GRIDD: Retroenhanced is a fast and furious throwback to 1980s cyberpunk that feels fresh and perfectly at home in 2017. The player is pitted against the perils of a sinister network bent on preventing you from hacking your way through its defenses. True to the arcade feel, GRIDD leans more heavily on gameplay than plot. Nevertheless, this balance of a minimalistic cyberpunk narrative with stunning graphics, Tron-like neon effects and truly addictive gameplay make GRIDD a renewed reminder of what made gaming so great in the 80s.
In a day where games have become ever more complex, GRIDD hearkens back to a time when designers knew the key to creating a sense of compulsion in a player is sometimes simplicity. On the surface, the game is rather modest: you fly and shoot. However, I soon found excelling at the game was not so easy.
Each stage offers a set group of obstacles that are randomly generated; making certain each attempt is different. This is particularly important because in Arcade Mode (the only mode made available at the onset), you are placed at the beginning again with each death. This might sound frustrating, but it is actually a mechanic that works in GRIDD’s favor. GRIDD is first and foremost a challenge of the player’s dexterity and their ability to improve with each attempt. The result is an enormous emotional payoff even for taking only minor strides.
The controls, once grasped, are simple but require a great deal of skill. I played the game using a keyboard, but if you have a game controller handy, it might make the initial learning curve a bit less steep for some players. The effect, however, is smooth and stunning to watch. The plane soars through cyberspace with a fluid motion somewhere between flying and swimming. Obstacles appear at breakneck speeds, and enemies will swarm as they launch attacks at your ship from multiple angles.
As you fly, you can shoot yellow objects to up your multiplier. The game scores you by keeping track of how many KB you collect with each run. The more objects you shoot, the better you score. But, be careful. Shooting metal objects will cause your bullets to ricochet back at your cybercraft. This helps ensure, particularly in later levels, that you can’t simply run through the game with guns blazing. Your mind has to be as quick as your fingers on the controls. There is some relief, though. Flying through special rings will assist the player by restoring your shield or upping your weapon’s power.
The challenge GRIDD poses adds to the game’s replayability. Even if Arcade had been the only mode available, I likely would have come back again just to try to beat my final score. The game, after all, is short enough that even after multiple playthroughs it never wears thin. However, developer Antab Studio was clever to add an Endless mode that allows players to get as far as they can without death sending them back to the beginning.
The world created in GRIDD is well fleshed out, even if we might not fully understand how we arrived in the network. The hacking motif isn’t simply a plot device for instance, but actually plays into the game itself. You will have to open literal firewalls along your journey. Hacking sequences will arise requiring the player to collect certain numbers in order to activate a key code. Perhaps, most striking of all is the overall feel.
As I flew through the cascade of shocking color at heart-stopping speeds to the beat of an electric soundtrack, I remembered why I loved gaming so much as a kid in the 80s. Not only does the game look like something that could have come straight from that era (if we had the graphical quality of today), but GRIDD grasps the addictive power of not only classic arcade shooters, but games of that era in general. A steep learning curve was once commonplace. Games like the original Kid Icarus and Mega Man required the player to replay each level until they get it exactly right. Being successful meant hours of trial and error. It was a test of skill and patience, but being pitted against yourself like that was also highly rewarding. GRIDD pulls the player in and won’t let them go using this same sense of self-trial. The fast pace and ever-changing levels make certain the challenge never grows stale before you finally reach the end.
GRIDD: Retroenhanced is more than a nostalgia trip, it is a top-notch arcade shooter for the modern gamer. The pumping techno-beat carries the player onward through an electrifying journey of sights, sounds, and constant action that will urge you to try again just one more time. Then one time more. And then you’re hooked.
The game is developed by Antab Studio and published by Kongregate. GRIDD: Retroenhanced is available on Steam for Windows, Mac OS X, and Steam OS + Linux. Review copy provided by Kongregate.