24 Caret Games
Retro/Grade is a pulpy sci-fi rhythm game shooter that moves backwards in time, and you must play it
Retro/Grade begins with a fun premise. You’re the captain of a teeny tiny spaceship that has just finished destroying all the bad guys and has blown up the last enemy ship to save the galaxy. The first scene is the ending credits. The game begins when you’re sucked into a black hole and you get to relive that experience with time moving in the wrong direction, but you remain in control of your actions. That means you have to re-create your initial assault on the enemy forces in reverse in order to keep the space-time continuum intact.
It’s already a fun premise, but that conceit is used to construct a rhythm game. You move up and down the screen, and have to hit the X button in time to gobble up the shots moving towards you. These are the bullets you fired at the enemies, remember, since things are moving in reverse. In fact, you’ll often see small explosions turn into enemy ships, since you’re watching your own attacks move backwards through time. The higher the difficulty level you select at the beginning of each of the ten missions, the more lanes you have to move between.
You must also dodge enemy attacks that come from behind you, and move backwards towards the front of the screen. None of these shots hit you during the unseen original attack, so space-time is weakened if you’re damaged in this version of the timeline. So you have to gobble up the rounds you fired as they move from right to left across the screen, and avoid the enemy shots that move left to right. As these lines of dots move towards the middle they create a safe tunnel through which you must move. You also have the ability to correct time for limited bursts, allowing you to correct mistakes and compete on the high score leaderboards.
At the end of each level you are able to see the “original” version of your run, as you dodge enemy attacks and fire back as time moves in the right direction.
It’s a little confusing in words, but it’s a fun trick in practice, and the music keeps the whole thing together. You’ll be tapping the button in time to the music, and it’s nearly impossible not to move your body to the beat. The ten levels can be beaten fairly rapidly, but it’s worth playing each one multiple times through the difficulty levels, and there are also a series of challenges that offer interesting new twists on the game play. There are fun items to unlock and a few surprises to check out, so it’s worth exploring the game and seeing everything it has to offer, especially if you’re a fan of indie games as a genre. Hint: you’ll see some fun cameos.
Retro/Grade takes an interesting idea, marries it to deceptively simple mechanics, and the result is a rhythm game with beauty and grace to spare. The game was largely the work of one man, Matt Gilgenbach, whose long, crunch-like hours spent working on the game led to a time-lapse video showing the life of an indie developer a year or so ago. The game has the feel of something that was much-loved and fussed over. There is no aspect of the game that isn’t fun to look it or read, and that level of dedication goes a long way to helping the game stand out in a crowded marketplace.
If you really want to enjoy the rhythm aspect of Retro/Grade, trying playing with a Guitar Hero or Rock Band guitar for an extra level of absurdity. The game is available now on the PlayStation Network for $9.99, and I’d pay that much for the soundtrack alone. I’d also like to point out that Retro/Grade leaves much room for expansion, in terms of platforms and content. More songs for an iPad release? Heavenly. Remixed modes on the Vita? I would pay for that. It’s worth the $10 now, but let’s hope the game is successful enough to justify more content on a wide variety of devices. Retro/Grade is a good example of familiar game play refreshed by an interesting setting and time-travel mechanic, and the better than expected soundtrack simply adds to the joy of playing.
This was a pleasant surprise for a Tuesday afternoon.