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Retro/Grade (PlayStation 3) artwork

Retro/Grade (PlayStation 3) review

"*wepwepwep wep wep*"

Retro/Grade is a rhythm game disguised as a backwards shoot-em-up. The game begins at level 10. Rick Rocket has defeated the Ehnorian armada, but the resulting explosion has caused time to start flowing backwards for some reason. Now Rick must un-fire every shot and un-evade every enemy attack, accurately undoing all of his actions, for the safety of the space/time continuum.

The game plays something like a horizontally scrolling twist on Guitar Hero (and in fact you can play it with a guitar controller). Your previously-fired shots scroll towards you from the right side of the screen. You “catch” them by switching between tracks (Easy mode has two tracks and the hardest mode has five) and firing at the right moment, all to the beat of the music. Meanwhile, enemy shots approach from the left as they make their way back to the enemies that fired them. Naturally, you have to avoid those enemy projectiles while making sure you’re in the right spot at the right time to catch your own shots.

Like any good shmup, there are different types of enemies that attack in different ways. On top of the standard single bullets, enemies can fire waves of shots that need to be avoided by positioning yourself in a specific lane. They can also shoot lasers or create black holes. Our hero Rick, too, has different weapons at his disposal, such as a flurry of shots you have to mash the X button to catch. There are even a few bosses, with their own unique weapons to dodge. Retro/Grade does its best to remain fresh by introducing new obstacles all the way through the game.

While shots have to be unfired at the correct moment to maximize your score (or minimize it, really, since you start with a high score and must attempt to whittle it down as low as possible as you play through a level), Rick does have a couple of special abilities he can use whenever he feels it’s the appropriate time. One is the Oscillation Overthruster, which temporarily doubles your multiplier. The other is the Retro/Rocket, which uses Retro/Fuel to rewind time (or, rather, fast forward it?) and undo mistakes.

Being bombarded by shots from both sides can make things seem a little hectic and hard to follow sometimes, but that’s part of the challenge. The graphics are bright and colourful, perfect for a rhythm game in space. Backgrounds are detailed, though sometimes a bit busy. One or two levels seem to be harder to follow than the rest, thanks to somewhat distracting backdrops.

Overall, the difficulty curve is fair, with six difficulty levels to choose from. As is the case with most good rhythm games, harder difficulties levels bring more complicated note charts, but are more satisfying to play once you master them. Once you get into the flow of the game, it’s pretty fun to play, though it does seem to lack that addictive quality of the great rhythm/music games like Rock Band or Elite Beat Agents.

The campaign is short at only 10 songs, but there’s enough extra content to make up for it. The game includes a challenge mode, with 130 levels, each of which offers a unique twist on one of the standard levels. Some of these challenges are more interesting than others. For example, the “Lane Swap” challenge just reverses the order of the lanes, so the top lane is on the bottom and the bottom lane is on the top. If it didn’t tell you this going in, you probably wouldn’t notice a difference. On the other hand, “Speed” challenges increase the pace of the levels, making them more difficult and, frankly, more fun (other challenges that slow down the game are actually pretty dull). One type of challenge requires you to finish a level with a high score, and since playing well actually lowers your score, you need to make strategic mistakes to lower your multiplier and do “badly” without dying before the end of the stage. Challenge mode also includes a ton of unlockables, including “cheats” (if you call things like a trippy Technicolour disco mode “cheating”) and alternate ships, some of which are based on other indie games like Go Home Dinosaurs and Minecraft.

Of course, it’s impossible to review a rhythm game without talking about the music. The soundtrack is by electronic music artist Nautilis. The tunes are infectious enough while playing, though I personally never walked away from the game with a song stuck in my head. Your mileage may vary, but if you go into Retro/Grade understanding that it’s a game and not a music album, the songs should suit your needs just fine.

It’s easy to tell that a lot of love went into Retro/Grade. While the campaign is short and the song list is sparse, developer 24 Carat Games has worked hard to make a pretty substantial game out of it. The bright and colourful visuals and thoroughly serviceable music work with an interesting premise to make Retro/Grade a perfectly pleasant experience, if not the most addictive rhythm game on the market.


Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (August 14, 2012)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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