Retro City Rampage preview: A Hodgepodge of Homages

There are all of those inside jokes, those gaming and pop culture references that we slip into conversation now and again, eliciting a chuckle from those "in the know." Now imagine you had enough knowledge to make a game and decided, "Hey, what the heck? I'll go ahead and put in a nod toward this classic in my game." That's kinda what Brian Provinciano did.

He came up with Retro City Rampage, a self-professed "open world action parody" that started out as Grand Theftendo, an attempt to create Grand Theft Auto 3 on the NES. It kinda snowballed from there and eventually ended up being Retro City Rampage, a retro sandbox game with plenty of moxie.
%Gallery-97765% The PAX 10 are all excellent games -- sporting that label on your game is a sure sign of its quality -- but Retro City Rampage is the kind of game that makes you remember why you got into gaming in the first place. Mostly because Retro City Rampage reminds you of other awesome games basically every few minutes. And from the outset of my demo, I knew Brian and his compatriots at VBlank Entertainment really crafted something special here.

The PAX demo came in two different flavors: story mode and free play. The free play mode unlocks the city and takes the restraints off Player (the main character you control), opening up the city to exploration and crime. But the real gem was the story mode, which starts off with an ambitious Player eyeballing a poster inquiring about henchmen. Hey, it offered benefits ... and a cell phone!

Three years later, Player is henching for Jester, a Joker-like mad man who sets off to rob a bank -- Dark Knight anyone? From here, my demo took me down a rabbit hole full of crazy. I robbed the bank, escaping in a school bus (natch) and eventually found myself in a Frogger segment trying to dodge an intersection full of other speeding buses. At this point, Jester wanted me to cross the intersection on foot, but Player was quite hesitant. There was a dead frog in the road that didn't particularly bode well.

So Jester showed me the ace up his sleeve: a pair of red shoes that would increase my speed to hedgehog-like proportions. I made my way across, but Jester grew impatient and decided to shoot up all of the buses with a rocket launcher anyway. Naturally that brought the cops in and I found myself going through a daze of gaming send-ups.

I went down in the sewers and dodged ninja turtles. I met Major Lee Solid, who told me about Jackal and what truck I needed to sneak into the back of in a sequence almost exactly like that in Metal Gear. I even took a ride in a time-traveling phone booth and met a Doc Brown-looking dude. It was all very bodacious.

Even through the flurry of events, the gameplay never took a back seat to the hilarity on screen. Aside from incorporating basic shooting elements (point your character, press the button and light somebody up!), the game also had a pretty neat cover mechanic. Creeping up against any object, I only needed to hit a button to hide behind cover. Then it was as simple as pressing the d-pad toward my target and firing, which would cause Player to peek his head up and let loose. The driving segments were just as basic and intuitive. Think: the first Grand Theft Auto.

Retro City Rampage is truly something special. Not only is it an obvious labor of love from somebody who loves games, it's proof positive that a classic game is perfectly capable of incorporating modern gameplay elements in an excellent way -- even if it's technically not a classic game at all.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.