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Instant gratification

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By Anthony L. Cuaycong

Video Game Review
Retro City Rampage DX
Vblank Entertainment
Nintendo Switch

As far as impulse buys go, Retro City Rampage DX isn’t one that stands out from among a slew of eShop titles for the Nintendo Switch. It’s not quite original; it borrows heavily from the premise of such mayhem-maker notables as Grand Theft Auto and Saint’s Row. It features graphics that hark back to the eight-bit days of gaming; as its name indicates, it revels in tapping hopefully treasured memories of times when “fun” meant stepping away from, and not striving to replicate, reality. And it relies on a simple, if deliberately ridiculous, plot to get moving; as Nintendo’s official Web site for the release notes, “it’s a pop culture sendup [that] includes a full Story Mode of open world adventure, plus Arcade Challenges for quick pick-up-and-play action.” In other words, it looks far from promising on paper for those who know little about it.

Then again, Retro City Rampage isn’t new. In fact, it has been around since 2012, when it debuted on the PC, the PlayStation 3, and the PS Vita. And since then, it has been ported over to just about any platform available, including the 3DS in early 2014 and the Switch last month. If anything, its wide release speaks to both its crossover appeal and the utter absence of complexity as its selling proposition. It delivers exactly what it promises, nothing more and nothing less, and relies on just-about-perfect programming to do so. So unless you’ve been living under a rock in the last half decade, you know what you’re getting – and getting into – with Vblank Entertainment’s offering.

In Retro City Rampage DX, you get immersed in mid-’80s Theftropolis, where you’re “The Player,” a thug who somehow gets hold of a time-traveling phone booth, which you then use to jump to the next century, only to have to repair it with the help of scientist Doc Choc. Confused with the narrative? No worries; it’s just an excuse to set up all the mayhem you’re sure to relish. And, as with spiritual source GTA, it even allows you to wreak havoc as you see fit. To heck with the story; if you wish to steal the car of your choice and just drive around town and through – yes, through – its inhabitants in an ode to chaos, you can do so to your heart’s delight. Needless to say, it also has cheat codes to help you along, not unlike the way titles for the Nintendo Entertainment System loaded the dice in gamers’ favor back in its heyday.

For all the seeming lack of adornment, Retro City Rampage DX is actually a well-thought-out – make that very well-thought-out – indie production. Old-school, old-world references abound, but are churned out with rhyme and reason. Those steeped in the ’80s – fondly referred to as the golden era, and not just of gaming – will, in particular, appreciate the playful and often reverential allusions to the best of the time. You continually get visual and aural cues that reference iconic characters, images, and events, all while taking in design elements from multiple genres and consoles. And, as a welcome bonus, you don’t get bogged down with technical issues; unlike other prominent, supposedly retail-ready titles, the patches you get are aimed at improving gameplay, not fixing bugs and glitches. It’s clearly a labor of love for developer Brian Provinciano.

If you’re partial to games within games, then Retro City Rampage DX is for you. You get access to four diversionary activities, ROM City Rampage included. The latter is a homebrew version of the game designed to run on the NES, preserved for your pleasure, warts and all. Parenthetically, you can accept missions that are simple and short, exactly the type of endeavors the Switch lends best to when undocked. Sure, the 3DS version does the same thing. On the other hand, who doesn’t want more screen real estate and better controls with minimal effect on portability.

In the final analysis, Retro City Rampage DX holds value far beyond its $14.99 price tag. It’s a quick download at 24 megabytes (nope, this is no typo error), and because there’s no learning curve, you’re off to the races, and fast. It’s instant gratification on the go; all you have to do is grab hold of your Joy-Cons and enjoy it for all that it’s worth.

THE GOOD:
• Delivers retro goodness in spades
• Boasts of near-pristine programming
• Captures the look and feel of the eighties

THE BAD:
• Target audience skews older

RATING: 9/10

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