The 80s and early 90s were a magical time for both action cinema and gaming alike, Retroware, publisher of the Angry Video Game Nerd games and the upcoming Toxic Crusader game knows this and has teamed up with Programancer for the aptly named Prison City. Load up on one-liners and explosions it’s throwback time.
You play as Hal Bruzer, retired cop and all-round badass, you’re brought out of retirement to take on some terrorists who have taken over the Mega Prison that is the ruins formally known as Detroit.
The game is full of references to action films of old with its dialogue and cast of characters, safe to say if you’re familiar with films like Mad Max, Robocop, or Escape From NY/LA you will be right at home, it’s respectful and authentic.
Prison City is very clearly a homage to classic gaming titles of the NES era, that much is obvious from the visuals the second you boot the game up.
The game is 8-bit pixel art with a limited color palette and while I suspect too much animation for the actual hardware it still looks like an authentic NES title rather than something in the style of but far more advanced, a crime some games make far too often.
The music on offer here was composed by Raddland Studios, famous for composing music for titles such as Shakedown Hawaii and Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, plenty of bangers here that perfectly accompany the feel of the game and the era it represents.
Prison City feels like a mix of Mega Man, Contra, and Shatterhand, the main gimmick being the boomerang/chakram weapon Hal uses which cuts through foes with ease and accuracy, once you get a hang of it. There is a power meter attached to the Chakram, more methodical throwing will produce slower but more powerful shots or you can throw like a madman for quicker but weaker attacks, there are also grenades that offer screen-clearing properties.
Movement is fantastic and responsive, you can cling to the side of the platform and hoist yourself up and this is essential for the many platforming sections of the game, there are also chain fences you can cling to usually hanging over insta-death pits. It’s traditional action platformer gameplay but done well.
After an introduction level, you can then choose what stage to take on in which order, some stages are traditional platforming stages and some are vehicle stages with Hal tearing the streets up on his Chopper while making precarious jumps.
Levels have 2 objectives, the first is to find an operative within the stage who will give you the key to open the boss room, and the second is to defeat the boss and bring down the terrorists. The levels are quite big and offer plenty of opportunity for exploration, this usually rewards you with power-ups making your shot power powerful or health-ups in the form of delicious hotdogs. Stages culminate in boss fights and they are some of the tougher fights in recent memory, several patterns to memorize and a high level of difficulty means you’ll be seeing these quite a few times before you can get through them unscathed, easily the toughest HIND-D boss fight I have played.
The game has a NES difficulty but this can be navigated with several difficulty settings allowing you to make the game much more manageable or as authentic as you would like. There is also quite a comprehensive tutorial section which the game asks if you want to run through before you start the game.
You can see how much the developer appreciates the era this game is from, with the visuals, gameplay, and clever nods to other iconic games from the NES such as the Electric Seaweed that plagued the Dam stage in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it is stuff like this which helps separate Prison City from its peers. If you’re a fan of classic titles and feel the urge to test yourself and reminisce about the classic action films with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, this is one Prison I would suggest getting thrown into!
A fantastic reminder of the golden era of NES. A lovingly crafted action platformer.