Have you ever flawlessly completed a side-scrolling shooter? What if you were asked to flawlessly play a game backward, to the beat of electronic music? What if the price of your failure were the collapse of the space-time continuum? Such is the premise of Retro/Grade, a unique rhythm game with a lot of charm, some great tunes, and tons of visual flair, but a dearth of music prevents the fun from lasting very long.
Betcha Doc Brown didn't see THIS coming.
Retro/Grade begins at the end. You put a couple of shots into the final boss, the day is saved, the credits start rolling...and then everything starts to go backward. From then on you have to unplay the entire adventure of space hero Rick Rocket, undoing his every shot and redodging every enemy attack. Everything is happening to the beat of the level's music, so you're not just playing a shooter in reverse; you're also playing a rhythm game. You can think of the playing field like Rock Band's note highway turned on its side. Where there would be notes, there are now Rick's reversed weapon projectiles, and you move up and down the space lanes to catch them with a well-timed press of the X button. The number of lanes varies by difficulty, starting with only two for the beginner level and going up to five for the tougher difficulties.
Failing to undo any of Rick's shots or getting hit by enemies causes damage not to your ship, but to the space-time continuum. If it's destroyed, the game is over. To help fix your mistakes, though, you earn Retro/Fuel that allows you to go backward--er, forward?--in time. You lose any multiplier you may have built up, but it helps you overcome tricky sections in which you might otherwise die. Every lane is color-coded the same way a Guitar Hero game would be, with the color of every friendly and enemy projectile giving you a clear signal as to whether you want to be in that specific lane or avoid it.
Your ship might be faster than a DeLorean, but it's not nearly as stylish.
It's amazing how well these many elements works together. After the rhythm game fatigue that set in for most people after the market was flooded with music peripheral games, Retro/Grade's unique take on the formula helps the action feel fresh. You're doing many of the same actions, albeit with a controller instead of a fake instrument (though you can, in fact, bust out your plastic guitar and play Retro/Grade that way), but it feels like a much different experience. It helps that the electronic music is catchy and the visuals are packed with pleasing colors and animations.