Publisher: 24 Caret Games
Developer: 24 Caret Games
Have you ever wondered what it would be liked to play your favorite shoot ‘em up in reverse, watching the enemy ships you’ve just destroyed come back to life, while you reabsorb the shots you’ve just fired, and dodge enemy bullets from behind your ship that you had dodged previously? What about doing this timed to beats of electronic musician Nautilis? How about with some Guitar Hero/Rock Band elements infused as well?
Yeah, not really something I had thought of either, but sometimes it’s nice to get something you didn’t even know you wanted. And that’s pretty much what Retro/Grade, arriving this week on the PSN, is. It’s a rhythm based shoot ‘em up, wherein you control the tiny spacecraft belonging to one Rick Rocket, who at the onset of the game has just saved the universe from utter annihilation, only to endanger the world through a rip in the space-time continuum.
With no Data or Geordi to help piece things back together, Rick has to do the only thing that makes sense, play back through all 10 stages of his adventure in reverse, which makes up the gut of Retro/Grade’s campaign mode. However, this isn’t really a standard shoot ‘em up. Instead, Rick has 5 lines to move between on the screen, which resemble the five strings present in games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
Rick’s previously fired shots head down these lanes, color coded red, blue, green, yellow, and orange, and you’ll need to line your ship up to these shots in order to re-absorb them by tapping X on your controller, or if you want, dust off and turn on your guitar controller to replicate the effect of playing a song. Either method seems to work pretty well, but if you opt to play on the hardest difficulty the game has to offer, I honestly think you’re better off doing so with the guitar.
You’re not just absorbing your own shots too, as the enemies you had previously destroyed spring back to life, and will also be reabsorbing the shots they had fired at you. These shots come in a variety of patterns, like more standard, single bullets similar to what Rick fires, that come from behind you and require you to move up and down to dodge, or more familiar “bullet hell” style wave patterns with specific openings to line yourself up with. These enemy bullets are also color coded, to help give you a sense of where to position yourself, and end up providing the biggest challenge the game has to offer.
Rick isn’t entirely defenseless, as occasional power-ups will come along that allow him to stay shielded for a limited amount of time, re-heal his ship, or even loop time so that you can re-do a section you might have messed up. Each successfully absorbed shot, or dodged enemy bullet is eating away at Rick’s previous high score, and you’ll be trying to compete via online leaderboards to see who can actually get the LOWEST score as opposed to the highest. Just like other familiar rhythm games, multipliers will start to stack up, and there’s a power-up that allows you to fill something similar to star power, that’ll double your multiplier for a short amount of time.
As I mentioned, this is certainly a unique concept, both for rhythm games and shoot ‘em ups in general. It’s certainly more rhythm than your standard shooter, but there’s so much stuff going on at any given time that it can be a bit trying to locate your ship and bullets in the madness, which certainly seems to evoke that shoot ‘em up feeling. The difficulty isn’t so extreme on the normal difficulty that you won’t be able to pass levels, but ratchet that up to the hardest setting and the game will really give you a run for your money.
My only real complaint I have to level against the game is that when you activate the score multiplier power-up it turns the contrast way up on the screen, and in some of the more hectic situations it becomes nearly impossible to track incoming shots, as they’ll blend in with enemy shots in a way that makes them frustratingly difficult to see. I actually found myself holding off on using the ability, often times not using it all, which is certainly not the intent. Perhaps it’s something you’ll get used to after an extended amount of time playing the game, but a less distracting visual effect would have better for me.
Outside of the campaign mode, there’s a pretty lengthy and interesting challenge mode. Challenge gives you an overworld map to tackle, allowing you to choose a location and take on a stage from the campaign, but usually with some twist involved. I came across stages that made all the colors monochromatic, played the stage with increased tempo, or started me off with low health, and so on. These twists help to keep the experience fresh, even with only ten stages present. Also, Challenge mode serves as the way to unlock content in the form of concept art and music, and additional skins for your ship that take cues from other, popular indie titles.
Overall, Retro/Grade is a wholly unique experience in both genres that it represents, and is well worth your time. If you have any interest in rhythm games or shoot ‘em ups, you should do yourself a favor and check this out. Also, the soundtrack provided by Nautilis is pretty great, and if you’re familiar with his work, there’s a bundle package that’ll net you the game and soundtrack at a reduced cost. Either way, definitely check this one out.