Okay, so you play thug criminal Player, the first in a long-line of ironic references to how inside-jokey the game is. You're brought back into the past by a future version of yourself via a handy time-traveling Delorean stylish sports car with huge vents and tasked with gathering all of the tools that Doc Brown not Doc Brown needs to build a new time machine. I don't think I'm lying when I say that every possible eighties reference is made in this game, packed three deep in every single moment, but as someone who found this sort of self-flagellating trivial nostalgia annoying in book form, seeing it in game form grates pretty quickly.
Once you get past the endless retro references, you're left what amounts to be a stripped down version of Grand Theft Auto III from the perspective of Grand Theft Auto 2, minus all that gang warfare stuff or an enticing narrative to keep you going. Retro City Rampage is also jam-packed with little gameplay wrinkles that come and go so quickly that you wonder what the buildup was for. Each new mission introduces you to some new component to the game, but because of the game's breakneck pace, you don't get to enjoy them long before they're gone. Then there's the varying layers of combat, like the fact that you can shoot anyone like a dual-stick shooter, melee them, or jump on them, Mario-style. It's too much. The game is also more than happy to cycle between tributes of other games without breaking a sweat, like Contra, Metal Gear, or Smash TV. Unfortunately, to maintain the game's rigid retro look, and perhaps to accommodate all these different shifts, you never assume an ideal zoom of the field. Your character is nearly microscopic on-screen, which makes melee combat in tight spaces (read: anything indoors) a pain while side events like races are hurt because it can't zoom out far enough.
It's obvious that a lot of love went into Retro City Rampage, but despite its volume of content, and there is plenty of game in here, it's shackled by poor design decisions. Underneath it all is a fun GTA-alike, but it just doesn't bob its head up often enough.