All too often have I played a game that has potential but never fully realizes it because it doesn't understand fully what it is. Thankfully, that trend is not present in Retro City Rampage DX for the Nintendo Switch. Not only does this game understand exactly what it tries to do, but goes above and beyond its own limitations to keep players engaged- but I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself.
VBlank Entertainment knows fully well that it has to stand out from the indie crowd and pokes fun at video game and movie cliches while still delivering an experience that's worth coming back to.
From the opening moments of Retro City Rampage DX, you know exactly what you're in for. Everyone calls you by the name "Player" and you're working for a psychopathic criminal named "the Jester." These are the kinds of jokes that will be present throughout the game's story and will move you forward.
While performing one of your heights alongside the Batman villain knock-off, you'll encounter a phone booth that bears a strange resemblance to the Tardis. You travel through time and land in a distant period. However, the booth breaks down and you're stuck in that period, though there is a glimmer. You are met by the white-haired Doc Choc who drives a silver DeLorean that can also travel through time (see what I mean?).
From there, the story only descends further into madness. You'll fight versions of RoboCop and the Ninja Turtles while helping out people similar to the Ghostbusters and Solid Snake. While many of these references certainly made me laugh, the story jumps from one to the other so quickly that I had a hard time keeping up. The jokes and story alike are moving so erratically that you may just skip the cutscenes altogether. I will also say that there were a few references that I didn't catch on to (and I'm pretty knowledgeable in pop culture), so that may mar the experience for some people.
That being said, many of the scenarios I found myself in were hilarious, enjoyable, and engaging. One minute, I could be driving the Biffmobile, and the next, I could be riding a robotic Donkey Kong that was stolen by Dr. Buttnick. It's nonsensical, but in terms of the mission-style gameplay, that serves to its benefit.
When it comes to gameplay, if I could describe it in one sentence, it would be Grand Theft Auto in an 8-bit style. It's clear that Retro City Rampage DX took a lot of inspiration from Rockstar's hit series, but that's not a bad thing by any means. They never rip the game off and inject enough of their own ideas that it makes for a self-contained experience.
You run around the open world city of Theftropolis 20XX- a living community with cars, pedestrians, shops, and police who aren't afraid to take you down. You can easily walk from point A to point B, or you can nab a car to get there a little faster. Cars handle differently depending on which one you choose, but you can also go to a power-up shop and get some shoes to make you travel faster.
Like any good open world game, Retro City Rampage DX loves giving the player options. Despite the world not being as big as you'd expect, there are enough challenges, side quests, and main story missions to keep you busy for a while. While a bit more linear than legendary open world games, it's still a fun time.
Moving on to the combat, be prepared to experience a lot of it. Not only will you be fighting hordes of enemies in the story mode, but you'll easily agitate the cops while in Theftropolis (who get stronger the more damage you do). Thankfully, the mechanics are very refined here. You can hold "Y" to lock on enemy after enemy and fire repeatedly, or you can use dual-stick shooting if you'd prefer a more precise control scheme. It depends on the situation which one works better, but again, options are nice.
On top of shooting and running people over, you're also given a stomp mechanic where you can land on people's heads to knock them out. It adds a bit more fluidity to the combat system and it was a welcome addition. Punching won't always cut it and it serves as a way to dodge incoming bullets.
Furthermore, there are other things to do outside of the Story Mode. You can go to arcade mode, where you can replay all the various challenges you unlocked while playing the game, and you can go to Free Roam Mode, where you'll be dropped in Theftropolis free to do whatever you want.
The challenges themselves don't give you much incentive to keep coming back (I wasn't too invested in them), but they're difficult enough to keep completionists playing them and still have fun. Replaying them in Arcade Mode isn't the number one thing I'd do in this game, but I'm glad that it's there.
Undoubtedly, Free Roam Mode is for the people who just want to cause some chaos, or see how long they can last against the authorities. Here is where a lot of your efforts in the Story Mode come to fruition. With a working knowledge of Theftropolis and the various shops, you can plan and adapt to each situation. On top of that, you don't have to use Player- there are other characters to choose from, all of whom are unlockable. They require special challenges completed in the Story Mode, but the variety is worth it. VBlank Entertainment also took this opportunity to bring in some cameos from Commander Video, Super Meat Boy, and Steve from Minecraft, two of which are unlocked through arcade spoofs of their games of origin.
There's simply a lot to do in Retro City Rampage DX, and considering the $15 price tag, it's an impressive amount of content. You'll be hard pressed to find a better bang for your buck on the Switch.
I should take this time to mention that, like most indie titles, this game is an amazing fit for the Switch. Because of its bite-sized mission gameplay, it's so easy to just slip off the console and complete a few levels in the comfort of your bedroom. The Switch version has a leg up on other versions because of this alone.
Graphics & Audio
As I stated before, Retro City Rampage DX is an 8-bit game that looks like it belongs on an NES. Character models are blocky, there is little detail in the city, and many vehicles look the same. However, this, in combination with the '80s references, serves the game well and is done masterfully. It's important to note that these low graphics led to a rock solid 60 fps at all times, with 720p in handheld and 1080p in docked mode. I never once experienced a slowdown.
Adding to the graphics section, the developers took the time to use this for more than just an art style. They actually go as far as to spoof other popular games of the era, complete with the same viewpoint and visual style. It's all still 8-bit, but little touches (like a section that allows the use of 3D glasses) go a long way to make the game ooze with personality.
On the audio front, it's a win as well. All of the music is chippy and edgy just like you'd expect of a game from the '80s. All of the sound effects are on point as well. You can hear the subtle engine change of a nice car and the little jump effect when you fly over an obstacle. Every sound feels distinct and defined, which makes the game feel that much more complete.
When reviewing games, I often keep playing out of a sense of obligation. I've beaten several games that I haven't had the drive to play, but that's not the case with Retro City Rampage DX. I kept coming back because I enjoyed it and even went out of my way to do more side quests and arcade games.
If you're wondering whether this game is worth it or not, don't. The sheer amount of content and replayability are more than enough to justify a purchase. However, the game goes above and beyond with its 8-bit style combined with a slew of pop culture references. Coupling that with rock solid gameplay, and you have a title that knows exactly what it is and what it's trying to do. All of this and more will only set you back $15, which is a steal worthy of Theftropolis itself.
|+ Great Art and Story Direction||– Nonsensical Story|
|+ Hilarious References||– Some References Are a Bit Too Obscure|
|+ Great Bang for Your Buck||– Challenges Won't Impress|
|+ Fully Realized Game|