Retro/Grade did something for me that no other game has done over the last three years. Most games that I anticipate tend to fall below my expectations upon playing. Retro/Grade, however, exceeded my expectations. This rhythm reverse-shump is one of the most unique ideas I’ve seen in this gaming generation.
The game starts off with fighter pilot Rick Rocket engaging the final boss of the game. After mashing pew pew for a few seconds, the boss falls and you are brought to the credits. “What? A game that ends as soon as it starts?” was my initial impression until a sudden anomaly occurred and reversed the credits, leading to the actual start of the game. Rick Rocket must now undo his previous battles in order to prevent the anomaly from destroying the space/time continuum. I honestly love the concept because it’s not something I would have expected and I thought it would make for an interesting game design.
There isn’t much in terms of story content aside from the silly little summaries that they give you for each of the ten stages that seem to have almost nothing to do with the plot. However, I thought some of the titles for the stages were funny for references, like “Rick Rollin’,” “For the Win,” and “All Your Bass Are Belong to Us.”
Playing the game is simple. You can use a controller or a guitar controller (sadly, I was unable to try the latter since I do not own one). Since you are undoing all of your actions, you have to time button presses to various shots and laser beams while avoiding enemy fire. The stage patterns change dramatically as you up the difficulty, and setting it to the highest is pretty much a suicide attempt. If you make a mistake, you can activate a mechanic that will rewind the stage as long as you have the required energy to use it. I find it pretty quirky, rewinding a rewind. Just like your health, this fuel energy is limited but can be restored by properly hitting a note with a power-up swirl around it.
While the campaign only consists of ten stages, the challenge mode consists of over one-hundred challenge stages. Playing challenges can unlock music to mix in the music player, cheats such as disco lighting and big head (the only two cheats I managed to unlock at this point), and different player ships. I found the extra ships the most interesting of the unlockable content, which include a Meatboy-styled ship and an impressive Minecraft ship (stylized in the design of the popular open-world game Minecraft).
Challenges vary, having you do things such as completing a stage with an altered speed setting, lower health and fuel settings, and completing a stage with near-perfect timing. The most interesting challenge, in my opinion, is a condition that actually forces you to make mistakes in order to keep your score from hitting a certain threshold. Once you beat the campaign, you will likely spend time doing challenges, which I also found a nice way of practicing stages since the challenges also have preset difficulties.
My only problem is the game’s limited selection of music. I’m not looking for the game to support custom soundtracks like Beat Hazard Ultra did, but with only a handful of songs it will get repetitive really quick. You may also end up like me and get sick and tired of playing a couple of the song stages over and over again. The music selection is by no means bad, but it’s small in quantity. There is only one song stage I will play to no end and that was “A Winner is You,” which happened to be the first song stage you play. This game definitely could have used a larger music selection to minimize the repetitiveness.
Final Verdict: Retro/Grade is a game that can be picked up and played at leisure, which is always a good thing for smaller titles. I honestly felt the game’s biggest selling point was its concept because adding the whole reverse-play to a rhythm-shump enabled a brand new experience to the genre. The only shortcoming was the small selection of music.