Despite the existence of big-budget licenses like "Assassin's Creed" and "Call of Duty," independent gaming — projects using a minimal budget and staff — continues to be incredibly popular. Recent examples include "Dust: An Elysian Tail" (an Xbox Live Arcade platforming game put together mostly by one man, Dean Dodrill) and the retro-styled music/action game "Dyad" (the work of solo programmer Shawn McGrath). Both have become huge critical darlings, and there's a lot more where that came from.
But one title in particular that's gotten attention at every game event it's been at over the years is "Retro City Rampage." Think "Grand Theft Auto," but put together through the use of 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) hardware. "Rampage" is the brainchild of programmer Brian Provinciano, who has been working on the project for more than a decade, starting in 2002 with home-built NES hardware, before moving the project to a PC.
At the dawn of the project, Brian was merely setting out to recreate the "go anywhere, do anything" logic of "Grand Theft Auto" in the 8-bit world. But as time went on, the project – then known as "Grand Theftendo" – grew into something bigger when he began adding influences from his childhood. Everything from movies to classic game moments (like underwater mines defusing in the original "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" NES release) to fellow independent video game heroes were thrown in for good measure.
Over the course of the game, players control an old-school thug who must meet a series of objectives through missions, whether it's wiping out targets or helping out an associate in dire need of something ridiculous (like blowing up cars). Along the way, they can do whatever they see fit, driving around and running over pedestrians, getting into fights with pursuing cops or, at one point in the game, riding around on a gargantuan ape that bears a minimal resemblance to Nintendo's own "Donkey Kong." And that's after you get out of a DeLorean that can go 88 miles per hour (a reference to "Back To the Future").
As development moved along, Provinciano called in a few talented musical artists to put the soundtrack together using "chiptunes," recreating a classic-style game soundtrack with NES-related hardware. Performers such as Leonard "FreakyDNA" Paul, Jake "Virt" Kaufman and Matt "Norrin Radd" Creamer were a marvelous recreation of something you'd hear straight out of a 1980's Nintendo release — but with a little more style.
Everywhere Provinciano showed the game, it was met with high praise — but many folks were wondering when it would finally be released. However, this past week, Sony Computer Entertainment of America shocked the world when it announced that "Retro City Rampage" would be available this week for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. It was also announced that a PC/Steam version would release at the same time, and upcoming editions for Xbox Live Arcade and WiiWare would follow sometime in the next few weeks.
We're playing through the game now and absolutely love it, with its variety of missions, classic presentation and unpredictable nature. How unpredictable? At one point, you're flying around in a 3D battle stage using fellow game hero "Super Meat Boy." That unpredictable.
You can buy it now through Valve's Steam game service on PC and on the PlayStation Network. As a bonus provided by Sony, if you buy either the Vita or PlayStation 3 version, you get the other one free. For good measure, you can save your game progress through cloud services and continue from the same spot on the go or at home.
We definitely recommend checking it out, if only to run through the countless '80s references – and Provinciano's incredible retro design – for yourself.
Just watch out for that "Donkey Kong" clone….