Retro/Grade Review (PSN): A Revitalization of a Dead Genre

Ever wanted to spend $10 on a game that takes literally 30 seconds to get to the credits? Probably not. However, 24 Caret Games’ unique PSN exclusive, Retro/Grade, may very well be one of the few exceptions. Retro/Grade was announced back in October 2010 via the PlayStation Blog but was originally in development in 2008. Four years later and the game is finally here. By taking an interesting risk of combining elements from side-scrolling shoot-em-ups and rhythm-based games, is Retro/Grade a must-play experience?

Players will take control of Rick Rocket, an ace pilot that defeats the Ehnorian armada at the start of the game. Literally seconds after starting, you will see “You Win” flashing across the screen and the credits will roll…until the screen vanishes and warps back into rewind. The destruction of the “final boss” actually caused an anomaly that reverses time, undoing all the actions that Rick Rocket did to get to this point. Instead of having to replay the game from the first stage, you’ll start from the final stage and work your way back to the first, playing every level in reverse. I’m not talking about your ship facing the opposite direction and shooting enemies in real-time. I’m talking about the entire game is going in reverse as if you were rewinding every action. So, how do you play a space shooter in reverse? As a rhythm-based game of course!

Retro/Grade is all about timing your button-presses and matching the ship up with the blasts coming at you. Since the game is going in reverse, your bullets are actually your main enemy as not “initiating” the blasts will disturb the space/time continuum. You’ll shift color lanes by simply pressing up and down on the DualShock controller, followed by pressing X at the right time to catch your blasts. However, it wouldn’t be a rhythm-based game without the proper peripheral and thankfully, 24 Caret Games have fully utilized the Guitar controller from Rock Band and/or Guitar Hero as your recommended controller. By simply pressing the colored buttons on the controller and then strumming, Rick will switch to that specific colored lane and catch the blast when timed right. Basically, if you’ve played any Guitar Hero or Rock Band, you’ll easily grasp the game’s concept. If not, no need to worry. 24 Caret Games has provided six difficulty levels to pertain to the most illiterate gamer, to the most “Xtreme” (that’s the final difficulty level, not actually a pun to our site’s name).

There are a few boss battles where you’ll have to not only catch your blasts, but also dodge their attacks and black holes, leaving for some fast hand-eye coordination. Thankfully, the game is properly paced and never raises the difficulty to a steep incline. Should you mess up, no big deal. You’ll have the ability to use Retro Fuel so that you can rewind time to undo your mistake. You’ll have to refuel by catching the bigger blasts that contain numerous different abilities. You’ll have the chance to earn more Retro Fuel but you can also obtain a Multiplier Boost, Score Bonus and Overthruster. Overthruster will make the screen become much more vibrant in color and double your multiplier. However, the screen may become a bit too vibrant leading to some easy slip-ups. Essentially, it’s not about scoring the highest score but rather, the lowest. At the start of each level, you’ll have an insanely high score to begin with and every time you score points, the numbers will subtract from your stage’s score. Only the most perfect of players will be able to bring the score down to zero by the end of a stage.

Aside from the campaign’s 10 stages that you can complete within just over an hour, there’s a Challenge mode to take on. By moving your ship on the grid, you’ll be able to tackle specific missions that will have certain stipulations to complete. For example, you may have to go through a level without missing a single blast or obtain the highest multiplier as fast as possible. The missions will start on the lowest difficulty and naturally, scale up as you advance. Luckily, no matter how difficult it may get, the game does an excellent job of gradually increasing the difficulty, allowing you to grasp the game’s more intense difficulties without feeling a massive jump up. As you play through the Challenge mode, you’ll notice “locks” placed in the middle of certain paths. Unlocking that path will also unlock a specific extra. Extras consist of a large amount of different characters to play as or even being able to remix songs in the game. It certainly makes for a great incentive to keep progressing through the Challenge mode.

In terms of visuals, Retro/Grade looks absolutely stunning. Environments are very well detailed and have a good amount of variety to them, always making each level feel fresh. Colors are lush and vibrant; truly popping-out, especially since it is running at a swift 60fps at 1080p. Animations are all quite smooth, especially seeing all the enemies being pieced back together with the time-reversal. Witnessing Retro/Grade running is just a pure visual delight. The soundtrack helps carry Retro/Grade just as well. For a music/rhythm-based game, one would hope the soundtrack is effective and there’s no question here. Retro/Grade boasts a fresh, unique techno soundtrack that perfectly fits the game’s style and will stick in your head well after playing through it. The environments are actually affected by the way the soundtrack kicks in, showcasing specific background objects to light up with certain beats in the track. It’s these little details that truly make Retro/Grade stand out.

24 Caret Games have taken two familiar genres and meshed them together into an unfamiliar concept. The music/rhythm genre may not be the sensation it was a few years ago but Retro/Grade has easily revitalized the genre and set a new standard. If you’ve been eager dust off your guitar or want to try something different, Retro/Grade is a game that simply can’t be passed up.

Overall Score: 9.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thanks to 24 Caret Games for providing us a review copy of Retro/Grade!