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Shakedown: Hawaii (Switch) Hands-on Preview

by Michael Cole - June 26, 2017, 6:49 pm EDT
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Rebuild your mobster empire in style in this spiritual sequel to Retro City Rampage.

One of the most memorable Switch games I played during E3 wasn’t even on the show floor. Vblank Entertainment’s Shakedown: Hawaii demo at the Indie MIX event was visually appealing, cleverly written, and delightfully tactile.

In Shakedown: Hawaii you play as an aging Legitimate Businessman and D-list celebrity who comes out of retirement upon finding out via a news report that his old business is struggling to stay competitive. With the business on the verge of being taken over by a rival organized crime syndicate and his pride on the line, he takes it upon himself to save his company. This generally consists of shaking down local businesses for protection money with the threat of (or actual use of) violence, and then using that money to buy out other businesses and property.

In many ways Shakedown: Hawaii resembles Vblank’s prior game, Retro City Rampage. The top-down Grand Theft Auto style gameplay is similar to RCR: you have mostly free reign to steal cars, run over pedestrians, and generally run amok as you go from mission to mission to eliminate the competition. You can also don disguises to add some personal flair and additional goofiness to the mix. While there is a police force and they will hunt you down if you aren’t careful, the basic gameplay is fairly freewheeling and it was fun to just drive around causing havoc. Want to smash into a wall? No problem. Feel like firing a bazooka at someone? It’s dumb fun. That said, the missions can get tough: I died repeatedly trying to torch a collection of businesses without catching on fire myself.

But the main story should not be dismissed as an afterthought. Although not featured in the promotional trailer for the game, the writing is a huge part of this game’s appeal based on the demo. What I saw of the game oozed with personality. The writing is stuffed with observational humor and parodies of exploitative business practices, and the stylized cut-scene artwork further help to bring the characters to life. Even incidental conversations with denizens and descriptions of locations on the map are worth reading. The mobster boss has a stilted, jaded charisma that is critical to making an anti-hero doing horrible things work.

Though it shares much of its core gameplay with Retro City Rampage, one area where Shakedown: Hawaii is a noticeable upgrade is in its visuals. Whereas RCR looked closer to an 8-bit game, Shakedown game cranks it up a notch to pay homage to the 16-bit era. The sprite work is detailed, yet still slightly chunky, with subtle shadows on rooftops and other touches that really sell the town and its characters. The style overall was reminiscent of some of the arcade and Sierra adventure games from our youths.

Shakedown: Hawaii is coming to multiple platforms (including a 3DS version that was not being demoed) but feels especially at home on Switch. This looks to be a great game for a commute or while hanging out around the house, and it ran and felt great on the Switch in handheld mode when compared with the PC version. Definitely worth getting your dirty hands on when it comes out.

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Game Profile

Shakedown Hawaii Box Art

Genre Action
Developer Vblank Entertainment Inc.

Worldwide Releases

na: Shakedown Hawaii
Release May 07, 2019
PublisherVblank Entertainment Inc.
eu: Shakedown Hawaii
Release Year 2017
PublisherVblank Entertainment Inc.
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