Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Shmup Hero - Retro/Grade

Retro/Grade, made by 24 Caret Games is a very deceptive game. Looking at screenshots for the game, you couldn't be blamed for thinking it looks like a fairly typical scrolling space shooter. Pilot your ship, gun down waves enemies while avoiding their attacks, fight giant bosses, typical shooter stuff. This couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, Retro/Grade is a pure rhythm game that only looks like a shooter.

As a rhythm game, Retro/Grade takes a lot if inspiration from Guitar Hero: The play field is divided in up to 5 color-coded lanes that you can move between to hit beats, you're overdrive power-up works a lot like Guitar Hero's Star Power, you gain a score multiplier by performing well, etc. However, Retro/grade is more than a simple clone, and throws in a lot of it's own ideas.
Despite appearances, this is not a shooter
The first and most obvious, is that the entire game is backwards: Your ship and any enemies on screen all fly backwards through the game's levels, The notes your playing are actually you Un-shooting shots that your ship fired, causing enemies to  un-explode onto the screen before flying away moments later. It even spreads into the games mechanics: You start on stage 10 and work your way backwards to stage 1. Instead of earning points, you start with a high score and every successful attack dodged or shot un-shot looses you points, and you want your score as close to 0 as possible so you can get a good placement on the low scores board. It's a very odd game to watch in action.

On top of un-shooting shots, which works like a typical game of guitar hero, you also have to dodge attacks that are being un-shot by your enemies. There's actually a few different attacks and some stages have their own special gimmicks, such as large walls of bullets that leave only a single hole to slip through. Finally, you have a limited ability to (un?)rewind time, moving the game backwards (forwards?) a few seconds to undo mistakes.
Overdrive acts like Star power, giving you a score bonus for several seconds.
Since it's a rhythm game, music obviously plays an important part in Retro/Grade, And fortunately the game comes with about an hour of original music. The soundtrack is all electronic music, with a little chiptune mixed in for good measure and sound quality is very nice. The music is still clean and clear even when it's being distorted by the game, such as when it plays backwards due to you traveling backwards(forwards?) in time.

Unfortunately, having only an hour of music does put a limit on the games content. There's only 10 stages to play through and obviously, you'll be beating them in about an hour. Those used to the massive 50+ song set lists of big budget rhythm games will be disappointed. Fortunately, while there's not many stages 24 Caret has done a good job of making the most of what it has. Each stage has multiple difficulty levels to encourage multiple playthroughs, and with end of song stats and leaderboards for each song, those seeking to master the game will get plenty of playtime as they aim for that perfect run.
A view of Retro/Grade's Challenge Map.
Aside from campaign, there's also a challenge mode. Challenge mode contains over 100 challenges to play through, spread out over a large map, complete with branching paths and shortcuts. Challenges can be anything from perfect runs of a certain stage, to making combos, to playing with the stage layout inverted so the top lane is the bottom and vice-versa. Each challenge has a ranking system, along with a leaderboard and several unlockables, such as new ships and artwork are spread through out the map. There might not be a lot of stages, but the game finds a lot to do with them.

Finally, the game can be played with a guitar hero controller and has a "rhythm" control style for doing just that. Unfortunately I was't able to test this personally as I do not have a guitar controller that will work on my PC. For those who don't have a guitar controller, there's a "shooter" control style that I used with a gamepad, and the game plays just fine with it, you do not need a guitar to enjoy this game.
Each level ends with a list of stats and a raking.
With tight controls, a good soundtrack, and a surprising amount of content for it's size, Retro/Grade is an excellent rhythm game that's well worth playing a look, especially if you're a fan of guitar Hero and are looking for an excuse to finally dig that guitar controller out of the closet.

Retro/grade was developed by 24 Caret Games. It is available on steam or a steam copy, along with a DRM-free download is available directly form the developers here. Retro/Grade's homepage is available here.

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