Combining two niche genres, Retro/Grade is the epitome of an indie game. On its surface, it looks like a shooter, but the game is very much a music rhythm game at heart. With a mash up of these two tangentially related genres, Retro/Grade should catch anyone’s attention in a heartbeat.
When the title begins, players are laid smack dab in the middle of a battle with a large boss and they have to shoot it down in the fashion of a shmup; after taking it down, a list of credits roll by before the game announces that the space-time continuum has been fubared and the game begins to run backwards. Here is where the game takes its true form; as the player’s ship moves backwards in time, they have to replay the level’s events, shooting where shots are fired, dodging enemy fire where they should be dodged.
In essence, the game plays out more like a music rhythm title than a shmup, though it uses the motif surprisingly well. On lower difficulties, there are few lanes to move between, making for a pleasant, relaxing experience. At higher levels, the game gets more frantic with more lanes, notes, and oncoming fire to dodge, which leads it to be a satisfying experience for most music rhythm game lovers. It plays like a music rhythm game, but definitely feels like a shmup as players have to weave between (previously) incoming fire in order to hit the proper notes. For music rhythm aficionados the game is fully compatible with guitar controllers as well, making it a breeze to weave in between enemy shots. If needed, players can even “play forward” time again, using up fuel gained throughout the levels, to undo any mistakes. For leaderboard fanatics, this has the intended function of garnering more points. Since it can be freely used anywhere, it challenges players to find the perfect segments to replay and maximize their potential.
Thankfully, after players complete the game for the first time, there’s still a load of content waiting, even in the form of a playable ending credits sequence. The challenge mode certainly lives up to its name, ranging from simple tasks like reaching a certain multiplier score and playing with a horizontally flipped screen to far more trying tasks like finishing a level untouched. Finishing these even unlocks a slew of extras, such as a Minecraft themed ship, simply called the Minecraft, and a turntable feature where players can mix different tracks together. Unfortunately, for gamers who retry other difficulty levels in the campaign, progress from one difficulty does not transfer to another, prompting another entire run just to reach a single level. On top of that, the challenge levels reuse most of the campaign level’s music, giving little reason for non-completionists to play through it.
Visually, though the player’s ship and enemy designs are simple, even kiddish at times, However, environments and particles are a spectacle to behold, featuring psychedelic colors coming in from whichever direction. The beauty almost trumps all else – even the gameplay. In fact, the game is so colorful that notes often get lost in the mix and lead to broken combos. Retro/Grade rounds out its presentation with a varied selection of electronic music, both fast paced and smooth. While the set of tracks are enjoyable, it’s a disappointment to see so few available with only ten different tracks for the ten campaign levels.
With its beautiful light show and soundtrack, Retro/Grade shows what a smaller studio can do with the music rhythm genre. Its mash up with shmups is one that provides a brand new way to experience the music rhythm genre and proves to be as fun as it sounds. Surely, seasoned music rhythm gamers will find little to complain about with the trial-and-error nature of the game, considering the distracting spectacle and time manipulation feature, but that combined with the minuscule selection of songs may keep others away.
Available on: PC, PS3; Publisher: 24 Caret Games; Developer: 24 Caret Games; Players: 1; Released: March 20, 2013; ESRB: Everyone; MSRP: $9.99: Official Site
Note: A promotional code was provided to Denkiphile for review purposes by the publisher.