You can't fight retro city hall.
"This is Retro City Rampage DX," says the game's developer, Brian Provinciano, referring to the 3DS version of the game as a sort of ultimate version. The game has previously been released on PSN, Windows, XBLA, and WiiWare, but this is my first time sitting down with it.
Retro City Rampage is a little crazy, as if Grand Theft Auto had never left the 2D era of the first and second game in the series, but with tons of references to '80s and '90s pop culture. Pronvinciano originally developed the game as a homebrew game for the NES, and even showed me an unlocked NES build on 3DS. It was fascinating to see how the game ran, and to hear Brian talk about the programming challenges of sprite flicker and other issues, before he decided to make a game that focussed more on fun than fidelity to the original system.
The car control has the feel of a particular era of NES game, reminding me of Roger Rabbit and something else I can't put finger on it. But Provinciano nails it when he tells me Dick Tracy, a game my brothers and I rented from the local video store when I was a kid.
It's exactly that kind of nostalgia, specifically for that era, that Provinciano is going for. In an early sequence in the game, on the run from the cops after a heist gone wrong, you can jump into a time-traveling out-house (modeled after the phone booth from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure), to be rescued by Doc Choc (Dr. Emmett Brown) who you need to fix your time machine. Soon enough you're off doing a mission towards this goal for Major Lee Solid. a mashup of Lee Majors—the actor who played the Six Million Dollar Man—and Solid Snake.
There are also parodies of the opening of Mega Man and other game properties, as well as many references to life in Vancouver, BC that he was surprised got noticed. But it comes down to the game just being fun, and like a coked-out version of Grand Theft Auto 2, with so many references Provinciano says that people started finding ones he didn't intend.
"I made the game for myself, so it has a lot of inside jokes that are just for me and my friends, too," he told me. That drive, to create a game for that small community, has created something that has a real individual feel to it. It is currently available on PS3, Vita, PC, XBLA, WiiWare, and releases on the 3DS later this quarter.