• Retro City Rampage


  • Open World


  • VBlank Entertainment


  • VBlank Entertainment

Release Date:

  • October 9, 2012

On Wikipedia:


  • Windows (see Wikipedia for full list)


Date Purchased:

  • December 29, 2016

Disclaimer: Retro City Rampage was one of the first reviews I decided to throw out when I did for Exor's Dungeon for a few reasons, part of which is the review is a somewhat awkward mess: I think I wrote it from notes. Re-reading the review and helping jog those memories really exposes the core problem of the game: the fact that it's trying to be an "homage" to old NES games while still holding onto terrible design. While a jumble of misplaced but interesting ideas might warrant a better review, the fact that it became bad enough that I gave up on beating the boss pushes it toward the negative territory, hence the "Meh" instead of "Flawed". Regardless, everything else in this review is original to when it was written February 10, 2017, starting with the next paragraph.

Originally beginning as a NES homebrew project called "Grand Theftendo", Retro City Rampage is a mash-up of Grand Theft Auto-style mayhem, 1980s video game themed mini-games, and more references than you can shake a stick at. It was released several years ago, but I got it at a Steam sale (around Christmastime). So, what's it like?

Retro City Rampage's strength is the fact that it's doused in '80s culture and video game culture, and to really understand the game and find it funny you need to understand the 1980s. (I wasn't born in the 1980s but I understood everything in the book Ready Player One including some inconsistencies that the author seemed to have missed). And speaking of missed references, it's obvious that the Bill & Ted parody went completely missed on some less well-cultured reviewers, and it's also a parody of the "port-o-potty" time machines seen in Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle.

The references, are indeed, everywhere. For example, in one scene, you, the player character named "Player", try to find "Biffman"'s secret identity by finding a source, then by tracking your source down and find that he was actually "Sparrow", then your old nemesis the "Jester" shows up and threatens to bring out a crowbar (referencing Jason Todd's death in the Batman series Death in the Family, then you get to Biffman's mansion and search the house in an homage to Maniac Mansion (including a reference to the "Tuna Diver"/"Muff Diver" arcade game), then find yourself tied up over some alligators (in a reference to Pitfall!). And no, "Biffman" isn't named after the Back to the Future antagonist, it's a reference to the 1960s Batman series.

Player comes off as an amoral ruffian yet still likeable (especially that he doesn't just murder characters outright, or so he says, he'll still do things like throwing sleeping hobos into the back of a compacting garbage truck). I've never played a GTA game but the biggest complaint is that the characters are poorly written, whereas Player doesn't really have a story (he's your basic 8-bit character), thus can get away with running down hapless pixel-people on sidewalks and yet still can get away with it.

While the game definitely has a wide world to open to explore, with parodies of the world around us (including a 1980s Taco Bell drive-through, an obvious send-up to the Circle K seen in the Bill & Ted universe, and a pizza place called "Reeel Cheese"ar's Pizza), and everything from suburbia (used for a Paperboy-like mission) to a military base (used for a Metal Gear-like mission), is it actually fun?

Doc Choc isn't above making a few tasteless jokes of his own.

Well, the 8-bit world allows you to attack passersby and run them down with cars, but that's not really all that entertaining, and the missions aren't that exciting either. On the overworld, part of the problem is the "cars with 2D environments" which are usually always handle terribly. Retro City Rampage handles them better than most, but that's still not a huge plus, and on the missions, most of them think the padded challenges of 1980s games--swarms of enemies that you have to defeat, or you start all over again, or similar challenges that require reflexes--is not something that deserves to be left in the past. The final point at which I stopped playing was collecting all seven of the time machine parts, which apparently was the big point leading up to it, and then....nothing. The only thing was what I thought was an optional mission in which I had to rock the directional pad back and forth, catch a falling henchman with a button press, feed them to the alligators, and then do this enough times before the time ran out, and I couldn't do it.

After I eventually did, and a successive number of missions opened up that was the end. Yet for everything that should've been the end, there was another tiring one after that. There was a large shooting gallery where you go into different rooms and shoot waves of enemies (the infamous "Death Cam VHS" level), then another level where you toss enemies into lava to make a bridge, then another segment that involving shooting henchmen, then an underwater level (protip, if your character complains about it, it still doesn't make it okay), then another level with henchmen (after a bite by a "radioactive plumber" gives you a super stomp fight, then a boss fight (in which you fight MORE bad guys), then a timed bike ride, and then an obnoxious "early 3D" racing level in which you stay stationary and the road curves around you, bringing hazards up close (and you only have one miss before you start the level over). Then FINALLY you get to have a battle with the main villain while you're driving, and you can only hit him while he's firing at you, making it have all the cruel masochism of the NES Mega Man series while keeping the same vehicular combat problems that everyone hates (like that motorbike sequence toward the beginning of Final Fantasy VII). I didn't actually beat him--no achievement for that, and frankly I was getting bored of it anyway.

Bloodless carnage. Crunch!!

There's almost no walkthroughs of Retro City Rampage on the Internet, so I feel a bit accomplished for going this far, but this is nuts, especially knowing I'll have to go through some obscenely hard and long shooting gallery that has been known to drive a lot of "better" gamers nuts. The life system has no one-ups, every life you take (including mission-related deaths) just marks a negative on the life system (so I'm at x-200 lives), and while that may sound like a modern alternative to the ancient "life" system that will take away progress if you get a Game Over and knock you back a significant amount, it will still rob you of all your weapons purchased in the overworld, so if you go and blow your cash on a bunch of sweet weapons, then get a bit too frisky with the rocket launcher and die, then all your weapons disappear.

Retro City Rampage isn't just rated T for running down pedestrians (interestingly, I've seen no blood as the ESRB describes it), there's a reference to masturbation (seen above) and also some other fun stuff that wouldn't fly in an E-rated game. One of the parody businesses is called "F.U. Monday's", in an homage to the original logo of "T.G.I. Friday's". If you'd like, you can take a look at the larger city map linked below and see what you can find.

But like the time when my roommate attempted to make chicken soup with some leftover chicken thighs, a bunch of great ingredients doesn't really add up to a good game, and in the end Retro City Rampage just becomes a somewhat entertaining but also very average title. It also blocks mods beyond palette swaps, limiting what you can do with it. With an 8-bit title and some admittedly solid groundwork, it would be nice if you could build your own maps, replace vehicles, or build your own wacky scenarios, but you can't. Despite my somewhat mixed review, if they offered an editor in DLC, I would totally buy it.

However, that's unlikely as VBlank Entertainment is at work creating a "16-bit" sequel called Shakedown: Hawaii, which they have a trailer for here. They also released a full map of the city as it appears in the game, which I've re-hosted here. It may provide hints of where you're trying to go, but see if you count the references to real-world references and video games.