The shiny colors of Retro/Grade initially drew me towards it, but it was the enthusiastic pitch of Twenty Four Caret Games’ Matt Gilgenbach that sold me. “It’s the world’s first game played entirely in reverse,” he informed me.
On closer inspection, I saw that he wasn’t kidding – the action I was watching was indeed unfolding backwards, with colored shots flying through space back towards the ships that fired them.
It was only then that I realized the game was played with a guitar.
At its heart, Retro/Grade is a music-based rhythm game, but it’s the unique premise that really makes it shine. You play as an intrepid starship captain in a classically-styled shoot-’em-up who destroys the final boss just a little too hard, ripping a hole in the space-time continuum and forcing you to play through levels in reverse. This means you’ll have to not only re-dodge enemy fire, but also line your ship up with shots that you’ve made, timing their firing appropriately. Failing to do so correctly can disrupt the very fabric of the universe. It’s a heavy job.
Pressing the frets on the guitar will line your ship up on one of five lanes. You’ll do this to dodge attacks coming at you in reverse, but your main focus will be to line your ship up with your own shots as they return to the front of your ship. When the shot is lined up with your ship, a strum of the guitar will “fire,” ensuring that continuity remains intact.
Of course, the game throws a number of obstacles in the way that keep the game fresh. Occasionally, bursts of arcing fire will recede back towards a ship, forcing you to find your way through small safe areas in true bullet-hell fashion. Salvos of missiles will need to be reverse-fired with rapidly-timed guitar strums. And if things get crazy, slamming on the whammy bar can reverse-reverse-time… or, make time go forward again… or… you know. Man, time travel is confusing.
Gilgenbach says that the idea for a game played backwards came while middling about in a debug mode, where the team discovered just how fun things were in reverse. When they had settled on a model that would use five discrete lanes with which to dodge and “collect” fire, the addition of guitar support was a natural next step.
The main campaign will feature ten stages – naturally, starting with stage ten and the defeat of the final boss and a partial credit roll (“Man, you’re really good at this,” quipped Gilgenbach sarcastically during the scripted opening “victory” sequence). In addition, Retro/Grade boasts 130 “challenges.” These additional modes task you with completing stages under a number of difficult circumstances, such as at a super-fast speed or with a mirrored screen.
Retro/Grade looks to be a blast for fans of rhythm games, and its clever premise had me smiling the entire time I was playing. While the game also offers support for regular controllers, this looks like just as good a reason as any to bust out those plastic peripherals that are no doubt collecting dust.
Look for Retro/Grade to hit the PlayStation Network sometime over the next few months.