Plastic Surgery disaster and purveyor of 80s soft rock Cher once lamented that if only she could turn back time. While this is a concept that is still beyond us in reality, it seems developers 24 Carat Gaming are looking to fulfil the warbling divas ambitions in digital form with their release, Retro/Grade for the PlayStation Network.
Coming across as the bastard child of Guitar Hero and Space Giraffe, with a dash of Beat Hazard thrown in for good measure, Retro/Grade sees the player control a ship (piloted by Rick Rocket) over the course of ten levels. The twist is that these are all delivered backwards, as he looks to undo damage done to the Space/Time continuum and attempts to restore the proper flow of time. The story is clichéd to say the least, but it does enough to frame the action without getting bogged down in detail.
The action starts with a final boss fight, which is fairly unique and something that even Japanese bullet hell shooters wouldnt attempt. The player quickly has to try and get their head around the concept of absorbing every shot fired at enemies, as they in turn absorb the assorted projectiles fired in Rick Rockets Spacecraft in the past, being sucked back from whence they came. Confused? Initially you will be.
As expected theres a certain rhythm to the levels, but it feels like the one good idea the developers had was stretched out so thinly that even a size zero model would feel a slab of cake is in order. Of course starting with the grand finale means the subsequent levels are very ordinary, with only the occasional mid-level boss to grapple with, but thats about it in terms of diversity.
At least the levels are packed with detail and sparkle with clarity, its just a pity that the player has to actually concentrate on the dull, repetitive gameplay on offer since, once all ten levels are cleared, there isnt a whole lot left to do. Of course they can be replayed on higher difficulty levels but the gist remains the same, with nothing except some extra bars placed along the horizontal scroll.
At this juncture, the game only really makes sense if the player plugs in a plastic instrument to use, as a joypad just isnt responsive enough for the higher levels. Fingers on a fret bar will reach them much quicker than even the most nimble-fingered player will be able to manoeuvre down the time-line, instantly putting those sans instruments at a disadvantage.
But apart from the kudos associated with aiming for the lowest score on the leaderboard (Retro/Grades flipping of conventions even extends to scoring), it doesnt feel like a whole lot of fun to go back to it once completed. Normal mode, and the challenges found in Challenge mode, dont change the areas used in the main campaign, instead only asking players to meet certain requirements for little in the way of gain (concept art and the like).
It all adds up to a very samey experience, one that makes the player yearn for a dash more excitement. Theres clearly some excellent ideas on show here, but they dont seem to be fully realised or werent properly explored to their limit. If the highest difficulty offered extra levels, or perhaps expanded upon the earlier ideas, or even just mixed them up, it might be a far more memorable experience instead of one that will be forgotten almost as quickly as it was picked up and played.
If theres a highlight to Retro/Grade then its the music, as it features some truly enjoyable aural delights that accompany the on-screen action. Late 70s style Kraftwerk and a slice of Selected Ambient Works-era Aphex Twin seems to be the major influence on offer here. It works really well and the player will soon pick firm favourites if theres anything that can make you replay certain levels then its the prospect of just being able to hear a particular track.
Theres nothing wrong with Retro/Grade, the initial fun and quirkiness will beckon players in, but theyll soon find themselves bored with the repetitious nature of the gameplay, which even the challenges and alternate difficulty levels cannot save.