Gameological At E3This Could Be Good

Retro City Rampage

A Link To The Past

Retro City Rampage pays tribute to the pulp of gaming’s yesteryear.

By Gus Mastrapa • June 8, 2012

The preview events provided by most game studios offer only brief glimpses at very big games, so reporting on a preview requires a lot of guesswork and reading between the lines. For E3, we’re highlighting a few games in which we see some promise. Who knows how any given game will pan out in its final form? The most we can say is This Could Be Good.

The video game, though frequently ridiculous, rarely manages to successfully turn a blood-flecked mirror back on itself for the purpose of parody. Retro City Rampage, from designer Brian Provinciano, is a valiant attempt to give the art form its first Airplane!. The game wallows in the corny excess of the NES generation, when games like Commando and Metal Gear Solid smuggled the testosterone of Hollywood action pictures into games made for console kids.

Built first on a hand-made Nintendo development kit, Retro City Rampage has evolved from an obsessive’s hack to a full-fledged commercial project. But the spirit remains the same. Rampage is a loving homage that stitches together fragments of vintage games into one overarching, mostly coherent quest. There’s no criticism of or comment on the works being referenced, except for benign gags that poke fun at, say, the typos and mistranslations that plagued games of the era. The game works just as much as a send-up of ’80s excess as it does as an 8-bit tribute.

And while there’s no novelty in seeing a modern game that is meant to look like an old one (imagine if cinema saw so many silents like The Artist), it is pleasant to see the rudimentary form explored so rigorously. Rampage commits to the premise and doesn’t flinch. Where the artists behind Superbrothers: Sword And Sworcery EP leveraged the big-pixel style to make art that was appealing to the critical eye, Rampage pays little attention to aesthetics. The game allows itself to look ugly. There’s no such shagginess to the audio, though. Sugar rush chiptunes from Virt, Freaky DNA and Norrin Radd provide a soundtrack that fuel for the mayhem.

The most interesting aspect of Provinciano’s project is the bloodline that Retro City Rampage draws between the exploitation of early Nintendo games to the free-roaming carnage of contemporary action games. Amid all the references to classic cartridges, The Player (that’s your character’s name) explores a sprawling city à la Grand Theft Auto. A fair bit of recent culture is also drawn in this nostalgic blender. After a heist in the style of The Dark Knight, the references fly so fast that one could make a game of cataloging them all. In the opening moments of the game’s story, there are nods to Duck Hunt, the music video for The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” Back To The Future, and the enviable hair of Full House hunk John Stamos. It’s possible that all this trainspotting has more in common with the lazy Not Another movie spoofs than the cliché-skewering brilliance of early Zucker-Abram-Zucker pictures. But games have to start somewhere.

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14 Responses to “A Link To The Past”

  1. Raging Bear says:

    Man, remember when nostalgia used to be great?

    I kid, I kid. This looks like good times. I’ll probably get it, especially if it’s a cheap downloadable as I’m unfairly presuming.

    • Girard says:

       “I love the 80s” nostalgia is over a decade old at this point. Can we start feeling nostalgic for that nostalgia yet?

      • Maudib says:

         Even that will wear thin.  If you’re going to be nostalgic, be nostalgic for the future.  Dreaming about flying cars never frays nor dims.

        • obiwanchernobi says:

          The future is too scary. We might not like it. I say we go teh other way with it and go more nostalgic than anyone has before.

          Shakespeare HD Collection. Everybody loves that guy right?

  2. Aurora Boreanaz says:

    It’s the Ready Player One of video games!  Sounds like a lot of fun to me.

  3. Zack Handlen says:

    Glad to see this one finally coming out; I feel like I’ve been reading previews of it for years now. I’m trying to think–have there been any really good video games which also worked as parodies? Battletoads was a decent send of of TMNT, although the jokes were mostly surface level. And of course there are plenty of great joke flash games. Hm. 

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      Hmmm…not sure if it was really a parody of games, or just of comic books, but The Superhero League of Hoboken comes to mind.  The missions at least were definite parodies of other adventure/RPGs of the time, as well as satire.

      • Effigy_Power says:

        Games not currently looking for the Schnibble of Azimuth are invalid and Woodruff-less.
        I also miss Gobliiiiins…

    • Girard says:

      The Mario & Luigi games sometimes incorporated parody of tropes of the traditional Mario games.

      Perhaps the most exhaustive Flash parody is “Abobo’s Adventure,” which, like Retro City Rampage, indiscriminately (and often sophomorically) mashes up a tremendous amount of NES references.

      Oh! “Parodius,” duh! Kind of the exemplar of the form. It’s right there in the title.

      “Cow Clicker” is an interesting (but intentionally not good) parody game that became successful in its own right somehow.

      “Arch Rivals” on the NES was kind of a parody of straight basketball games.

      • GhaleonQ says:

        MOONMOONMOONMOONMOON, but, yeah, I worship Parodius.  I think I’d put it just behind Bangaio and Panzer Dragoon and before Treasure’s 2-shooter series as my favorite shoot-’em-up series.  Not bad for a joke.  It reminds me of Konami’s Persevere, Goemon, another parody-friendly series. 

        Doug TenNapel’s games work as parody and original work.

    • Merve says:

      The Worms games are basically parodies of the artillery genre.

    • 8vturbo . says:

       barkley: shut up and jam gaiden

    • slammin_sammy_sneed says:

       Parodius you dumb nigga.  Play it loud bitch.

  4. Manuel Rodriguez says:

    I kid, I kid. This looks like good times. I’ll probably get it, especially if it’s a cheap downloadable as I’m unfairly presuming