Retro/Grade, to put it simply, features the most fresh and creative central mechanic we’ve seen in gaming since Portal. Retrograde, the word, is defined as inverted or reverse motion, which is the basis of Retro/Grade, the game; essentially a sidescrolling shooter which is played in reverse.
Now, reversed gameplay means that you won’t be firing energy blasts, but instead unfiring them to collect them back, as if you were hitting notes in a rhythm game such as Rock Band. It’s all synced up with the brilliant electronic music, too, making for a unique take on a tired, dying genre.[boxout]The game even begins with the final battle – pseudo credits and all – and from there on out you’ll travel backwards through Rick Rocket’s (the daring pilot of the ship you’ll control) quest, undoing your battles to protect the space/time continuum and save reality itself.
To undo battles, you’ll have to travel vertically between lanes (up to five, depending on the difficulty, of which there are six different options), pressing X to effectively unfire your fired blasts as you go, all whilst avoiding enemy bullets, lasers and any other obstacles Rick meets along the way. Successfully protecting Rick’s ship and undoing your shots will not only protect the space/time continuum but award you with a new low score. Yes, even the scoreboard is reversed – you’re aiming to bring your score down instead of up.
Score multipliers, overthrusters and different power ups, as well as power downs, all play a part in the game too. Avoiding enemy fire and collecting your own blasts will up your score multiplier, to a maximum of 20x, whilst overthrusters will double your multiplier for a limited time. Power ups include score bonuses, multiplier boosts and shields, whilst power downs will lower your health, score and have other nasty effects.
You’re even able to play with a guitar peripheral instead of a PS3 controller, which turns the game from a reverse shooter with rhythm mechanics into a full-blown rhythm game, presented as a space shooter. Using the coloured keys to switch lanes and the strum bar to unfire, the genius of Retro/Grade is revealed as the game manages to feel considerably different with the use of a plastic guitar.
There’s a total of ten missions in the game, each of which can be played on the six different difficulty levels, which offer new experiences with different routes, more lanes and, of course, many more obstacles to avoid and blasts to collect. Whilst these levels might get repetitive after a few playthroughs, there’s a brilliant Challenge Mode, featuring a more traditional world map and different objectives in each of the levels.[videoyoutube]For example, you might have to play a Beginner level at first, but instead of having to complete the level, the objective will be that you have to get a 4x multiplier. You have to complete levels to progress, unlocking artwork, ship skins, music (along with a nifty music player) and cheats along the way. There are some brilliant challenges in this mode and it adds a completely new dynamic to the game.
Retro/Grade’s presentation is absolutely sublime, with a wonderfully designed menu, an extremely colourful palette, excellent level design and some brilliant interactive credits making for some very pleasing aesthetics.
It’s funny, too. Retro/Grade doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the names and descriptions of levels should bring a smile to the faces of even the sourest personalities.
Oh, and the sound – how could we leave the sound out of this for so long? Retro/Grade features over fifty minutes of original electronic music, with a suitable retro twist. It can be awesome at times and it’s ultimately the real driving force behind the game – it would be much harder to play without a good rhythm in the background.
There aren’t many complaints about the game – the music and gameplay do become repetitive after spending some time with the game, but otherwise it’s an extremely solid, well presented and entirely fun experience.
- One of the best central mechanics in a long time.
- Wonderful presentation and design.
- Plays both like a rhythm game and a space shooter.
- A fresh take on a genre in dire need of a shake-up.
- Brilliant music which molds the gameplay.
- Challenge Mode is an absolute blast.
- Gameplay can become somewhat repetitive.
- There are only ten tracks in total.
Retro/Grade is a stunning take on both the rhythm and the space shooter genres – both of which haven’t had much innovation in recent years. With solid mechanics, fun gameplay and excellent presentation, this could just be the best, and certainly the most unique, downloadable game this year.