within the first five minutes we became utterly baffled, and it didn't really seem to matter. You feature as Player, so generic a tough guy that you don't even have a real name, and you go back in time — we think — and have to help the Back to the Future-inspired Doc to put together a time machine to travel back. Everything else is a series of parodies and references to a number of retro game franchises — such as Metal Gear, Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and many more — as well as TV shows and movies from the '80s and '90s. The game references are likely to be picked up by many who are actively downloading this on WiiWare, though you need to be of a certain age to grasp many of the other pop-culture nods and winks.

As we've suggested, however, Retro City Rampage doesn't necessarily move logically from one inspired idea to another, but actively crams as many in as possible. Generally the script is humorous — the boss name inspired by the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise will be immediately recognisable to kids of the '90s — and it hits its marks by playing up to its crazy approach, like a fan-fiction written when high on sugar sherbet. At other points, however, it can be self-indulgent, making cracks about the game industry or even individuals within it in a not-so-subtle way. Most of the storytelling doesn't fall into that trap, but when it does it feels flat and exposes a sense that these segments are more about game-creator Brian Provinciano having a dig at unnamed executives, rather than keeping the game fresh and fun.

A similar trend falls into the gameplay itself. Much of it involves driving around the impressively scaled city, while racking up humorously-named achievements and combos for mowing down as many pedestrians as possible — sensitive parents should look away, as they're ruthlessly satirised in the storyline, too. The various cars, trucks and road-worthy things — which we won't spoil — have unique handling and mechanics, adding to the sense that this is a title put together with a lot of dedication, focus and attention. Often you're simply driving between story missions and side missions, while on other occasions you're racing around checkpoints and against time limits.

Once on foot it all naturally slows down, and you're often doing a mix of melee fighting, shooting with a range of weapons and even stomping, a cool twist on the classing platforming trope that becomes essential in later stages. There's exploration on offer with a huge range of additional challenges scattered around the city — though they're also accessible in the main menu — and a broad range of shops and buildings to discover. You can customise Player's look with some sunglasses, a funny hat or a hair cut, while Nolan's Arcade is a site where you can indulge in a number of short but welcome mini-games. It's here — and in the story's hub location — that you can access ROM City Rampage; while it's neat to see this "prototype" NES version of the game, the lacking sound and slight bugginess make it little more than a brief side-note, even if the process of its development is ultimately more interesting.

The vast majority of missions are either fun or, in the odd case, raucous and indispensable, with occasions where the script and level design combine perfectly. It's all about variety and keeping you on your toes, and with the core story — disregarding tough side quests and Arcade Challenges — coming in at about four hours, there's little sense of repetition. Rather like the storytelling, in most cases the balance is fair (albeit challenging) and missions are a blast, yet on a couple of notable occasions there are significant difficulty spikes that can feel a little cheap. It's hard to tell whether they're there to lengthen the game, to irritate the player or whether they're some kind of "meta" joke about retro games playing dirty — whatever the case, they almost compelled us to throw the controller a few times.

Our controller of choice, that is fortunate to have not met its end against a wall on those rare occasions, is the Classic Controller or Classic Controller Pro. It's entirely possible to play this game with a sideways Wii Remote, and the setup is functional, yet the game leaves you in no doubt that the Classic Controller is the way to go — with weapon selection, jumping, stomping, shooting, driving and more activities besides, the additional buttons on offer are invaluable. Also useful is the right analogue stick, which serves as a free aim option that's particularly useful in tougher levels; the Wii Remote alternative is to fire in the direction you're facing and lock-on to enemies, which is a decent alternative.

While a four hour story mode may seem modest, it's likely that the optional extras will more than double that playtime. The aforementioned Arcade Challenges are fiendishly difficult, with gold medals in each sure to test the most skilled of gamers, while you can roam the city in your Story Mode save for all of those side missions or, if you prefer, simply go into Free Roaming Mode with unlimited cash and one of a number of unlockable characters. If the core concept and gameplay grabs your attention, there's enough extra incentive to keep you coming back for many hours.

It would be remiss of us, of course, if we didn't praise the overall presentation of Retro City Rampage. The pixel-art is terrifically colourful and precise — we recommend switching to a 4:3 ratio on your Wii and TV for best results — while the sound effects are classic 8-bit homages. The music is also an absolute high-point, with a fantastic sense of style to fit the varied and unlikely scenarios being played out in the story, and a neat touch of being able to switch the "radio" in a car while rampaging around the streets. Grab some headphones, dig out a t-shirt from the '80s and pretend that you're gaming back in 1989.


Retro City Rampage is a unique offering on WiiWare, with an utterly chaotic sense of gameplay and storytelling that's as baffling as it is often brilliant. Occasionally the zany focus can slide a bit too far, with sections of the story or relentlessly difficulty levels that seem to be there to amuse the developer rather than gamers, showing it can be a thin line between parody, satire, and self-indulgence. That's a small gripe in the overall context, however, and what this represents is a stylish, bonkers and loving dedication to old-school gaming; essential for gaming veterans, and well worth consideration for those that want to know what all those old-timers are talking about when referring to the "good old days".

From the web

Game Trailer

Subscribe to Nintendo Life on YouTube

Get a taste of the music and gameplay of Vblank Entertainment's upcoming Retro City Rampage for WiiWare. About the musicians: -virt (Jake Kaufman) -- Renowne

User Comments (39)



Kirk said:

This game might be kinda cool, in a "retro" sort of way, but this isn't actually what most people mean at all when they refer to the "good old days", in relation to talking about some great game experience or maybe even a particularly awesome console back then, and the only thing this game has that hearkens back to those times is the simple looking graphics and I hope simple controls.

If you really wanted someone to know what people mean when they talk about the "good old days" you'd point them towards playing the likes of Tetris, Mike Tyson's Punch Out, Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 3, Mega Man 2, Super Mario World, Yoshi's Island, Super Punch-Out!!, UN Squadron, Super Smash TV, F-Zero, Super Mario Kart, Super Metroid, Street Fighter II Turbo, A Link to the Past...

You know, the games that actually represent some of the best gaming moments of those "good old days" and the ones you would actually use to properly show/convince people as to why we lovingly refer to them as "the good old days".

Edit: This is just a cool retro take on GTA with a crap load of sweet references and in-jokes for all us geeks who actually played those referenced games back then in those "good old days".



Squashie said:

In a way, I was kind of expecting more than an 8. Still, this looks like my kind of game, so I will certainly pick it up!



ThomasBW84 said:

@Kirk I meant in terms of the relentless cameos and references to old-school games, and there are a lot of gameplay elements and gags that will be quite alien to those who've only been playing games for the last 5-10 years. Agreed, this isn't "retro" in the sense of Mega Man 9 and 10, but it's sure an education and insight into a bygone era.



Obywan said:

They should port the PS360 version to the Wii U eshop with GamePad support.



Ren said:

a 9 from me. this absolutely the swansong for Wiiware to me. this game captures the spirit of retro gaming, gaming as an art, and even surprisingly the mechanics of what makes basic fun gaming. I was expecting a slightly funny game that's annoying to play and just not there in it's "fun" controls and sound-wise but it is absolutely as much or more fun than any HD game I've played this or last year. I'd buy it again if I could. I only regret not having a classic controller for it, the wiimote is annoying to use with it, I'll have to get the xbox version or a classic controller. If it's even a consideration for anyone, don't hesitate. Get it!



blackknight77 said:

I'm having a lot of fun with this game, and I have not stopped laughing at the old-school references. Whatever system you have if you like old school games this is a must own.



JJtheTexan said:

If you own a Wii or Wii U, you owe it to yourself to buy this game. Now. It's US $10. Do it. What are you waiting for??!? BUY THIS GAME NOW!!!!!



bezerker99 said:

I waited years for this to get released. I downloaded it the second it went live on the Wii Shop Channel...........and I still haven't played it yet.



SteveW said:

@Kirk - Maybe you missed some things? there are references to Super Mario 2, Metal Gear, Bomberman, Jackal, Duck Hunt, Mario Bros, Smash TV, Zelda, etc... the Game Genie and a lot more I am sure (I haven't finished it yet), those definitely qualify as "good old days".



Dpullam said:

I dig the 8-bit art style. I just don't think this type of game interests me.



SirQuincealot said:

I would like to see this game on the 3ds, its available on the vita i believe so will we ever get a port for the 3ds?



chewytapeworm said:

I absolutely LOVED the old GTA games (probably more than the new versions) so not to get this would be an utter insult. Pay day in a couple of sleeps, I know where a piece of it is going!



iPlayNintendo said:

@Kirk Thanks Kirk. I was born in 2002 and had no clue what the "good old days" meant. I'll have to check out this Super Mario World you speak of



dustin_g said:

is this game to hard to even play? i hate games so difficult you dont want to keep playing.



SteveW said:

Not at all, a few parts took me a couple of tries but it's nowhere near as hard as the NES games it's doing a parody of... you get endless lives also...



Moonhillwat said:

I absolutely love this game! The humor is excellent! I especially love a scene that went something like this:

Player: Game Genie, transport me back to the other side of town!
Genie: What? I thought you wanted the game to last 40 hours!

Haha. It's stuff like that. I love how this game takes such stabs at the games of today. xD



Slapshot said:

I absolutely love having this game in portable format on Vita - awesome little retro-inspired title.



WiiLovePeace said:

I'm excited to buy this game tonight, when I get paid. I really hope that by some miracle over 2000 people buy this game & hence VBlank makes a profit from WiiWare. A brilliant game deserves sales, no matter what service it comes on.



CanisWolfred said:

Really loved this on the Vita, and glad it's been praised in the review. Hope the rest of you guys enjoy it, too.



Harley said:

This is a great way to conclude the Wiiware's lineup of fantastic indie-developer titles. I wasn't too much of a fan of Gajin's other titles (Super Meat Boy was cool...the Bit Trip Games...not so much). This one DOESN'T feel like a cash-in on the retro-fad. It is, in fact, a brilliant imagining of what Grand Theft Auto would've looked like on an NES. While I'm only 17, I managed to get just about every reference in the game, down to the letter telling you that Doc Choc's been kidnapped being a parody of the letter found in Super Mario Bros. 3. It makes an already great experience all that much better. It's also, in true NES fashion, frustratingly difficult. Notably, the last set of missions that poke fun at Rad Racer. Either way, I'm loving it, and I'm finding plenty to do after beating the campaign.




You know what I don't understand is why they didn't move all the over 500 games from The Wii Shop Channel to the Eshop and I would like it if they gave them all a price cut. And also upgraded them to be playable on the Gamepad THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN AWESOME!! Just saying they so need to look into that.

Oh and about Retro City.........to little to freakin late DOUGHBAGS!!



Urbanhispanic said:

I bought the game last week....it's really great and I LOVE all the references. I played the hell out of GTA: Chinatown Wars so the controls felt familiar instantly. This is a good way to send WiiWare out in style.



Moose_4 said:

I have 1800 points that were on my Wii shop.
I think this will be good, but i can guarantee as soon as i download it there will be a Wii U version!



NodesforNoids said:

I heard a story about Mr. Provinciano once, one I think is relevant to the 'self-indulgence' and oft-personal jabs he takes in RCR.
The gist of the story was, said big wig's company was looking at distro for RCR, but said executive claimed '8-bit is dead and I want it to stay that way'.
Provinciano, over 2 years in, took exception.
When said company went on to lose tens of millions that year, Provinciano wrote the inside joke into the game as a 'jab'.
As an aside, I find it funny that, when Ubisoft creates a brand new IP in Child of Light and it sells very well on the eShop they don't look at the situation logically and think that maybe it's time to retire some tired old franchises and try something new.
We could just get something wonderful and unique. Or another garbage game.. like ZombiU.



NodesforNoids said:

I guess I'm thinking back to the first AC. Prince of Persia was done and done. AC was new and fresh but still kind of PoP.
Now, after 7 AC titles, it's become the new PoP, Rayman, Splinter Cell type annual occurrence. Like Call of Duty, Battlefield / MoH, EA / 2K sports games or (over the last 4 years) Mario. Then again, as far as consoles are concerned, Mario has had just 5 dedicated platformers these last 8 years and just 10 in the last 19 years. With the GBA / DS focusing on re-releases and RPGs, Marios platformers, over the last 23 years, total just 15 new titles.
I can't include re-releases, because then I'd have to do the same for other system's franchises.
Like 6 God of War titles and 5 re-releases / collections. Or 11 FF games, over a dozen spin-offs (not including Kingdom Hearts), 4 movies, close to a half dozen sequels and re-releases / collections.
When it comes to the gaming industry, there truly seems to be little new under the sun.
Which is why retro is so popular, Journey is so celebrated and photorealistic graphics are the only real trend.

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