GRIDD: Retroenhanced Review
GOODD: Jizz In My Pants
At one point in my last run of GRIDD: Retroenhanced before starting work on this review, I was on top of the world. My weapons were fully upgraded, my shields were up, and my score was rocketing sky-high. I was on a roll. Then a meteor shower happened, and in one fell swoop, I lost my shields and, since taking damage downgrades your weapons, the upgrades as well. The same thing happened on the next playthrough. And the next one.
On the one hand, this anecdote tells you that GRIDD can sometimes feel really unbalanced. But on the other, it also tells you that I felt compelled to stop writing this review to have another go – more than once, in fact. Despite some serious flaws, GRIDD: Retroenhanced just keeps drawing you back into its world of techno-robots and ahh another fucking meteor shower
While GRIDD: Retroenhanced’s subtitle seems to imply a mobile port, it is, in fact, the third game in a series of on-rails shooters. The first GRIDD was a Windows Phone exclusive, and seems to have sunk into obscurity along with its mother platform. GRIDD 2, which appears to have been released around 2013 – details are kinda hard to ascertain – is a rather decent mobile game. Retroenhanced appears to be Antab Studio’s first foray into PC development, and on this front, I’m glad to report that the developers have done an excellent job: the game runs smoothly, looks beautiful and feels great to play, which is no small feat.
If you’ve ever played Star Fox, you know what you’re getting into: you control a spaceship that moves forward on a pre-determined path, and it’s up to you to navigate around the screen, picking up powerups, avoiding obstacles and blowing up robo-baddies. Picking up fragments left behind by downed opponents increases your score multiplier, meaning that the more enemies you shoot down, the faster your score goes up – that is, if you manage to pick up the scrap. It’s a great mechanic that encourages a more dynamic play style which, coupled with the fact that many enemies can reflect your shots back at you, means that you’re almost never able to just keep shooting from a safe position.
Adding to the pure thrill of playing Retroenhanced is a rather frantic camera. At first the constant change in viewpoint seem ill-conceived, but soon one learns to appreciate how these shifts give the game a truly kinetic feeling. Part of the learning curve of the game is in understanding how to maneuver around obstacles despite the constant change in relative position, giving you that feeling of excitement while avoiding what could’ve easily been a very motion-sickness inducing mechanic.
When GRIDD works, it works real well. The problem is that some questionable design choices really hold it back. The first mode available when you first start playing GRIDD: Retroenhanced is Arcade Mode, where you encounter the basic enemy types found in the main game, along with several bosses, and learn the game’s other core mechanics. Depending on your skill level, this mode will take around 15 minutes to an hour to beat, at which point endless mode is unlocked, where the meat of the game is found. Sadly, it’s also where a lot of the game’s limitations become clear.
Unlike arcade mode, endless mode is procedurally generated, meaning that you have to face a completely new layout of obstacles and enemies each time. This could be really good if more care was taken to balance this mode out. There’s little to no rhyme or reason to the order in which enemies appear, meaning that some runs will start with a fight against a miniboss, will others will go on for ages with only the weakest enemies and most basic obstacles. There also seems to be a distinct lack of bosses in this mode, and a meteor rain that I have found no efficient way of avoiding, making the end of a run often feel arbitrary, as if you depend on the game’s good graces for how long you get to play.
…not five minutes go by after I close GRIDD: Retroenhanced before I think about booting it up again
Of course, there’s the distinct possibility that I just suck at this game. But I can’t help but feeling that I would have an easier time learning to deal with the more difficult parts if they were introduced in a way that was more structured and gradual. There is a middle ground between linearity and chaos, and I fear that Retroenhanced errs heavily on the latter.
This is just one part of a wider problem about Retroenhanced. Despite being the first non-mobile game in the series, it seems bafflingly intent on not taking full advantage of the new possibilities this brings. The control scheme remains as simplistic as in GRIDD 2, with nothing but movement and a fire button. Additions like dodging mechanics, secondary weapons, the ability to aim shots independently of movement – just off the top of my head – could all open up a lot of possibilities without making the game any less challenging. It’s a shame that the developers chose not to be more adventurous in bringing their game to the PC.
And yet, for all these frustrations, Retroenhanced keeps drawing me in. Maybe it’s the 80s-as-fuck soundtrack, the visuals blatantly ripped off from Far Cry: Blood Dragon (no complaints here – it’s incredibly well-done), or the sheer joy of blowing up robots with triple lasers, but not five minutes go by after I close GRIDD: Retroenhanced before I think about booting it up again. I don’t always do it – but I always consider it.
When you’re a game reviewer, and the desire to play a game distracts you from writing the actual review or moving on to play something else, that kinda means a lot.