Messy-haired lead singers wear Atari t-shirts. Young professional couples furnish their two bedroom apartments with radios and plates from the Fifties. Bedroom walls are covered in James Dean and Marilyn Monroe posters. Retro is in. Retro is cool.
And so is retro gaming. I'm not sure who kicked it off, but the emergence of Xbox LIVE and PSN has encouraged it to bloom. This generation will be remembered for the arrival of high definition gaming, but for many, it will go down as the generation of the retro revival.
PSN-exclusive Gravity Crash, from UK developer Just Add Water, is yet another game in this enjoyable trend. It is a game that, like the best retro games, fuses eye-catching retro visuals with high definition graphics. It is a game that, like the best retro games, combines addictive retro gameplay with modern day controllers. And it is a game that, at £6, is a steal.
It looks and sounds like Bizarre's superb XBLA-exclusive Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2. A small craft moves about a space viewed from a top down perspective. The 1080p 60fps vector graphics are striking, minimalist, and effortlessly eye-catching. The Tron meets Shoreditch electro dance music fits the sci-fi space theme perfectly without ever threatening further investigation. But the similarities end there.
The title tells you all you need to know, really. Gravity will make you Crash. This is puzzling: The game is set in space, where, if GCSE physics serves me well, there is no gravity. Hey-ho. It is not for me to ask questions pertaining to realism. Gravity Crash is not Operation Flashpoint.
So, gravity will make you crash. If left alone, your craft will fall down. If it touches anything, an asteroid, a surface, a structure, anything, it will explode. Thankfully, you've got thrust. Thrust makes you move forward, in whatever direction your craft is facing. This causes inertia, which then demands more thrust. Inertia and thrust are the forces that power Gravity Crash's gameplay.
Retro gaming fans will know this mechanic well. It's lifted directly from Gravity Force, the 1989 Amiga game. But Gravity Force nicked it from Thrust, the 1986 BBC Micro and Acorn Electron game, which itself borrowed from Gravitar, the 1982 Atari game. There, the trail stops dead.
Just Add Water, however, has added its own ingredients to the well-worn Thrust recipe. You have a shield at your disposal, which can be triggered at any time. The shield makes you invulnerable, enabling you to bounce off of structures and enemy fire. It's a get out of jail free card with finite use, though. Your shield power, which replenishes slowly, will run out if overused. This forces you to use it sparingly and smartly.
Your craft can also fire a laser. Almost all of the 35 levels contain "the enemy", coloured red to make easy to spot. They come in a variety of forms: dormant structures, turrets and little space men. Each planet in the campaign requires the destruction of a certain number of specific enemy structures. Only then will the stage-ending wormhole appear. Your craft's laser is your tool of destruction in the completion of these objectives.
There's a snag. When played with the classic control set-up (the alternative Geometry Wars-style twin-stick control scheme doesn't feel right), the laser only fires forward. Gravity forces you down. To combat this, you need to thrust up. But most enemies are either below, or at either side, of your craft. This means mastery of the "thrust up, quick turn with the left stick, spam fire, then quick turn to thrust up before crashing" technique is essential. Once you do, Gravity Crash becomes doable.
Unfortunately, before then, it feels almost impossible. Gravity Crash is hard at first - proper hard. The controls and the feel of the game aren't immediately accessible. It takes a good hour of practice before you're able to prevent yourself from crashing every five bloody seconds. Geometry Wars fans may find the emphasis on slow, careful, considered movement not to their fast-moving tastes. Some of the planets are sprawling, and take upwards of 15 minutes to complete all the objectives. Gravity Crash is not an instantly gratifying game.
Don't be put off. Gravity Crash is great. But it only becomes great when you pass the point where you finally get good enough to cope with it. When you find yourself effortlessly weaving in and out of tiny gaps, when you find yourself at one with gravity and inertia and able to destroy multiple enemies with one thrust-powered slingshot manoeuvre across an entire section of a map, that's when Gravity Crash becomes great.
The problem is, many won't want to put in the hour or two required to get to that point. They'll play the demo, not get on with the controls, die a whole bunch, and then discard it un-purchased. Don't do that. Soldier on. It's worth the effort.
My only criticism is with the four-player local multiplayer. It feels tacked on; a tick box addition that doesn't sit well with Gravity Crash's considered gameplay. The deathmatch mode isn't fun, neither is the gem collect-a-thon salvage mode. Only race mode is worth a look. It's a bit like Micro Machines, except floaty.
The single-player game, then, is where it's at. The 35 single-player planets are varied, well designed and increasingly challenging. The later levels, packed with environmental hazards, water (which reverses the gravity effect), moving structures, enemies and native creatures, are particularly brutal. But that just makes their completion all the more satisfying. And, for sadists, there are friendly space men to save (by landing your craft - one of the hardest things to do in the game), awkward to get artefacts to collect, and gems to seek out. Trophies hunters and online leaderboard fanatics will find plenty to sink their teeth into.
And when you're done with the single-player campaign, a superb level editor awaits. It's easy to use, which should, hopefully, ensure there will be loads of player-created levels to download from the Gravity Crash Store.
Gravity Crash isn't for everyone. Stubborn fans of Super Stardust HD, perhaps PSN's best retro shooter, and Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, a game that remains, for me, the pinnacle of the downloadable retro game revival, might find it difficult to adjust to. But Gravity Crash is a great game in its own right. It's challenging, often frustrating, but wonderfully satisfying. Buy it. Play it. Get the t-shirt.