Hidden amongst the bright lights and deafening dubstep of the E3 showroom floor, a few titles blipped on my radar for their attention to nostalgic detail. Just as a film can pay respect to or emulate its medium’s past, some video games of recent years have made it a bold point to revisit an earlier time in gaming history.
In 2008, Mega Man 9 & 10 were made as direct sequels to games 15 years before them, down to the very last detail. Similarly, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 and the New Super Mario Bros. franchise have gone back to their roots in terms of gameplay while updating their graphics. The mini games in No More Heroes 2 parodied classic 8-bit titles. This trend has been growing and it’s not close to stopping.
Square Enix is releasing an iOS version of a Japanese mobile title, Final Fantasy Dimensions. It looks and plays like FFs from the days of Super Nintendo. Fans of that era of RPGs will be pleased to get their hands on this one. The iOS platform is a perfect home for a game like this. Its only modern feature is the touch interface, which is perfect for the menu system of a turn-based game.
Majesco has a re-imagining of a classic NES series on the horizon. Double Dragon: Neon ditches the art style of lesser years, but keeps the beat ‘em up spirit of the originals. The characters are the same and the story is the classic “dude steals a chick and the other dudes that love her clobber everybody to save her” tale. Billy and Jimmy get a whole new look this time around (sort of an anime look), but the title is drenched in 80’s nostalgia. The colors are bright and (can you believe it?) neon. The music is an original score covering all sorts of 80’s genres. It’s a wonderful modernization of the franchise.
Then there is one title, an original, that is so nostalgic and full of references that it will constantly test your nerdy, pop-culture-filled brain. Retro City Rampage is nearly 100% the work of one man, Brian Provinciano, thankfully being published by D3. You play as a criminal who gets sent back in time and must find his way back to the present. What started as a simple idea — what if Grand Theft Auto were 8-bit — has evolved into the largest homage to video games, film, and television I have ever seen. I stood over the game in awe for nearly half an hour, way longer than any other title not screened behind closed doors. Inthat time, I amounted a list of references to beloved pieces of our culture too daunting to type. The list included games such as GTA, Frogger, Super Mario Bros., Bionic Commando, and movies and TV shows The Dark Knight, Ghostbusters, Ninja Turtles, Back to the Future, Bill and Ted, Doctor Who, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and more. There were even references to John Stamos and Game Genie. This shouldn’t be acceptable. It should be cheap and pandering, yet it does it with love and acute cleverness. The player even has the choice to alter the way the game looks to recreate various old screens and their limitations. By the time this feature was revealed to the person playing in front of me, a crowd had formed and everyone oohed and aah’d at the recreation of Game Boy, Virtual Boy, and green scale computer screens. Every variable of old tube televisions is considered, even the curvature of the glass. It’s so cool.
With the exception of the amount of sprites that may appear on the screen, this game is entirely 8-bit. The movements. The sound effects. The music. The colors. Everything. Retro City Rampage dedicates itself so much to its authenticity, I bet, if it weren’t only coming out as a downloadable title, it would come saved on a slightly less than new NES cartridge wrapped in a box with beat up corners. This will be a must play game for every gamer once it is released. As fun as Halo 4 was, and as utterly impressive Star Wars 1313 looked, nothing else got the same reaction that RCR got from the dozen or so people huddled around its one small screen. The game will run you $15, which for 50 missions as well as parodies of Splosion Man, BIT.TRIP Runner, and Super Meat Boy seems like a steal to me. In an E3 full of jaw-dropping titles that push the limits of the current generation of consoles, there’s something special about Retro City Rampage. In my opinion, it outshone the big players.