PAX East 2012 is a great location to find independent games, as many developers are showing off their wares and changing the landscape of certain genres as we know it. Amongst them is Retro/Grade, a different kind of music/rhythm game than you might be used to. In fact, at first glance, the game resembles a space shooter rather than something that you’d play with a guitar instrument. But 24 Carat Games, the developer behind the long-in-the-works project, definitely proved otherwise during our hands-on session.

You start the game by actually beating the final boss, and barely narrowly escaping death in a fiery explosion. However, as the end credits begin to roll, something goes wrong with the space time continuum, and, as a result, everything starts running in reverse. To avoid being sucked into a time vacuum forever, you have to play everything backwards.

The gameplay is truly unique. You move your ship to capture incoming shots that originally came out of your vessel. (Confused? Don't be.) You must move between tracks, which are divided by colors on the screen, and hit the button accordingly when shots come into contact with your ship. You could play with an ordinary controller, but Retro/Grade was a game that’s been custom fitted for use with a guitar controller, regardless if it’s Rock Band or Guitar Hero.

See, you line up your ship with the color that matches up with the fret on the neck of the guitar controller. You’ve got green, yellow and red, and you line up your ship by hitting the coordinating button. From there, you strum on the guitar controller to capture the note. It sounds easy at first, but soon you’ll need to take things on the defensive, moving out of the way of shots from the enemy, which are actually coming at you from the other direction as they’re lining up to receive their bullets back.

It all sounds quite tricky, but 24 Carat Games has gone a long way into making the game enjoyable. The gameplay clicks within minutes of playing it, and you’ll be tempted to take on higher difficulty settings, just to see how crazy the game can get. What’s more, you’re constantly challenged to do better by the online leaderboards, which keep track of your best scores and compare them to others in the community. While we would’ve preferred the direct competition of online play, this is easily the next best thing.

For a music/rhythm game, Retro/Grade certainly looks much different than most games out there. The space settings are dazzling, along the lines of some of the better shooters around, and the way that everything runs in reverse is quite nifty, especially with the glowing shots coming to and from your ship and others.

Better still, 24 Carat Games has outfitted the game with a superb soundtrack, with a variety of tunes that actually keep up with the on-screen action, so you won’t feel like everything’s hitting you at random. With a wide assortment of songs to choose from, you’re constantly challenged by what’s around the corner. The only downside is that there really isn’t any DLC planned (as of yet anyway) to expand the song list. Hopefully 24 Carat Games will consider adding track packs to this…

All in all, Retro/Grade is a one-of-a-kind music/rhythm game that really stands out as something compelling enough to pull out your old guitar controller again. And it’s not too far off from release, as the developer recently confirmed that it’s (finally) due for release this year. We can’t wait to see how the finished product holds up. If only time would go in reverse so we already have it…