The definitive version of the 8-bit themed open-world game finds its home on the 3DS.
Grand Theft Auto 3 was one of the biggest games of the past 15 years. Many games tried to replicate its success, but very few have succeeded, whether its a lackluster open world or poor writing. That's where a game like Retro City Rampage: DX shines. It doesn't try to replicate Grand Theft Auto in the sense of trying to do it better. It looks and sounds like a game from the NES era, and plays like one, too. I gave the game a shot on the PC and PlayStation 3 about a year ago, but I never bothered to invest much time into it. Now that I’ve given a game a third chance on the 3DS, the game finally feels like it has a proper home.
Not only does the game manage to look crystal clear and smooth compared to the PS3 and PC versions of the game, but it also boasts quite a few new features. The touchscreen features a large mini-map of your surrounding area, and also allows you to customize what kinds of shops show up on the map, making it easier to get to where you need to go if you need an extra power-up. The touchscreen also allows you to easily select any weapon you currently have on the fly, making finding the appropriate tool for the job that much quicker.
Various other tweaks to the game were made to make it more suitable for portable play. Missions are paced faster with more checkpoints, weapons have been rebalanced and allow you to jump and fire at the same time, and you’re given more opportunities to give police the slip. While it sounds like the developer dumbed down the game, rest assured that all of these changes were for the better, and really help make the game feel that much more frantic and fun to play. The experience is still challenging without feeling unfair or frustrating.
Retro City Rampage plays like the first two Grand Theft Auto games, using a top-down perspective instead of being in full 3D. I was really impressed how many shops, missions, and more the developer was able to squeeze in. The city feels alive with all of the different cars on the road and pedestrians walking on the sidewalk. Like the GTA games, the police will be coming after you whenever you run over or murder enough pedestrians, but as stated earlier, it's easier than ever to give them the slip with some clever driving or painting your car a different color in the game’s various car shops.
The game’s writing and atmosphere really makes the it feel unique. Whether it’s constantly breaking the fourth wall, or making references to various video games, television shows and movies from the 1980’s, it’s hard to play this game with a straight face. While these references aren’t exactly subtle, they still made me laugh. The game’s peppy and upbeat 8-bit soundtrack is also nostalgic and fits the retro vibe of the game extremely well. I found it to be some of the best chiptune music from a game in recent memory.The graphics look like an NES game that has been super-charged with Blast Processing. The characters, scenery and cars all look as if they were ripped right out of the 8-bit era, but the action never slows down. Playing on the 3DS XL, I was amazed at how crisp the game looked. Everything in the 3DS version is zoomed in by about 2:1, so every object feels like it’s easily identifiable, and is easy to keep track of where you are, which is an issue I had with the game’s previous release.
Controlling the game can be a bit complex when you first begin, but after a while everything starts to be second nature. There's a cover system in the game, that allows you to hide behind small walls, but I never really found it useful. The places you can take cover behind rarely allow an opportunity to shoot back at your enemy, but running and gunning most of the missions is still a perfectly good strategy, and can be incredibly satisfying. There are, however, a few frame rate slowdowns when there's a lot of action going on. Thankfully the game keeps going at a very brisk pace, and doesn’t let the dropped frames impact the experience.
Retro City Rampage: DX is the best open world game to hit a portable system since GTA: Chinatown Wars on the DS. The main story mode will last about five to six hours, not including all of the side missions where you extra weapons, cars and playable characters. There are also quite a few arcade style challenges, a free roaming mode that gives you unlimited money and ammunition to goof around in the city with, and mini arcade games starring characters like Super Meat Boy and Commander Video from the Bit.Trip series. Hopefully, we won’t “feel asleep” before we get a sequel.