A couple of years ago, I got my hands on a game at IndieCade that combined both the mechanics of a side-scrolling shooter along with the rhythm aspects of a game like Guitar Hero. For two genres you would never imagine mixing, Retro/Grade pulls off the shooter with a beat brilliantly with giant bosses and a dazzling array of colors. It’s little wonder that it won the Audience Choice award that year. Since then, the good gents over at 24 Caret Games have been working diligently on the title, rocking out the PAX conventions, and are planning on releasing this year. Matt Gilgenbach, co-founder of 24 Caret Games, visited me over at the G4 studios to show off the latest build as well as their never before seen section – the challenge mode.
Let’s Do The Time Warp… Again!
For those of you not familiar with Retro/Grade, I feel bad for you. You should really try to get out more. After vanquishing the last boss in an intergalactic battle to save humanity or whatever happens to live on that rock below, a time warp sends you flying backwards through ten levels of waves of fighters and giants bosses, reconstructing everything you destroyed and sending enemies running home. Suck up your spent shots while avoiding the returning enemy shots. You’re not just protecting your ass but time itself. You played through this perfectly the first time; you’ll need to do it all again just to keep the time stream in line.
Never have I claimed to be a guitar hero or simply a guitar good guy. I’m all thumbs or ring fingers, depending on what’s your weakest finger. But I understand shooters, and when to get the hell out of the way. Each of the lanes coordinates with a button on the guitar and even come in their respective color. Line up the shot and strum. Bang! All is right with the time steam. Matt demonstrated some of the newer weapons as well such as the missiles that will have you jamming on your fire button or the laser that requires you to follow it through multiple paths. New enemies keep you moving as you dodge reappearing lasers.
The Beat of War
“Two guys at PAX went through the levels without missing a shot… but they didn’t get a perfect score.” As Matt explains it, you need to not only hit every shot, but it needs to be in time with the music. And that seems to be the key difference that turns a plain shooter into rhythm game. Synth 8-bit beats add another layer of complexity to the game as your realize the notes you hear are actually shots you take back into the ship. Exploding ships provide the backbeats as the lasers whizzing by keep the tempo. This isn’t a war but a symphony with spaceships. You’re not just playing to be good; you’re playing to be perfect.
Ships reforming, lasers sailing through the sky, and every bomb exploding in space; these events all add something to the musical score. War just doesn’t happen, but it happens to a beat. Matt points towards the music composer, Skylar “Nautilis” McGlothlin, as the one making chaos sound so good. Every song needs to sound great and be fun to play. On top of that, all of the notes are actually sounds played backwards but as Matt puts it “the backward sound doesn’t always feel right.” An explosion played backward, for instance, starts with a bang before getting really quiet. Matt and the team over at 24 Caret add a drum snare to the end of each explosion to give it an extra kick. Again, two different genres come together to hit the right notes.
The Final Challenge Mode
Watching Matt play through the levels was utterly entrancing. Having passed through each level a dozen times before, he muttered about difficulty changes throughout each level as through this was just another playtesting session. But he’s not scrapping the hardest levels; he’s saving them for his new challenge mode. As Matt describes it, it’s the “Mortal Kombat challenge tower” of the game. Each of the level switches the rules such as increasing the speed to 140% or turning on disco mode to switch all the colors around. Beating a stage unlocks secret art or cheats such as big head mode. Retro/Grade takes a far more forgiving route by allowing multiple paths through the challenges and warps around some of the tougher challenges. Think of it as the director’s cut of many of the levels and boss battles.
When I asked Matt for the one lesson he’s learned on this trip, he said, “Being a perfectionist can be a good and bad thing.” Since the beginning of development, the standard for downloadable gaming has skyrocketed and with that the need to deliver a AAA-quality title. You need to recognize what’s important such as no loading screens, global leaderboards, and details such as the pilot’s head bopping in time with the music. With a gleam in his eye, I know that Matt was already planning another five additions to the game but he’ll have to let it go since Retro/Grade will be coming out on the PSN network soon-ish.
Feed Your Indie Need Now
You Should Play: Midas
This Ludum Dare entrant manages to not only make a great puzzle platformer but a rather touching story at the same time. With the theme of “alone,” Midas tells the story of a king whose touch turns everything into gold, even his wife. Each level tasks you with finding a water source to negate the power and reunite with your love. Of course the power comes in handy to make gold blocks fall. The problem – gold blocks like to fall and crush you.
You Should Support: Code Hero
Yes, Code Hero is the coding game where you learn to program while you game. You solve puzzles by manipulating code and using it in the environment around you. Piles of random object blow up with a couple of quick clicks of the button. It’s cool, clever, and something that should be in every school. Beyond just helping them out, any buck you send them will get you access to the Beta where you can start coding your own game. If you can put a game together, they will send you a lab coat. And trust me, you want that lab coat.
You Should Play: Abobo’s Big Adventure
It’s finally out. Go play it now. Stop reading this. Okay, you’re still reading. This 8-bit slice of nostalgia dipped in insanity and covered in rainbow sprinkles is the right treat for anyone who remembers the days of the NES. Everything from Donkey Kong to characters you barely remember makes an appearance in this game and they’re all trying to stop you, Abobo, from finding his son. You’ll swim through Mario and crawl through Zelda before this flash game is through. Seriously, go play it now.