Review: Retro City Rampage: DX for Nintendo 3DS

A retro-riffic good time!

I suppose that I should get something out of the way upfront before diving into this review: I’m really not a huge fan of Grand Theft Auto.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re really neat, well put-together games, but they’ve just never really resonated. I used to mess around a lot in the original game on the first PlayStation, but I never really got “into” the meat of the game, as it just never really held my interest for that long. Similarly, playing later 3D installments on the PlayStation 2 didn’t do much for me, either. I’d run around, grab someone’s car, drive dangerously, and eventually get killed and be done with it. They just never really hooked me.

With that said, Retro City Rampage: DX for Nintendo 3DS is a game which has managed to hook me. However, it’s probably not for everyone.

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The core gameplay of Retro City Rampage is very much like that of its inspiration, or at least the original top-down installments. A few things set it apart, though, and most prominent of all is the sheer number of references stuffed and packed into every single corner of the game.

Put simply, the game reminds me a lot of Family Guy, less for the characters of that show and more for all the quick gags and references which exist to tickle one’s nostalgia. However, Retro City Rampage plays it a bit more cleverly; rather than just randomly dropping Character X from Franchise Y into a bizarre situation (“Optimus Prime is Jewish?!”), developer Brian Provinciano instead uses spoofs and references to weave a cohesive world where everything is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the player. The result is finding all sorts of businesses and characters which are recognizable, but not so blatant as to be “here’s ___, ha ha ha.”

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For example, you have a photo developer called “Fresh Prints,” named for the former identity of a young Will Smith. Breaking into a government facility, you’ll find your surroundings look like the second level of Contra. That black van that just passed by on the street looks a bit like the van from The A-Team, while the green one resembles the Turtle Van from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Others are a bit more heavy-handed, but still come in a more playful manner. Doc Choc, seen in the cover art, is clearly a riff on Doc Brown from Back to the Future, as is his time traveling automobile, both of which play a central role in the plot and all its time-travel shenanigans.

Truth be told, it’s all of these references which kept me going, as I was interested in seeing what would pop up next. A Joker expy? A radioactive plumber biting me? What familiar places would I venture to next? What new item from another world would I pick up? And so on.

Interestingly, this also affected my play pattern in this sort of game. As I mentioned before, I more often tend to take advantage of the open world and ignore the main missions in Grand Theft Auto and just mess around to my heart’s content. But here, while it also features plenty of open world content to check out (including a functional in-game arcade with crossovers from several other indie titles, such as Bit.Trip and Super Meat Boy), I found myself sticking to the missions, since that’s how you get to experience a lot of the more unique, interesting references and content.

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On the graphics and sound front, the game was designed to be like an 8-bit title for the Nintendo Entertainment System– in fact, the project began as a homebrew project to port Grand Theft Auto 3 to that very platform. While there are undoubtedly some programming “cheats” which would make it impossible to run on an actual NES now, it retains the style of graphics and sound those familiar with that generation of gaming come to expect. There are even different visual filters you can use to emulate different types of televisions, or even types of Game Boy screen.

One minor downside is that despite being on the Nintendo 3DS, there is no 3D involved. Given the amount of work that would go into making such a thing happen for a top-down title (“it would’ve been half as much work as an entirely new game”), it’s little wonder.

Beyond that, there are numerous other changes which have been made for this version of the title. I didn’t get to play the original release as much, so I can’t compare directly, but this version has overall felt more polished, containing all the updates and new content added to previous titles, and even more (hence the “DX” in the title), making this the definitive version of the game. I can’t really go into all the changes here, but Provinciano has put together a fairly comprehensive list on his website, as well as in the videos below, so if you’ve played prior versions of the game, these should tell you what changes to expect going into the Nintendo 3DS game.

So, here’s where things get a little strange. I actually rather love Retro City Rampage: DX, but would I recommend it?

Unfortunately, that’s not an easy answer, as it depends on a lot of things. For instance, as I said previously, I’m not really into Grand Theft Auto, yet this appeals to me. As such, can I really recommend it to fans of Rockstar’s hit series? Conversely, it would seem easier to recommend this Teen-rated title to younger gamers who want a Grand Theft Auto-styled experience, but aren’t old enough for those Mature-rated titles.

That presents another conundrum: Would a younger gamer appreciate all the references included as much as older players who remember gaming in the late 80s? Naturally, that is likely going to depend on the player, but just the same, one has to imagine a lot of the references would be lost on them, leaving them with a wacky world to run around in, but one stripped of much of what makes so much of the game’s content appealing overall.

There is a lot to love here, and while every element– from its open-world gameplay to its retro graphic style to its parade of pop culture references– may not hit the mark with everyone, it’s still a solid, quality title. For me, everything just clicked, but if one piece does falter for you, the rest will hopefully be enough to carry you through.

N3DS_RetroCityRampage_Title_ScreenRetro City Rampage: DX was released for the Nintendo 3DS on February 6th, 2014 at a price of $9.99.

A review code was provided by Vblank Entertainment.


About the author

David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at)