Saturday, 9 February 2013

Retro City Rampage

But MDA cards can't do graphics!!

Retro City Rampage by Vblank Entertainment, here to teach us some important life lessons, such as why you shouldn't delay a game for countless months, and why GTA III on the NES might have been a more worthwhile project than creating a downloadable XBLA parody. Clearly a bastion of learning - we should be honoured to be in its presence.

Parodies; we all know how I feel about those. When pulled off well they can redefine standards for 2D side-scrolling shooters, and when pulled off badly, you can expect time travelling ducks and awkward acronyms. And yes, I should stop referencing old projects of mine on this blog.

Video game parodies are a rare thing - it's almost inconceivable that the eccentric NBA Jam was a gold standard for video game basketball twenty years ago, and even though we have an entire film genre devoted to comedy, the political minefield that is "humour" is actively avoided in video games for reasons I don't fully understand. So let me begin by commending Retro City Rampage for at least trying to bring comedic writing back into the fold - it may have failed, but at least it made an effort.

Retro City Rampage began as one man's attempt at bringing Grand Theft Auto III to the NES, but following a new coat of paint and a platform change, it now thrives on more modern systems, flirting with 1980s and early 1990s American pop culture because that's not been done before! It's a game I could almost call my own - time travel, characters called "player", frequent breaking of the fourth wall and a truckload of stolen ideas, all wound together in a slightly awkward package with a frustrating final boss - it makes me so proud!

But the comments from the press are justified - Retro City Rampage owes almost its entire existence to the hard graft of others, with very little in this game being home grown. Though you could argue that stitching together good ideas could lead to something spectacular, it's clear why there's divisions in the lobbies over this one - I had expected Retro City Rampage to be inspired by the old, but the blatant lifting of DeLoreans and Ninja Turtles seems almost... criminal. Fitting given the source material, but best not tell the lawyers!

It didn't need to be this way - this is borderline cheapo fangame territory, with a design team seemingly too caught up in the works of others to create new and unique experiences for themselves. With tedious "memes" and cameos from internet celebrities coming along for the ride, vast chunks of RCR will be no doubt lost on the public at large, and though it certainly succeeds in being a parody, it takes lessons from the school of Scary Movie and its derivatives, as opposed to something more intelligent like Airplane! or Police Squad.

Considering Retro City Rampage is a game which relies on a plot, the writing is abnormally poor at times, and the (unexpected) political rants regarding indie game development seem misplaced for a game trading on Xbox Live. With awkward pacing and confusing plot elements, the entire script could, in my view, use another draft - where not dealing with something horrific here, but there's clearly a feeling of quantity over quality when it comes to the satire on display. What's the point of an Epic Meal Time cameo, for example, if there's not enough pixels to adequately define the bacon??

From a gameplay perspective Retro City Rampage holds its ground quite well, capturing the spirit of older Grand Theft Autos while throwing in a few new concepts of its own (such as jumping/stomping), but it's constantly hindered by its obsession with the past. The low resolution and colour counts are detrimental to the game's success, and although each are tough situations to avoid given the setting, it all helps to highlight the overall problem with this game - it's perhaps a bit poorly planned.

My main beef with Retro City Rampage is the controls. Though clearly inspired by GTAs of old, Retro City Rampage opts for rigid eight-directional movement and simplified car physics, taking away much of the "flow" veterans expect from this genre. The actual art of "rampaging" often feels like a chore - eight directional fire doesn't map well to the right analogue stick, and I never quite mastered using "A" as the break pedal.

The rest of the game, though certainly above average, is sadly short on outstanding brilliance. The aesthetics and audio are passable, but conforming to NES standards means it's always haunted by its chosen lack of detail - character sprites are far too small for hand-to-hand combat, and elements such as the heads-up-display make the world feel cramped. Retro City Rampage certainly has its moments, but Brian Provinciano clearly bit off more than he could chew - a second (or third) set of eyes could have gone a long way.

Still, one should never shy away from a game considered to be above average, and even though Retro City Rampage is a bit shabby around the edges, it's still one of the better XBLA titles to show up in the last six months. It's also, of course, very difficult to fault something which supports (two) CGA graphics modes - I haven't been able to burn my eyes during long sessions of play for years!

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