4cr Plays – Super TIME Force
If you ever played a game with an emulator and used the save-state feature, or really any game that allows you to save at any time, chances are you abused the save-states at least once to get past a hard level or boss. Save each time you make some progress, and reload compulsively every time you make a mistake, no matter how small. Well, Super TIME Force by Toronto-based developer Capybara feels like a game that was designed entirely around that “trick.”
At first glance, Super TIME Force looks like your typical run-and-gun game in the vein of Contra, Metal Slug or Gunstar Heroes. Run from left to right, shoot everything that moves, destroy the glowing parts on the bosses, die a lot. However, if you die or screw up in any way, you can rewind time and restart at any point of the level, with your “old self” still there performing the same actions you did just before. You can even save that “old self” from death to gain it’s power. Soon, you end up with dozens of characters running around and shooting everything. It’s like a massively-multiplayer cooperative game… where you’re playing by yourself.
Don’t misunderstand; this mechanic is not a cheat or an option for the less experienced players. The whole game is designed around it, and you NEED to use it to progress. Many collectibles require multiple characters “cooperating” together, bosses won’t go down until many, many characters are shooting at them, and the very strict time limit for each level means you will often rewind to make sure you go through each part as fast as possible. And of course, you can’t abuse the rewind indefinitely: there’s a reasonably generous number of times you can use it in a level until it’s Game Over.
It takes some time to get used to this peculiar time mechanic and understanding how and when to use it efficiently, but once it “clicks,” it’s very rewarding. The game is almost as much a puzzle game as it is an action game, as you’ll sometimes have to stop and think to figure out how to solve a problem with time manipulation.
However, while the time travel gameplay is great and inventive, it creates some (mostly minor) problems. The biggest of these is that the game become too confusing when you have a lot of characters on-screen. It’s not really problematic for most of the game, but it makes the screen simply way too crowded during the boss fights. When you have nearly 30 characters on the same screen jumping and shooting everywhere, it’s very hard to follow what is going on, and you die often because you simply can’t distinguish the enemy’s attacks among all the chaos. Some efforts have obviously been made by Capybara to minimize that confusion (different colors for the enemies’ bullets, greyed-out “past selves”, etc.), but during intense boss fights, it’s still not enough.
The other notable problem is the strict time limit. It’s there to push you to use the rewind feature to be as efficient and fast as possible, which is a good idea but it can make the game needlessly tedious. It happened way too often that I felt I played well during a level, only to run out of time at the last stretch before the goal. I went back in time 15-20 seconds sooner to try to “optimize” my game play and shave off a few seconds on the timer, but after doing it again and again, it still wasn’t enough. I lost too much time at the beginning of the level, and I pretty much had to restart from scratch because of that couple of missing seconds. It’s not so bad as replaying a level is still fun and you can do better because of what you learned on your first playthrough, but having to restart at the last moment of a level because of a time-out happens too often and it becomes annoying fast.
As you can see from the screenshots, Super TIME Force is clearly retro-styled. The pixel-based graphics are detailed and stylized, and there’s a lot of visual variety between levels. This “old-school” theme can also be felt in the setting of the game itself. The whole game’s tone is reminiscent of the “radical” attitude of the 80s and early 90s. For example, you can play as a skateboarding dinosaur in a level that takes place in a dialup-era website. Also, the Super TIME Force’s goal is only to make the world “more awesome” by doing things like stopping the dinosaur extinction or bringing back Atlantis to be the 51st US state. It’s intentionally very forced, so it’ll either make you cringe or laugh out loud. I was (mostly) on the laughing side.
Even with a couple of problems inherent to the time-travelling mechanic, Super TIME Force is totally worth playing. It’s rare to see a game that asks you to think in a completely different way like this. While it’s disconcerting at first, planning more and more complex strategies with multiple versions of yourself is a unique and very enjoyable gaming experience.