Army of one
Capybara Games has been demoing Super Time Force at trade shows for years now, offering players a chance to become acquainted with its neat take on side-scrolling shooters but not enough time to truly dig in. The people hovering behind you in line have stuff to do too, after all.
Here we are, at last. We can play Super Time Force in the privacy of our own homes, spending as much precious time as we'd like to perfect runs without feeling guilty. Life is good.
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Super Time Force (Xbox 360 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: Capybara Games
Publisher: Capybara Games
Release date: May 14, 2014
What sets Super Time Force apart is undoubtedly its time-travel theme and the ridiculous situations that ensue, but it also manages to pull off something many games struggle with: humor.
Stages are all based on different time periods and your organization's reasons for altering history are often laughably selfish. You'll save dinosaurs from extinction "because an integrated human-dino society is cool, enough said"; travel to a Max Max-esque wasteland in which your boss' daughter is no longer a boring, unfun baby; and journey to the future to bring back all of the updates and plug-ins needed to view a "must-see" cat video. Dialog is similarly lighthearted and ranges from smile-inducing to laugh-out-loud humorous.
Time travel can be a messy, confusing mechanic when poorly implemented but that's not at all the case here. Super Time Force plays like a traditional, well-made 2D shooter featuring a large cast of characters up until you get hit by a stray bullet, or you decide to press the B button. Enter time-out mode. The game pauses, and you're able to rewind all the way back to the beginning of a level, if you'd like, or to a few seconds prior. You'll then return to the action as a new "you," either playing as the same character or a fresh one better suited for your current situation.
So, say you got hit, and you'd rather that fact didn't make it into the history books. Just rewind, and kill the enemy in question before it can fire off the shot. Your past self is saved! And now the two of you can combine to give your current self an extra hit point and an improved charge attack.
Imagine this and similar scenarios playing out about twenty more times over the course of a single level. It sounds crazy on paper, and it is, but in practice the chaos is manageable while you're in the thick of it -- you're only ever actively controlling one character at a time. Past versions of yourself will go about their business, killing foes and collecting items as you did moments ago.
The logic powering the game may not make perfect sense as far as time travel is concerned (does time travel ever truly make sense?) but this makes for a better, more enjoyable videogame. Long story short, Super Time Force's brand of time travel is there to benefit the player first and foremost, which is especially important when it comes to collectibles and the like.
That said, you start off each level with 30 total rewinds (though more can be earned) and you're always racing against the clock to make it to the end, beat the boss, or both. This results in a game that feels fast-paced, but not nerve-wracking; challenging, but not unfair.
As much as time manipulation is at the core of Super Time Force, it would be a waste without solid running-and-gunning action to go along with it. Thankfully, the game is also a blast in that regard. While you'll start off with only a few characters -- each with a normal and special charged attack -- there are a bunch more to earn. There's someone for everyone.
My favorite can charge her sniper rifle for a concentrated blast that pierces through multiple enemies, often one-shotting them. Another starter has a shield, which is useful for protecting future versions of yourself. Others include a skateboarding dinosaur with acid spit, a random dude from the future who essentially wields a lightsaber, and "Dolphin Lundgren."
Several of them aren't practical for most situations, meaning you'll likely fall back on using the same few characters over and over again, as the game rarely if ever forces you to do otherwise. Which is disappointing. Some of the collectibles require you to plan ahead, making sure you're standing in the right spot at the right moment, but other than that you're allowed to brute force your way past enemies to your heart's content, particularly when it comes to bosses.
Even if you aren't required to go for the full cast, unlocking everyone will be an extra motivating force, all the same -- not that one is needed. At several hours in length, Super Time Force does not outstay its welcome and there's plenty of room for replayability built in, too.
A significant part of that lasting appeal is due to commendable art and sound design. The chiptunes by musician 6955 fit in nicely with Capy's wonderful pixel artwork. After beating each level, you'll get to see a replay and I often watched these to completion -- there's so much to take in while playing that you can't fully appreciate it all. In particular, Rick, the blue-skinned, purple-bearded god responsible for keeping Atlantis above water, deserves a shout out.
A separate hardcore mode opens up after clearing the game for the first time and you're able to access it and vanilla Super Time Force from the main menu at any time without worrying about progress in one mode overwriting the other. In hardcore, once a character dies, you're locked out from playing as them again in that level unless you prevent their death from happening. You can't be reckless, in other words, which is a habit some players will have to learn to break.
All told, Super Time Force is a satisfying run-and-gun game made even better with a fun (and funny!) take on time travel. It's as enjoyable to play as it is to look at. You'll likely be able to burn through the game in a few hours if you're not going for full completion, but it has such a winning personality that you'll find yourself coming back for more.
Super Time Force reviewed by Jordan Devore
A hallmark of excellence. It may have some flaws, but they are negligible to what is otherwise a supreme title.
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