It’s been a while since we’ve gotten a rhythm game in the same vein as Guitar Hero or Rockband. Not long ago, these games were all the rage, and rightfully so. They were exceptionally good and very fun to play, especially in groups. Well, if you’ve been wanting to fill the void left by the lack of these games, then Retro/Grade was specially made for you. With it’s focus on music and gameplay that mirrors Guitar Hero in many ways while still being its own thing, Retro/Grade succeeds at providing an engaging and fun experience for rhythm game lovers.
But what is Retro/Grade? The simplest way to explain it is this: imagine playing a Guitar Hero track, from side to side, while everything goes backwards. The premise is as follows: Rick Rocket has just managed to save the universe, but in doing so, he inadvertently caused a rift in the space/time continuum that has caused time to revert itself. Now it’s your job to undo everything you’ve done and save the universe once again, from the chaos wrought upon it by you saving it in the first place.
The game has a lot of personality and is quite humorous. The stages go from stage number ten to one, and each has a humorous description, detailing what Rick was doing at the moment. You literally start the game as the final boss is defeated and the credits start to roll. But then suddenly, you notice that everything starts going backwards and it’s your job to undo the damage you have caused on your enemies. You will take control of your ship as it travels backwards and work towards reclaiming your shots while you also dodge the shots that are returning to your enemies’ ships. This is where the rhythm component comes into play. You’re placed in a grid similar to Guitar Hero‘s, and your returning shots are the notes you must hit. As you ramp up the difficulty, more laser lanes appear. In normal you have three lanes (green, red, yellow), hard adds an additional one (blue) and so on and so forth. There are six difficulty levels in total, ranging from two to five lanes of notes. The speed and amount of shots also increases as you raise the difficulty level. This provides not only a healthy amount of replay value, but also makes the game accessible to everyone, from those looking to listen to the music and have a good time, to those who want to test their sense of rhythm and reflexes.
And speaking of the music, the soundtrack in the game is top-notch. It’s an assortment of techno tracks than range from the low-level, bass-heavy tracks, to fast paced electronic beats. Some of these tracks will make you want to raise the volume on your bass until your whole living room is trembling alongside the game’s tracks. The audio is perfectly complemented by the blinding visuals. The backgrounds to the stages light up in accordance to the track playing at the moment, and the grid you’re on is constantly being bombarded by neon flashes of red, green, blue, yellow and many other colors. Also, since you’re going backwards, you see all the enemies reconstruct themselves as your shots leave them, and it looks pretty awesome. The game handles the visuals with such aplomb that even though your screen will be full to the brim with flashing colors 99% of the time, you always have a clear view of your ship and where it needs to be moved.
You will suck up your shots rhythmically, you will play sustained notes that traverse multiple lanes in the form of multicolor lasers, and you even have a rocket ability that when activated multiplies the score received by each note played. The game also does a great job of introducing new threats on every level, be it lasers that take up a whole lane to robots who will try to destroy you if you’re on the lanes colored like their limbs. But there is one mechanic that proves to be very useful, especially on higher difficulties, and that is the Retro/Rocket ability. As you play, you gain fuel, which is displayed as a bar on the side of your ship. This fuel allows you the limited ability of being able to reverse time to undo any mistake you’ve made. This proves extremely useful in higher difficulties when you’re trying to go for the highest score possible. Fuel is limited, but you’ll find special notes that’ll refill it for you.
In addition to the main campaign, which spawns 10 different levels and therefore songs, the game also features a rather robust challenge mode. Laid out as a map, you must beat challenges to unlock more. These challenges range from anything like a mirrored world, having limited fuel, having to get a perfect shot streak, the environment reacting like a disco, with everything changing colors every few seconds and many more. While this mode adds a lot to do and complements the great but short campaign, it is a bit too easy to beat, especially if you’ve dedicated a large amount of time to the campaign. It still proves to be fun and adds variety to the game, but it is ultimately too easy.
Either way, Retro/Grade is a great rhythm game. It employs mechanics seen in such games like Guitar Hero while still adding enough twists to keep itself unique, and most importantly, fun (and if you want to take your experience even farther into the realm of rhythm games, you can plug in a PS3 guitar peripheral into the console and play it that way). Retro/Grade provides enough fun to keep you busy for a while, and even though the campaign is short, its music selection is so good that you’ll find yourself replaying the same levels over and over again.