Retro/Grade is everything that is good about PSN titles. Being the first side-scrolling reverse “shmup” rhythm game that I know of, Retro/Grade fits well into Sony’s expanding collection of quirky but solid digital titles.
The game opens at the end of a boss fight, with your ship destroying the boss. As the credits start to roll you might be thinking this is perhaps the shortest game you’ve ever played, until your ship is swallowed into a wormhole sending you backwards in time. In order to protect the fabric of space and time, your job is to re-enact the events leading up to the “final” boss fight in reverse order.
Are you confused yet? As complicated as it sounds, the actual gameplay is a fusion of side-scrolling shmup and rhythm game. Unlike traditional rhythm games where notes fall down from the top of the screen for you to play, the “notes” are shots that your ship has fired at an enemy. To re-enact the past you need to be in the same place where each shot was fired and “fire” the shot at the right time with a top of the X button. Instead of the notes falling from above you, your shots are coming back to you from right to left as your ship flies backwards in the same direction. Since this is a shoot ’em up, you also have enemies behind you firing shots at your ship that you have to avoid. Getting hit by enemy fire or failing to fire from the right spot and time cause time and space to start to unravel. After too many failures, the game ends, as does the universe. No pressure or anything.
One of the most interesting features of the game is the ability to pilot your ship using a Rock Band or Guitar Hero guitar peripheral. Given that I had not picked up a faux guitar controller in a couple years, the novelty wore off pretty quickly for me, but some players might find it easier to jump your ship around the screen from firing lane to firing lane without messing with the D-pad. I just felt more comfortable playing with the Dualshock 3, myself.
The only thing about the game that bothered me was that it was over way too soon. I finished the campaign mode in a few hours, and while the challenge modes give the game a little bit of extra life, they’re basically just the same campaign scenarios with a few twists to them. I would have liked to see more tracks to play, and maybe some boss fights.
For a $10 PSN game, Retro/Grade offers a unique, albeit short, experience that you won’t find anywhere else. If you’re a fan of rhythm games or shmups and the blend of the two game types piques your interest, Retro/Grade is definitely worth a look.