The Day Rick Rocket had to un-save the universe.
Forget fiddle duels with the Devil, today I played my guitar to un-destroy the universe. 24 Caret Games are turning the Rhythm genre into a space shooter, but there’s a catch; you play the whole game in reverse. Playable with either the standard or guitar controller, Retro/Grade looks like a classic space shoot ‘em up but plays a lot like a Guitar Hero game. Come on, you must at least be a little bit intrigued at this point. How they came up with this idea, I’m not sure; but it works surprisingly well.
Retro/Grade doesn’t so much have a story as it does a setup. Our hero, Rick Rocket, has just finished off the last enemy ship in his bid to save mankind from the Exnorians. He’s saved the universe, the credits roll, end of story, right? Not so fast, see, the destruction of the last ship in the Exnoria armada caused a temporal anomaly that reversed time and now Rick has to undo all of the destruction he has wrought.
Since Rick is flying backwards, the action on the screen will move from right to left and the energy blasts that are coming at Rick are actually the shots he has already fired. The player must line up Rick’s rocket with the shots as they come in, and time your action as they get near the ship. If you’ve played a Guitar Hero or Rockband game before, this will feel immediately familiar and suddenly isn’t as strange as it sounded in the description.
Shots that come in from the left are enemy ordnance you’ll have to dodge and picking lanes once things are happening on both sides of the screen is where the game gets tricky. Everything you’ll need to pay attention to is color coded to its particular lane, based on the colors of the guitar frets, but everything else you see in Retro/Grade is meant to distract and confuse you. Enemy ships pop back into existence as you un-destroy them, every energy bolt is animated, and later on the game throws in obstacles that don’t necessarily have their color coded trail behind them. Luckily everything happens to the beat of some really rocking, genre appropriate, electronic music so if you get flustered you just have to pick up the beat again. Just watch Rick’s bobbing head. Or don’t, since you should be paying attention to the weapons fire.
In keeping with the distractions, everything on the screen while you’re playing Retro/Grade is alive. Even the menus can’t seem to sit still, making this game a sight to behold. You’ll get bored of the game long before you get bored of looking at it, but you probably won’t have a chance to get bored of either as the game’s ten levels can be completed in well under an hour.
There are multiple difficulty levels to try out, and this is a score attack game so some replay is expected, but 24 Caret Games mainly try to extend the experience by offering a challenge mode. This mode does include more than one hundred challenges, but most are only small tweaks to the same ten levels from the campaign. For instance, you may be tasked with getting a multiplier up to four, or completing a level without taking any damage, but they’re still the same levels with the same music.
There are no multiplayer modes in Retro/Grade.
Retro/Grade tackles a tired genre from a new angle and manages to come up with a formula that is new and fun, while still being familiar. Like other rhythm games, it’s easy to pick up and have some fun but very hard to master. I was disappointed with the length of Retro/Grade, but I was sucked in by the masterful combination of audio, visual and gameplay elements. Retro/Grade is a good thing in a small package.