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SummaryA really horrible PAL-Only shmup from Psygnosis which had so much potential, but totally falls flat
The GoodThe most positive thing I can say about the game is the music, which is not really the best music for any game, but it's passable and quite cool, although there are some music in the game, which can be flat-out boring to listen to. The most interesting thing about the music, is that 5 of the music from the game (which also include some, which are indeed flat-out boring to listen to) are surprisingly featured in the PC version of Rollcage Stage II, which is cool but nothing really that special.
The BadThe first major problems with the game, are not just the gameplay and the graphics (which I'll be talking about them shortly), but the story and the four main protagonists of the game (Who are the ones seen on the front-cover of the game, which make the game look very promising.). I'll discuss about the story first, which is just the most ridiculous plot ever conceived: The story involves an alien invasion fleet let by Kyati (aka. The Ridiculous looking cat creature, as KollisionBR loves to call him, when he reviewed it.), who are ruining a New Year's eve-like celebration named the "Millennial Celebrations", by making an evil prophecy become fulfilled, which is done by stealing a green crystal simply refered to as "The Artefact", which provides protection to the main protagonists' home planet in their home city, which is just refered to both in the manual and in-game as "The City". The four main protagonists of the titular fighter-squadron Retro Force, attempted to stop the cat creature from stealing the artefact, but somehow they failed and are sucked back in time, and their job is to chase the cat creature through four different time periods: The Ice Ages, the Stone Ages, The Middle Ages, and back to the present. And in these time periods, you have to retrieve the pieces of the artefact by fighting four bosses at the end of each time period. Most of the story is told through really lame text-based colored dialogue spoken by the main protagonists in their corresponding colors, that are found in loading screens for every level that needs to load up, even the boss levels. There are FMVs found in the game, but it's just only the opening (when you first fire-up the game) and the ending to the game (if you manage to defeat the cat creature in the third and final level of the fourth time period.).
Now for the four main protagonists that you play as: As they look really cool at first, if only when you look at them at the front cover of the game, you'll instantly notice, that they are static, silent and very lifeless, and they also have absolutely no personalities and backstories. However, if you look in the instruction manual, you'll notice that it has descriptions and even biographies of them, which are never showcased in-game, which is just totally pathetic. Let's take Paris Tetsuo (The female character, that I used to be in love with, until now) for instance: In the manual, she is described to be a blood-descendant of Arial and Arian Tetsuo from the original WipEout, as a she posesses the same type of abilities that the twins have, as she is also described as a sharpshooter and it's also mentioned, that she plays a demon game of cribbage. However, none of this is explained and showcased in-game, which is just a total joke really. So unless you have the instruction manual for the game, you will never know their personalities and biographies in this game. Adding more insult to injury, they even share the same weapons and abilities, which is totally inexcusable, as any good shmup, like R-Type Delta for example, have different ships with different abilities and weapon capabilities, which are sadly not found here. And another thing, is that the characters don't make relationships to each other whatsoever, which is just totally silly, unlike other good games like Space Channel 5, in which Ulala does make relationships to other characters in the game (Including her hot flame Jaguar). But here in this game, Paris doesn't fall in love with Hawtin and Hawtin doesn't fall in love with Paris either.
After you choose your character and when you first fire-up the first of the 15 levels in the game, you will instantly notice, that the visual presentation is totally lackluster, filled with dark- and dull-looking textures and projectiles, poorly modeled ships, enemies and bosses, poorly designed levels and also really really poor animations that really leaves alot to be desired. The same thing can be also said with the sound, as the sound presentation (Minus the music, which I explained before) is really poor as the sound effects aren't any satisfying to say the least.
The gameplay is your typical Vertical scrolling shmup, where your goal for every level is to shoot everything you encounter along the way and try to reach the end of the level without dying too often (As you have 4 lives at the start, which you can get more by collecting a really rare extra life pickup, or 40 gems by the end of the level) and without losing too many credits (As you do have 4 credits, and you lose all of them, it's game over.)
The controls are for the most part, quite bad: As you move your ship in any direction, it feels pretty loose, which can cause alot of frustrations to some players, but you might get used to it, if you take the time to get used to them.
You have 6 weapons, that are the same for every character that I've explained before. You have 3 standard weapons, ranging from a normal blue projectile, two red projectiles (which can shoot more, if you collect upgrades for it) and a lightning bolt (Which can come in very handy against bosses), and you have also 3 bomb weapons that are used to fire at enemies and objects that are on the ground, which differ in range and blast radius. The weapons can be selected with the R1 and R2 buttons respectively.
Speaking of upgrades, these are weapons are indeed upgradeable, if you collect an upgrade pickup, that is revealed, when you destroy a mid-boss in a level, when you're quick enough, as you only have a limited amount of time to take them down before they get away (They also reveal extra lifes, a smart bomb, a red gem and even a special weapon). Besides your standard weapons, you also have 5 special weapons, which are limited in ammo, but are alot more powerful than your standard weapons, but they can be carried only once at a time. Those weapons range from multi-bolts which hist multiple enemies around you, sideshots which shoots from both sides of your ships, homing missiles, rockets and plasma balls. Besides, you also have a smart bomb, which destroys small enemies and objects nearby, aswell as damaging your boss with some more damage, all around you, but just like with those extra lifes, they are also really hard to come by, but can be also obtained by collecting 30+ green gems by the end of a level.
The enemies themselves range from generic looking floating drones, tanks, floating turrets, bees, bird-looking things to TIE Fighter looking sentries etc. And you also have several bosses to battle in every level, which range from a bigger drone, a ladybug looking type, a floating samurai bot, a mech-rabbit etc, who of course expose useful items, but need to be taken down quickly as you only have a limited amount of time before they get away, as mentioned earlier. Some bosses however, require a force field to be disabled, to be able to destroy them. Most of the enemies and bosses only shoot small projectiles and some shoot medium size to small size lasers, which can cause frustrations to some players, as the difficulty curve can be either moderate to very punishing, as the game does get progressively harder as you get further. As you destroy a group of enemies or a special enemy such as a scorpion for example, you will also get some extra points.
You also come across really generic looking objects on the ground, which usually expose a green gem, an energy cell which recovers health but not all of your health (Most people have really complained that healthbars are not suitable for shmups, but I do have mixed feelings about them.), and also red cells, which activates a red shield, which will protect you from damage for a short amount of time.
As said earlier, there are 4 time periods in total. three of them consisting of 4 levels, and the final one with three. And in every final level of a time period, you will face a really hard boss, which three of them have two or three different forms. They range from a giant mech, a UFO, a giant two-headed spider and lastly, the ridiculous looking cat creature itself which does a really weird meow sound (Also heard in the South Park Episode "Major Boobage"), when you hurt it. Each of the four main bosses do posess a piece of the artefact, that you need to be able to save the world from the evil prophecy that the cat creature was attempting to unleash before the millennial celebrations begin, but fails due to your heroic (I would rather say clowny) efforts (because the main protagonists are real clowns.) stopping it and it's minions. After defeating one of the four bosses in the game, you do not only get a piece of the artefact, but you can also save your game progress on your Memory Card, which has never or rarely been seen in any shmup before. The game does have an autosave function, but it will only autosave your high scores.
You can also dive or climb into hard to reach places by pressing either the L1 or L2 button, but most of the time, you don't even need it, as there are a few sections in the game, which can contain some objects that are hard to reach in a standard altitude. Yet these buttons can come in very handy when you're going to battle a boss in a level, but beware, if you climb or dive during a boss battle, the boss will also climb or dive aswell. But you can only climb or dive for a short amount of time, before you go back to your original altitude, as you see a bar beneath your portrait of your chosen character, as you have to wait for the bar to be totally depleted, to be able to climb or dive again.
As for replay value goes, it's totally lackluster: When you beat the game, on either Easy or Normal, you will get a message that says "Play the game again on Hard" which is totally NOT worth it. The only unlockable item in the game is the NIGHTMARE difficulty, if you do beat the game on Hard, but even if you beat the game on NIGHTMARE (Which I doubt you would NEVER do, as you probably need a Gameshark to even do so), you would get absolutely nothing, not even the end credits of the game (even after the ending to the game on any difficulty rolled), that CAN be revealed, if you put the game-disc into your PC, use a HEX editor and look inside the game's files (Which I did and I also posted the credits of the game on the game's page on Mobygames BTW.), but you really don't want to know all this, as you would NEVER ever play this game ever again.
There is even a multiplayer mode, but that one is really poor: You can play up to 4 players, but the problem is that Co-Op play is only available for two players, and instead, you can only play up to either three or four players in two different turn-based modes: "Arcade Battle" which all players need to finish the level one-by-one, and "Relay Battle" which only one player needs to finish a level without having all players finishing it simultaneously.
The Bottom LineRetro Force had so much potential for being one of the most coolest and most memorable Psygnosis games ever made, next to Rollcage, WipEout, G-Police, Colony Wars, Overboard etc., but it totally misses the mark by a whole lot of flaws that held it back from being one: Totally generic gameplay, flat graphics, horrible animations, a totally non-existant plot with a totally absurd storytelling method, totally static and lifeless characters who have no personalities and backstories despite the instruction manual has descriptions about them (Which are obviously never showcased in-game) and share the same abilities and weapons regardless who you choose; really weak sound and very poor replay value. I can already see and understand why many shmup enthusiasts (Including KollisionBR and JohnnyMoody, who reviewed it and totally dispised it with a burning passion) consider it as one of the worst shmups ever created. There are plenty of very good shmups out there, but Retro Force is simply NOT one of them. And as for the characters in the game, I would rather play Space Channel 5 instead, for it's much better and cooler cast of characters, including Ulala, the main female protagonist, that I'm insanely in love with (as a guy of course) and that I perfer over Paris Tetsuo, the playable female character from Retro Force, which I used to be insanely in love with, who also was the ONLY element that made me become a fan of this game, until I realized, how AWFUL this game really is.
The only people that I would recommend this game, are those, who either go for a full Psygnosis collection, a full collection of all PAL-Only games, a full shmup collection or simply a full collection.
But other than that, just stay away from it at all costs.