Review: 'Retro/Grade' is a Reverse Rhythm Winner

You can master 24 Caret Games' reconfiguration of the rhythm game by way of reverse side-scrolling shooter Retro/Grade if you simply trust the beat. This game, made by the four-man team comprised of SCEA vets is very simple in concept with its three-lane rhythm gameplay that finds complexity in its shooter wrapper.

But if you just trust the beat, you'll make it through the easier modes in this 10-level shooter--and you'll discover one of the downloadable highlights of 2012.

Retro/Grade story sets up the gameplay premise: old-school shooter pilot Rick Rocket has just beaten back an alien invasion, but the big boom of the final boss has caused a temporal rift, sending Rick plummeting backward through time. To fix the space-time continuum, Rick has to fight his way backwards through the entire battle, "un-firing" all of his shots while dodging reversing enemy attacks.

Immediately, the game will put you in mind of Amplitude by way of Gradius, complete with power ups for your ship: score multipliers, a temporary shield, and "repairs" to the space-time continuum. Like your basic rhythm game, you'll move Rick's ship vertically into one of the three colored lanes, pressing X just before one of your previously-fired bullets hit your ship in time with the music. Of course, since this is a shooter, Rick's ship has multiple shot types including swarm missiles and a beam laser, each of which requires its own particular timing to un-fire.

Then there are the enemy attacks, starting with their own bullets and beams and then moving onto robot arm attacks. The biggest pleasure of Retro/Grade is the way it takes these familiar shooter elements and made them work within the rhythm framework. Again, paying attention to the rhythm is key when projectiles and attacks are coming your way, but the key thing you want to do is pay attention to the colors which will always steer you in the right direction.

At 10 levels, the game never overstays its welcome, and for anyone looking to master Retro/Grade, there are multiple difficultly levels (I beat it in about an hour and a half or maybe two on "Mediumcore"), along with a slew of challenges to unlock music tracks and more ships for Rick.

The combination of the tight, loping beats of the soundtrack and the colorful, slickly-produced visuals lend to the overall sense of gloss and polish to the game. Even when the screen gets kind of hectic with multiple, oncoming attacks as well as your own bullets (and oh yeah, is that a black hole?), simply paying attention to the colors and keeping pace with the rhythm will see you through.

24 Caret Games was kind enough to tell me that Retro/Grade is available now for $9.99 or as a bundle with the soundtrack for $14.99. The soundtrack will be sold separately for $7.99.

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