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[PSN Review] Retro/Grade

What happens when you a take side scrolling shooter, throw in a little Guitar Hero, and play it backwards? Well, you basically get Retro/Grade. Developed by 24 Caret Games, the premise behind Retro/Grade is that a temporal anomaly is tearing apart the space-time continuum after your pilot, Rick Rocket, defeated the the final Exnorian fleet boss, thanks, in part, to the destruction you caused. In order to save the universe, you have to go back in time and undo everything you did, from the aforementioned boss all the way back to chapter 1.

Basically, the game looks like a shooter, but it plays like a rhythm game. Everything is color coded, so if you’re good at hand and eye coordination or color association, you’ll likely be able to pick up and play this game relatively quick. What is really cool about it is that you aren’t confined to just using a regular controller, either. You know that old Rock Band or Guitar Hero controller you have sitting in the corner, collecting dust? You can use that, too.

For the most part, gameplay is pretty solid. The lanes on the playing field are, as I said before, color coded, and each color corresponds to the buttons on a guitar controller (they’re color coded regardless of what controller you use). There are a number of difficulty levels, which range from two lanes (green and red) to all 5 lanes (green, red, yellow, blue and orange), or simply adding more notes.

There is more than just scrolling notes heading toward you. As you know, in side scrolling shooters, enemies shoot back at you. In reverse, these shots head back toward the enemies and you must dodge said attacks, making you have to pay attention to what is coming your way from both sides. It adds plenty of challenge, especially at higher difficulties (no duh, right?). If you happen to miss a note or take a shot, the continuum will be damaged, so the more HP you lose, the closer you are to failing. There is a way to forward time in case you made a mistake as well, allowing you to fix it. With either the press of Circle or Square on a standard controller, or the whammy bar on a guitar controller, you can use a rocket boost (called Retro/Rocket), at the expense of using up fuel, so you can undo those mistakes.

Keep in mind, the use of the fuel will affect your final score, which, by the way, I didn’t notice had counted down from a high score until I had finished. That’s right, your placement on the leader boards depends on how low your score is and not how high it is. However, I would be amazed if anyone were able to get a low score of 0. Mine still always winds up being well into the thousands.

Now, for me, my controller preference is hard to choose. The guitar controller is a bit easier for switching lanes, as you can essentially jump lanes easily from green to orange, for instance, whereas, on a standard controller and using the D-pad to change lanes, it takes longer to get those that are more out of reach. I do have a hell of a time pressing the orange button, though, but my hands aren’t very well designed for that reach anyway. With that in mind, using a guitar controller is a lot easier that way (and yes, there’s a lefty flip option as well if you play left-handed). On the standard controller, though, it’s a lot easier to use circle for the Retro/Rocket than it is to reach for the whammy bar. As for activating the Overthruster (which is basically like Star Power in Guitar Hero), pressing either R1 or tilting your guitar controller are both pretty easy to do.

I point out the use of the whammy bar because the game can get very hectic. Attacks could be coming in immediately after you fire a round in the same lane, and notes can also be really close together, so taking that extra time to get to the whammy to initiate the Retro/Rocket can affect the amount of fuel you use up, and ultimately, your low score. It’s not a huge deal, though, and it makes sense for what it does, but pressing Circle is a hell of a lot easier.

Besides the ending boss at the beginning of the game, there are about two or three other bosses throughout the 10 chapters. Each has a number of special attacks that you have to dodge. It’s not like they really require any strategy beyond paying attention to the colors or lane an attack is coming from, but it offers up some variety beyond your standard enemies.

So what happens when you go through the entire campaign (which, honestly, doesn’t last very long)? You can head toward the Challenges. These challenges have fixed difficulty levels, but there are a number of different gameplay tweaks for each challenge that adds a little something to the gameplay. These can especially throw you off if you rely on color association, as a number of these challenges changes the colors (or removes them altogether). There’s also challenges that include mirroring the level or increasing the speed of gameplay, to seeing how long you can last before missing a note or getting hit. In all, there are 130 different challenges (all played over the 10 songs in the game, so you may eventually get to the point where you can memorize the music), and completing challenges can unlock extras, including new pilots based off of other indie games, such as Super Meat Boy and Minecraft.

As far as the music goes, if you know me, you’d know that I don’t much care for electronic music, but I will say that it fits this game pretty well. Heck, if you are into that music, or enjoyed the music whilst playing the game, you can pick up a bundle on PSN that includes the soundtrack for $14.99 (it is $7.99 on its own, with the game being $9.99). Although I’ve never bought and downloaded a soundtrack for a game, it’s still pretty cool to see them available for those who do want them. My only complaint in the sound department is that since the music is the main focus, attack sounds are hardly noticeable. It’s not a big deal, but a more audible confirmation of hitting a note would have been nice.

Anyway, with all the gameplay and sound out of the way, graphics-wise, this game looks sharp. It runs in 1080P at 60FPS, and when you mix that with the visuals in the game, you’ll either find that it looks great, or you’re going to have seizures from the flashing colors. Sometimes, though, there could be a lot going on, causing you to overlook notes or attacks. The worst one I had come across was sun glare drowning out some of the shots you were supposed to take. They weren’t completely washed out, but it did make them hard to spot.

Overall, I think it’s a great game. I still have a number of challenges and difficulties to finish up myself. Given its solid gameplay and the tweaks through the challenges, I’ll likely pick up the controller and play a few rounds, but the replayability for a game like this is subjective. Heck, last night before bed, I probably did about 4 more challenges because I had a hard time putting down the controller, but others may not have that same experience. My only real complaint about this game, besides the (very) short campaign, was that it would have been a great game in either direction, so including a shooter mode could have definitely added to the overall package. Still, if you like rhythm games at all, or even a challenge, you will likely find this one to be a must-have.

[review pros=”Cool mashup of side scroller and rhythm games
Great graphics
Memorable soundtrack
Plenty of challenge
Fun to track your low score” cons=”Short campaign
Attacks aren’t very audible
No option to simply play as a shooter” score=86]

This review is based off of a downloadable review code provided by 24 Caret Games