Shakedown: Hawaii is the follow-up to Vblank Entertainment's Retro City Rampage, and as such, it shares a lot of the same DNA. Both are pixelated, open world action games that riff on old-school Grand Theft Auto, and both took a long time to make. However, while this new adventure will be very familiar to anyone who's played RCR, it introduces enough new ideas to stand on its own.
The first thing you'll notice is the move to a 16-bit art style, and it makes for a far more vibrant and lively game. It's more visually striking, with bright colours, smoother animations, and a more varied sandbox to explore. Some might roll their eyes at more pixel art on PlayStation 4, but the execution is hard to fault, and the numerous visual filters are the cherry on top.
While the presentation is loud and proud, the story actually regresses from the tongue-in-cheek time travel escapades of Vblank's first title. That's not to say it's worse, it's just more down to earth. You play as the ageing CEO of a large corporation who realises his company is about to go under. While he's had his feet up at home, raking in royalties from his best-selling book, his commercial empire has been slowly crumbling, and so he begins throwing out every dirty trick he can think of to turn it around. Meanwhile, his slacker son begins to get on the wrong side of the law as he tries to start paying his own way.
It doesn't sound particularly interesting, but Vblank's sense of humour courses through the narrative, satirising modern trends and big business at every turn. It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but seeing the main character struggle with things like streaming, power-hungry mobile phones, and browser cookies is quite amusing. Most of the missions deal with helping the company grow by adopting new (and underhanded) practices, such as reducing the amount of soda in bottles, or coming up with a ridiculous set of terms and conditions to prevent consumers from claiming rebates.
The majority of the story missions, whether you're playing as the main mogul, his son, or his hired goon, typically task you with getting from A to B and fetching/destroying something. They're usually framed nicely, and are all easily wrapped up in minutes, but you're largely completing similar objectives time and again. However, occasionally you'll get some bizarre gameplay segment that's seemingly unique. When you need to go to the gym, you'll engage in a sort of rhythmic minigame. Auditioning for a TV show involves completing small shooting or platforming gauntlets. The end result of each mission is basically the same - making your profits increase - but they're dotted with brief changes in design, offering a little respite between all the running and gunning. It's nothing truly original, but it does add a small splash of variety.
Frankly, the money-making aspect of the game is what held our interest the most. The open world is full of cars to steal or destroy and pedestrians to mow down with a variety of weapons, but the extra layer of almost clicker-like elements gives it a delightfully addictive edge. There are hundreds of businesses and properties to purchase across the island, and with each earning daily revenue, you'll soon become obsessed with seeing the numbers go up and up. More opportunities for growth become available as you progress through the story, and you can also perform shakedowns in certain establishments to get protection money, adding to your daily earnings. In addition, you'll slowly unlock multipliers that you can use to increase the amount a given revenue stream will make. Eventually, you'll be raking in millions of dollars and have control over most of the island.
It's a satisfying accompaniment to the action, which is very similar to Retro City Rampage. Car and combat controls are exactly the same, and remain wonderfully simple. There's certainly fun to be had causing chaos on the streets; you'll never be at a loss for cars to hijack, people to fight, or police to evade. In fact, there's a free roaming mode that provides you with infinite cash and all weapons unlocked, allowing you to go nuts if you want to get away from the story. Once you finish the campaign, you'll effectively reach this point anyway, but it's nice to have the option for those just looking to make some mischief.
There's always the challenges too, if you want something a little more structured. These consist of several unique scenarios where it's you against the clock, earning as many points as possible. You might need to run over vehicles in a monster truck, or cause as much damage as you can with specific weapons. These are pretty fun thanks to their quick-fire nature, and completionists will want to hunt down every gold medal. We've been playing the PlayStation 4 version, but this is definitely an instance where cross-buy and cross-save with the Vita is more than welcome. The short missions and challenges feel like a great fit with the handheld.
Despite some repetitive mission design, Shakedown: Hawaii manages to entertain in much the same way as its predecessor. It swaps out pop culture references for jibes at the modern world, and it's an angle that slots right into the GTA-esque design. The business management aspects are what will keep you hooked, with each day bringing you more and more cash to splash. Its brand of action is simple but satisfying, and there are plenty of ways to enjoy the game if you're after some breezy open world antics -- just don't expect it to blow your socks (and sandals) off.