Retro/Grade looks like a normal side scrolling shooter to the uninitiated, but once you turn on those indie glasses and realize that the intro was just a faux window into a new world that is Retro/Grade. Combining side-scrolling shooter elements with a music rhythm game is almost unheard of, and one would think utterly crazy. Can this little indie title turn out to be another hidden gem on the PSN or a soon forgotten relic?
Retro/Grade tells the story of Rick Rocket, a space hero – for lack of a better term – who, upon defeating every enemy in the galaxy, realizes he has made a dire mistake and may be the cause of a giant rip in the space time continuum. His only hope is to go backwards through time until when he started the adventure to undo every cannon fired, laser shot and missile launched. It’s here you must help Rick navigate through time avoiding shots from enemies, which come from behind the player and un-firing everything in front of him. The result is one crazy upbeat and fast tempo music rhythm game with a quirky story that are perhaps the most innovative and unique ideas I’ve played for some time in the genre. Hopefully the new twist on the genre of both rhythm-action games and side-scrolling titles will bring on a new audience.
Gameplay is similar to that of any other music game, single cannons are simply tapping X where long laser shots require you to hold down X. Shots with a glowing circle like object around them are special and they can reward you with certain power-ups such as increased multiplier or score bonuses. Some even have ‘overthrusters’ which give you multiplier bonus once activated – akin to Star Power in Rock Band. One thing to note when collecting these powered up shots, make sure you attempt to collect the ones coming from in front of your ship, as the ones from behind will always have negative effects on your ship, like destroy your multiplier among other things.
You can’t say Retro/Grade is dull as it’s full of bright colors around every turn and the crisp title runs at 1080p and the beats are with no exaggeration, controller bumping when Dolby Digital is implemented. If your in for the quirky campaign then you have to look no further than ten levels, each brimming with unique enemies, and even a few boss fights that must be un-done by Rick. Sure, you might think that ten levels is nothing, however, the game boasts six difficulties from the start. You may want to stay on the beginner, casual or even normal difficulties as the higher levels just get downright masochistic.
Speaking of masochistic difficulty, the challenge mode is amazing fun and will be your primary means of unlocking goodies in the Extras menu. These can range from artwork, cheat codes, DJ Mode, and ships/characters. Some featured characters from other indie titles make an appearance such as Minecraft, Super Meat Boy and Octodad. If you think you are up for the challenge, go ahead as it features 130 challenges all placed strategically on a map filled with portals and locks that hinder your progress. Each level, be it campaign or challenge, gives you a ranking that will determine your overall prowess as well as ranking you on the online leaderboards against the world and your friends.
Retro/Grade isn’t a game I was expecting to enjoy, but found myself awake in the wee hours of the night playing this rather addictive rhythm title. Maybe it was the beats, the story of Rick Rocket or perhaps the innovative gameplay of playing a game from back to front made me want to continue on my journey no matter how bad I was at the game. This is one of those indie games that everyone should pick up or at least experience via a demo. I believe if you give it a chance you may find the charm that I saw when playing the addictive Retro/Grade.
Audio/Visual – 5/5: The soundtrack is simply superb and will surely have you nodding your head to the beat. It features over 50 minutes of original music and it really uses every last bit of it.
Gameplay – 4/5: If you go into Retro/Grade expecting a typical side-scrolling shooter, you’re in for one heck of a surprise as you are forced to play the game, in reverse. The posh levels and unique enemies keep from the game reaching the dire, repetitive factor.
Innovation – 5/5: Innovation is one that that Retro/Grade is full of from the opening moments when you realize you’re not playing a side-scrolling shooter in the normal sense of the genre. They also decide to throw another curveball and make the entire thing a music rhythm game with fist pumping beats that would make Jay-Z jealous.
Value – 5/5: The MSRP on the game is $9.99 USD. Seriously, for the content you get and the fun that is offered I would have expected it to be $15. However if you love the soundtrack or think you will, there is a bundle for $14.99.
Final Score: 4.5/5