Pew pew pew! Ka-BOOM! The final shots fly through the sky, the enemy is defeated, and the credits roll. You won! Well, that was fast.
That's how my first few seconds went with Retro/Grade at PAX. "I'm confused." Then... REWIND! The credits roll back up into the top of the screen. Your blasts fly back into your ship. The final boss is resurrected in reverse time. The space/time continuum is broken. Retro/Grade is a rhythm and action game disguised as an R-Type variety shooter that you play backwards through time. And you can use a guitar controller. The concept is completely bonkers, and it works.
Matt Gilgenbach intros the game for me in this video (he went with a miner theme for the expo... nice hat!):
I got better, eventually! You have to move up and down the screen with the top three fret buttons, hit the strum bar when you intersect with one of your bullets coming from the right, and dodge the enemies' bullets coming from the left, all at once. Since you're technically playing through battles that have already happened, you need to make sure your ship matches the bullets that have already been fired. If you interrupt an enemy's shot when traveling backwards through time, you're technically being hit with it before it was fired. Likewise with your blasts, if you aren't there to fire them from where they are being fired, you cause a time paradox. Too many paradoxes and you implode into a singularity, taking the entire universe with you. It melted my brain the first time I tried, and I was forced to scope out the tutorial. Once it all falls into place, however, I was in for a treat.
You can play the game with a standard controller, too, but that'd seem almost... blasphemous, like driving a Mini Cooper with an automatic transmission. Yeah, you're still doing it, but it just feels too easy, like you're missing the point. You also have the opportunity to hold down the whammy bar to reverse time (back to the future?) if you fail miserably. It's tough, and the combo multiplier system will ensure that there will be plenty of replay value for those types of gamers that strive to 100% every song on Guitar Hero.
Check out the official trailer below, and keep an eye out for 24^ Games' Retro/Grade when it hits the PlayStation Network exclusively sometime in 2011.