Retro/Grade may look like a side-scrolling shoot-‘em-up, but don’t let the appearance fool you: Retro/Grade is a truly unique rhythm game at heart.
Oh, and you play it backwards.
As we last saw Rick Rocket, a wormhole sucked him in and caused all sorts of disruptions to the space-time continuum. To keep the universe from collapsing on itself, you must flow backwards dodging enemy attacks coming from the left of the screen while collecting the bullets you previously fired at your enemies coming back towards you from the right. It’s a unique concept as it forces the player to focus on both sides of the screen simultaneously – blinking is not an option.
The shear amount of colors and particles flowing across the screen in every direction pulsating with the music becomes quite hypnotic. I must confess I found myself bobbing my head to each and every beat – if you look carefully you can even see Rick Rocket bobbing his head along with the beat. Even the background lights up like an equalizer with the music and blends perfectly with everything else happening on screen in a symphony that is unmatched by any rhythm title.
Besides a few spikes here and there in some of the higher difficulty levels, there isn’t much I can complain about in Retro/Grade. In some of the later levels, or should I say earlier levels since everything flows backwards, new hazards in the form of black holes are thrown into the mix that break the rhythm, and not in a good way. I can see why they would want to throw something new at the player, but the way they force the player to hold a direction to escape while you are still trying to move either up or down to another line in order to dodge and capture bullets at the same time causes some confusion.
I already touched briefly upon the electronic music tracks and how they are the true star on the title. You will want to crank up your headphones to feel each drum beat. Sadly though there are only 10 different levels, so there are only 10 different tracks.
Depending on how much of a challenge you are looking for each of the 6 different difficulties will provide you with plenty of entertainment. With all of the action and colors flashing on-screen during the higher difficulties; it gives the illusion of blending better with the beat of the music tracks. This is usually true with most rhythm titles and I found myself enjoying the title even more so with the higher challenge. Once beaten, why not try your luck in the many different challenge levels too. There are plenty of different unlockables including artwork, ship skins, cheats and the ability to play around with the music tracks. It does use the same 10 levels, but with different objectives and remixed sections it does help feel fresh and separate from the main story mode.
If you have trouble picking through all of the indie games that are released these days, make sure not to skip over Retro/Grade. If you have beaten the game using a controller, why not retry by playing a higher difficulty and using one of those dusty, plastic guitars hidden away in your closet. Just a heads-up for all you trophy whores: the game only contains bronze trophies, but don’t let that detract you from experiencing this title.Note: Retro/Grade was reviewed on PlayStation 3. A digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.