When Retro City Rampage first came out in 2012, it was a charming love letter to old-school GTA. Now, seven years later, they’ve finally released the second title in their catalog, Shakedown: Hawaii. I was excited to get my hands on this one, as a fan of their first game, but was my enthusiasm misplaced? Or is this new piece of entertainment worth your hard-earned shekels?
Developer: Vblank Entertainment
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS Vita, PC (Epic Games Store)
Release Date: May 7th, 2019
Shakedown: Hawaii has an amusing premise right off the bat. You play as an aging CEO of a corporate powerhouse, who prides himself on running such a tight ship, that he never even has to show up to work. Things go sour for him, however, when he finds out that new companies and their anti-consumer, hostile business practices are taking over, and his empire is crumbling.
Rather than avoid stooping to their level, you set out to take back the streets in the most scummy, vile ways possible. Can’t compete with chocolate prices? Buy cheap, fast-growing cacao beans, mask the flavor with additives, then label it as “chocolate-flavored candy.” Can’t compete with next-day shipping? Steal their delivery trucks and drive them into the river!
You play as several different characters throughout the story, from the business owner himself, to his privileged, obnoxious millenial son, to a hitman you hire overseas to steal plantations back from hostile cartels. Of course, rather than give them back to the people they were stolen from in the first place, you occupy them yourself, supporting your many business ventures with the materials acquired.
The narrative is just chock full of satire on things like corporate excess, superfoods, video games, the pharmaceutical industry, and many more. I’ve heard people complain that it’s depressing, or somehow encouraging these things by having you participate in them, but I don’t think these folks understand what parody is. The joke is that you’re an awful person, and not once did I feel like the game was actually promoting these terrible things.
The gameplay mostly takes place on the ground, in old-school GTA style. It plays a lot like Retro City Rampage, and the carnage you can inflict with just a vehicle is pretty damn entertaining. There are a bunch of different weapons, from pistols and melee weapons, to a ridiculous spread-shot gun like the one from Contra.
There are also a wealth of mini-games and challenges you can participate in, which are usually pretty fun. There’s even a Smash TV-style game show, in which you accomplish several death-defying stunts and goals to chase fame and fortune.
Running around the city creating mischief and goomba-stomping people is all well and good, but a main facet of Shakedown: Hawaii’s gameplay is making money. You accomplish this through buying properties, eliminating competitors, shaking down local businesses, and completing story missions.
Each new property you buy gives you a raise to your daily income, which builds up impressively over time. There are hundreds of places to purchase, with some of them even offering additions to the gameplay loop. For example, one of your properties is a sketchy auto dealer, which sells leases and then ‘legally’ repossesses the cars to sell again immediately.
You’ll occasionally see blips on the map, which are cars you may steal and return to the dealership for a nice cash bonus. There are a few other properties with similar concepts, such as coffee shops. You can find coffee bean delivery trucks roaming the streets, which you can steal and deliver to your shop for extra money.
Toward the end of the game, dealing with your absolutely nutso crazy amount of businesses can be a little tedious, though. Especially when you consider the fact that bonuses you can apply (such as gift cards, false advertisement, multi-level marketing) have to be individually applied to each business. The map screen could also be a little more clear, as sometimes it’s difficult to find the particular building you’re looking for.
The graphics and music departments leave very little to complain about, however. Not only are the sprites brilliant-looking, but the in-game action has its own charm as well.
Screams of pedestrians and explosions are all fun and charmingly lo-fi, and the music is excellent to boot. I stopped the game several times just to jam to the tracks on offer, and will certainly be looking them up later to repeat the process.
The sprite animations in cutscenes also remind me a lot of old PC adventure games, with how the characters’ mouths and bodies move. It’s all charmingly retro, and adds a bit of nostalgia to every joke and brilliant bit of satire.
Some minor complaints I have with the game are a lack of Xbox One support—which is a shame, considering it’s on every other major console (even the Vita, with a 3DS port planned later). Another somewhat amusing turn of events is the game’s Epic Games Store exclusivity deal. It is ironic for a game about predatory business practices to be a timed exclusive.
Apart from the slight foibles I’ve mentioned, however, Shakedown: Hawaii is a solid experience, full of fun segments and a ton of laughs. I was kept glued to my TV for hours playing it, which is difficult for a game to accomplish nowadays for me. While it may not be perfect, it’s still a hell of a good time, and for 20 bucks, it’s hard to not recommend it whole-heartedly.
I also believe you can pick it up for 10 dollars in the silly Epic sale right now, so that’s probably the cheapest way to buy the game. The downside is that you have to actually use the Epic Store, so…weigh your options, I suppose!
Shakedow: Hawaii was reviewed on Windows PC using a review copy provided by vBlank Entertainment. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.