1 Player – Developer: Programancer/Retroware – Publisher: Screenwave Media Inc/Retroware – Out now on Playstation 4/5, Nintendo Switch (version tested), Xbox One/Series, PC
It’s the future, 1997, Detroit is now one giant prison, and it’s been overrun by Techno-Terrorists. It’s your job to infiltrate the prison, meet up with your contacts and take down the wardens of each section, which will put an end to the terrorists. Sound familiar? It’s a game that wears its influences on its sleeve. Inspired by the games of the beloved 1980’s console, the Nintendo Entertainment System, as well as a plethora of action movies of the decade, Prison City is an homage, a parody and a love letter to the era. It’s an action packed platformer with shades of Mega Man, Rygar, V.I.C.E Project Doom, Batman and many other titles of the time, with that gritty, cyberpunk aesthetic that fueled millions of imaginations back in the 80’s and early 90’s. With an 8-bit colour palette, and John Carpenter in mind, Prison City is an absolute blast.
Those familiar with the games of that era, will no doubt find a lot of nostalgic pleasure from the game design, with several different approaches to the games’ difficulty. There are modern and classic settings, meaning it can be as brutal as the old days, or a little more forgiving and accessible. The majority of games from that era would er on the side of the arcade format and make things rather difficult, meaning you’d be putting a lot of time in to figure everything out. Traversing levels can be very tough. However, Prison City allows you to adjust the difficulty and game style to suit you. Everyone from old school pro’s, to absolute beginners are catered for, as the game has lots of options to suit all eras. Brutal difficulty, or plenty of lives and checkpoints are up to you.
The gameplay itself is immediately reminiscent of the aforementioned Rygar, as your weapon, the chakrams, work in a very similar way to that game. And for its look and style, well, there’s probably a hundred NES games of the era that you could compare it too. The game sees you navigating the sewers, factories, botanical gardens, highways and several other areas of Detroit, all of which, aside from the opening level, can be tackled at any time, much like the Mega Man games, where you can choose which level to do in any order. Unlike Mega Man however, the level being completed isn’t dictated by your inventory. Each level has you taking on enemies and obstacles to find the informant who will then give you access to the boss. En route, you pick up upgrades, grenades and other power ups, making the boss fights a little more one sided. They aren’t too easy however, as each boss has their own set pattern and takes a few goes to figure out. Depending on what mode you’re playing will have an outcome on how easy it is to defeat a boss. Playing on the modern difficulty for example, will mean you start in the boss arena every time you are killed, however lose all your lives and it’s back to the beginning of the level. Once you have the lay of the land, it becomes quite straight forward, with enemy weaknesses and tells become more apparent the more you play.
Prison City is a very good retro style platformer, and probably one of the better games currently available in the sub-genre. It’s a great time, and doesn’t take itself seriously. A great homage to one of pop culture’s golden ages.