Retro/Grade offers a rhythm game disguised as a side-scrolling shoot em up which, as it turns out, is an absolute blast to play.
Officially announced for PSN back in 2009 Retro/Grade has been a long time coming. My first experience with the game was in demo form through Steam. The demo was a little rough but a lot has changed since then and the Retro/Grade that’s releasing on PSN next week is an absolute blast.
For those unfamiliar, Retro/Grade begins just as the final moments of an epic final space battle take place. Rick Rocket has just single-handedly destroyed an entire alien armada. Unfortunately the damaged caused during this fight has damaged the very fabric of time and space causing time itself to play in reverse. Now Rick Rocket must relive each battle in reverse, un-firing each of his shots and correctly avoiding enemy fire to fix the damage that’s been done.
While at times there can be a lot going on within each stage the actual gameplay in Retro/Grade is pretty simple. As your ship travels backwards a number of things can be happening at any given time. You’ll often have your own shots coming towards you on one of many different colored lanes (think of the colored lanes in Rock Band or Guitar Hero but approaching from the side) or you’ll have shots fired from enemies coming in from the left that you’ll need to dodge. Placing your ship in the correct lane and hitting the X button (or strumming on the guitar controller) will cause your ship to capture your shots. While the majority of shots are simple dots that you’ll need to capture the game will also sometimes through out swarms of missiles that you’ll need to repeatedly tap the X button to capture or lasers which require you to hold down on the button and switch lanes to capture correctly. You’ll also sometimes need to dodge enemy lasers that take up entire lanes, boss enemies as well as black holes but we’ll touch on those a little later. Correctly capturing your own shots will sometimes earn you special power-ups. One of these grants you more fuel which can be used to make time travel forward to undo any mistakes that you might make. This fuel is limited though so you’ll want to be careful how often you use it.
Watching Retro/Grade from afar might give the impression that there’s too much going on at once. After finishing the game on its hardest setting I can honestly say I never had an issue where I lost track of where shots were or what was going on. Retro/Grade absolutely requires your utmost attention at all times but I was always able to distinguish between enemy weapons and my own. I was always able to see what lane I needed to be on for the next shot and never did I feel overwhelmed with the exception of one moment (more on that later). It’s really impressive considering just how insane things can get on the X-Treme difficulty setting. However each shot is given a neon highlight with different colors representing each lane with guidelines placed that help you navigate each stage. I also found that I usually didn’t have to worry about oncoming enemy shots if I also had my own weapons to worry about as well. Naturally as long as I was following the placement of my own shots I would always avoid enemy fire. Of course there are moments where you’ll only have to focus on enemy fire but it’s in the moments where tons of things are happening that usually focusing on just one thing will get you through the section.
Retro/Grade, like many others before it, is just the kind of game where you set aside all other distractions and just allow yourself to get into a zone while playing. I’d argue in this facet that it’s much like the recently released Dyad. These games require 200% of your attention at all times. Now that being said Retro/Grade isn’t going to burn holes into your eyes but there certainly is no shortage of flashing neon lights and utter insanity throughout the harder levels in the game.
Aside from the ten stage campaign mode Retro/Grade also features a challenge mode that will likely take some time to complete. The challenge mode is displayed on a map filled with multiple routes and wormholes allowing you to skip challenges. From A-Z each letter is associated with five challenges while getting progressively harder the further down the alphabet that you go. Challenges range from simple playing a mirrored version of the level, earning a specific multiplier, playing a director’s cut version of the level, perfecting the level or even playing through stages with all lanes featuring the same color. Some challenges are easy while others I’m still having difficulty beating. Thankfully the game is tons of fun to play and you’ll unlock some neat extra content as you progress. Among these unlockables are ships that are mostly based upon other indie games. So you have a Minecraft ship, a ship based upon Go Home Dinosaurs and more.
Something I appreciated was that whether you’re playing with a controller or using the guitar it’s possible to get the same amount of enjoyment from the game without feeling limited on a specific controller. I was worried that the X-Treme difficulty setting might require the guitar controller to get some of the timing down but that’s not the case. Both controllers are viable options for playing the game so its completely up to you on what you choose.
While I’ve loved playing Retro/Grade over the past few days I can’t say the same about one specific instance in the game. Black holes are introduced in a short section of one level and then used throughout the entirety of one specific level. Black holes appear on one of the lanes without much of a warning and will pull your ship towards it. You dodge this by steering your ship away from them. The problem is, unless you memorize this one particular level, it’s hard to really tell where the black holes are going to appear and they’re just a bit much with everything else that’s going on in the stage. They never caused me to fail out of a stage but they’re simply more trouble than they’re worth. Luckily they only mainly show up in one stage but I’d rather them not be there at all.
Retro/Grade’s campaign doesn’t take a long time to beat. However I found myself having a lot of fun playing the harder difficulties over and over again and the Challenge mode should provide plenty of replay value. What makes Retro/Grade more than just your typical rhythm game is that you’re doing more than just hitting a button to the beat. Add in enemy fire that you’ll need to dodge and ten techno tracks with a catchy beat and you have a really solid game that’s tons of fun.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
What I Like:
What I Dislike: