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Retro/Grade Review (PS3)

The brilliant Phil Harris of Blazing Griffin comes back to his favourite hobby: review-ifying!

When it comes to rhythm action games the gaming community is generally split. You either love them or hate them and I certainly fall into the second camp. Why, you might ask, is he reviewing Retro/Grade then? Well the name didn’t reveal anything about the subject, is certainly one point, and a lack of research into what I was agreeing to review is the other.

The main problem, for me, concerning this type of game is the fact that when they were reaching their height I was out playing in bands, writing our own stuff and screwing up for real. The games of this type tended to be about the band or pop diva experience and failed to stimulate me. I have rhythm, I can press buttons in time with it, where is the excitement? It comes down to what you expect, what the achievement does for you and the fact this area simply fails to draw me, although I can respect the good and bad points of it.

This fails, in any way, to review the game though and Retro/Grade is an alternative take on the usual band driven mechanics. It is hardly revolutionary (it would be hard for a rhythm action game to be so) but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. The developers have gone for a semi-retro feel, starting at the end of a side scrolling shooter and allowing the player to play backwards through the action.

A lot of attention has been paid to games of the past but Retro/Grade goes further, beefing up the imagery so it is recognisably retro whilst having the exciting shading and textures of a modern game. It’s wonderfully colourful and glitzy with the most retrograde feature being the music, which really gets to the heart of the plinky-plonk beat driven sound of the 80’s arcade, and therefore fits well with the rhythm action genre.

The shame of this is, as you work to hit the beats in time with the shots generated from your ship, your concentration is really focussed there. Heavens forbid you should take time out to look at the (often, quite beautiful) scenery that has been created, as then you risk missing a beat and the side scrolling doesn’t quite suit the eye for this type of game. In Guitar Hero, for instance, the notes come down towards you, allowing your eye to concentrate on the whole screen, but in Retro/Grade the initial feeling is you might develop neck cramp.

Other problems include the number of tracks and length of the single player game. Limited tracks can become slowly repetitive and annoying, especially if you’re struggling to progress, and then, when you feel you’ve got to the heart of the whole experience, its over. There are a number of challenge modes, which certainly add to the gameplay but if you weren’t enjoying the experience, why bother?

I’m never going to love this game but Retro/Grade is certainly a unique, competently designed and relatively cheap attempt to add something new to a genre which had stifled itself. I can appreciate it for what it is and what the developers have tried to do but its good the demo is available for download so you can decide whether their take is entirely your cup of tea.

7 Boogying Space Invaders out of 10

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