Review: Super Time Force
Time travel doesn’t have to be used responsibly. This is the ethos of Super Time Force, and a sentiment felt across both its story and gameplay. Whilst a humorous and nonsensical narrative gives the game great character, the way the its unique mechanics mirror this chaos is only clever until it results in pure frustration. For better and for worse, time travel isn’t the exact science it should be.
Whilst inherently retro in its look, Super Time Force is predominantly made up of newer ideas. An 8-bit influence is certainly apparent, from the Mega Man style level select screen to a sub-boss that throws barrels at the player. But the most obvious comparison to the game’s graphical style would be the Sword and Sworcery EP, which Capybara Games co-developed alongside Superbrothers.
As you’d expect from the people behind literally the best looking iOS game ever, Super Time Force is visually stunning. Sure, it’s a different kind of stunning to many of the other games you can get for your Xbox One, but the levels of creativity, detail, and sheer artistic talent that have gone into the game’s graphics makes it in many ways more impressive than the act of re-creating real world objects in immaculate detail (Forza 5 style).
On first glance the gameplay may appear to resemble a fairly standard side scrolling shooter, but how the game is played is drastically altered by the inclusion of a complex time travel mechanic. You start each level with thirty lives and a strict time limit. With no other choice, you rush forward only to encounter an onslaught of enemies. Maybe you kill one or two, but you almost certainly get killed yourself. Now the game gives you the chance to rewind to any point, from just before your death back to the start of the level, and then respwans you alongside the ghost of your past attempt. Now when you face that group of enemies there are two of you, and if you die again there will be three.
A level of strategy is added by the option to choose from a selection of characters who all have their own unique weapons and skills. With each new attempt you’ve also got the chance to save your past-self from death, and in doing so you can team for extra attacks and more health. Whilst the tactical possibilities enabled by these systems is extensive, brute force proves to be an alternative solution to each of the game’s scenarios. Sure, you could deploy the shields, swords and sniper rifles of three different characters and have them work together to masterfully clear an area of enemies, but several layers of rocket launchers will work just as well.
Once the bullets start to fly Super Time Force certainly looks impressive, but managing the chaos isn’t as fun as it should be. Whilst completing the levels is made relatively easy thanks to the generous thirty life counter, death feels like an all too common occurrence. It’s particularly frustrating to rewind time to what feels like a safe point only to be instantly killed upon spawning. Of course rewinding slowly and carefully helps prevent this, but after every death I always found myself itching to get back into the action. The respawn system also allows you to spawn mid air, but without the momentum of your original jump you’ll be landing in a different position. Again this can result in death very easily.
Not only does the clock need rewinding to prevent death, but also to ensure that you progress through the levels before the timer runs out. Essentially this requires you to manage your life (or rewind) count against the amount of level you have left to complete. If you’re running out of time, or having trouble with a large group of enemies, using up extra rewinds is always the way to progress, and the more you use the easier it becomes. Unfortunately on the first playthrough you’ll only have a rough idea of how long the levels are, meaning managing all of this involves some guesswork. Likewise, choosing to use up some extra lives to go after the collectibles on the way can be a bit of a gamble.
This system does however work really well for the boss fights. Here you can measure your progress against the boss’ health bar, and it’s particularly satisfying to watch it deplete faster and faster as you rewind and add more and more layers of attack.
Overall Super Time Force is a game I’d definitely recommend, but because it’s so engrossing its flaws can become very frustrating. In particular it stands out as a defined XBLA title that not only is full of creative levels and original ideas, but has the presentation and feel of a full retail game. Hopefully this is what it will be remembered for, rather than the levels of annoyance that it can deliver, but only time will tell.