Retro/Grade (PC) Review: Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey Insanity
What happens when you mix an arcade style shoot-’em-up with a rhythm game and then do it all backwards? You get the delightful (and difficult) Retro/Grade. Originally released as an indie game on the PlayStation 3, Retro/Grade has made the jump to PC.
Rhythm games and shoot-em-ups have been done before so the base genres are well represented in gaming. However, they’ve never been done like this.
The game starts at the end where you blow up the final boss. The credits roll and you win the game. Until the space/time continuum destabilizes as a result of your actions. In order to fix this, you have to travel backwards through time to undo the damage that you’ve done.
As a result, this game plays backwards. You have to “unshoot” shots that you fired while time was still normal. This is done in a rhythm game mechanic in which shots come at you from right to left on various lines on the screen. You navigate your ship to the appropriate line and hit shoot when the shot reaches your ship to unshoot it. It’s kind of like Guitar Hero in that sense. Making it more like your typical music game, the shots are in time to the music, you’re scored based on your unshooting accuracy and you can even play with your guitar controller (which you will almost certainly need at the highest difficulty).
If it was just that, it wouldn’t be too difficult. The thing is that you’re in a shooter (in reverse). So not only are you unshooting but you’re re-dodging shots from the enemy. Enemy ships, which phase back into existence as you unshoot them, are firing at you with a variety of weapon. So while you’re looking to the right side of the screen for your shots to unshoot, you have to keep one eye to the left of enemy shots to dodge.
Like Guitar Hero games and its ilk, this has a meter showing your success in the rhythm and dodging which shows the health of the space/time continuum as you undo your damage. You also have a Retro Rocket should you need to un-reverse so you can try a section again. There is also the Afterburner which doubles your score multiplier like Star Power in Guitar Hero.
In addition to the standard campaign, there’s a challenge system that presents levels with a unique circumstance or goal. You could play a level with lines flipped or the screen mirrored. Alternatively, you could be presented with objectives like achieving a certain score or not making a mistake in a level. It feels a bit tacked on to stretch your playtime
The game really shines when it comes to the audio. Of course it would, it is, at its heart, a music game. The game has a great original soundtrack that I happily bought from the game’s website.
The graphics are good. The menus are absolutely fantastic which I’m fairly certain is the first time that I’ve ever felt compelled to praise a menu design. The in-game graphics are very well done too. The only problem is that the screen gets very, very busy. Even using the beat lines which are coloured to tell you which line you need to be on for that note, it’s easy to lose notes in the shuffle. That’s a big problem as the difficulty ramps up.
My other problem is that the claim of customizable controls isn’t exactly true. The Retro Rocket and Afterburner default to the N and M keys, respectively. I wanted to rebind those to my natural hand position next to the space bar or on the left and right arrow keys. The game fought me on all of those. As such, I seldom use either function because I’d have to look away from the screen to use them.
Retro/Grade is a fun and good-looking game. It’s not without its issues. The biggest one I haven’t mentioned yet is the play time. My first time through the campaign on “Mediumcore” difficulty ran under 45 minutes. Sure, I can go back and play it again on a higher difficulty and do the challenges but without that Guitar Hero / Rock Band party fun, it’s a little hard to get back into.
Maybe the shortness is an advantage if you’re looking for a game that requires a relatively short time investment. However, I think it takes away from the game a bit. Not enough to give it a bad score. I still loved the visuals and the soundtrack. Hell, I even bought the soundtrack from the game’s website. I just think the game is lacking a bit in value.
Retro/Grade was reviewed on Windows PC but is also available for the PlayStation 3 through the PlayStation Store. Your impressions of the game may differ depending on your PCs specs, platform played on, controller used and understanding of the space/time continuum.