Timespinner is a Metroidvania game developed by Lunar Ray Games and published by Chucklefish for the Nintendo Switch, PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. The game revolves around time manipulation in which you travel between two different time periods during a war among kingdoms in this science fiction adventure. See how the war plays out both in the past and ends in the future, manipulate the past so the future will be in your favor, and discover the histories and motives of both armies. This beautiful game is rich with that classic Castlevania charm and presents some unique ideas for the genre. However, the execution of these new ideas are not done to their full potential, resulting in an enjoyable experience with its fair share of issues.
Timespinner features beautiful pixel art with an incredible range of unique designs from gothic cathedrals to science fiction laboratories. The user interface will feel familiar to anyone who has played Castlevania games like Order of Ecclesia or Symphony of the Night. Character sprites are equally imaginative, fruit bats made of actual fruit, and large robotic bird heads on springs, and side characters with designs as distinct as their personality. Timespinner aces the visual department, no question.
Timespinner features a strong plot about revenge, sacrifice, and perspective with surprisingly deep side characters. Fans of time travel stories will understandably be frustrated at the story’s lax approach to time paradoxes, but it’s not enough to distract from the enjoyable gameplay. The plot also has a surprising amount of LGBT representation and it is all written respectfully rather than played for humor like in other game narratives. Timespinner delivers one of the stronger stories for a Metroidvania title and is one of my favourite aspects of the game.
As a Metroidvania, Timespinner is all about exploration and combat. Exploration take place on the same map across two different time periods. Areas on the “future” map may be inaccessible unless certain actions are done in the past. Backtracking may be a turnoff for many players, but there are enough fast travel locations that backtracking never feels too repetitive. The game does a good job at guiding the player where they need to go, and the ability to place color-coded markers on your map help keep track of loose ends, but the complete map is notably smaller than most Metroidvanias, so playthroughs will be short and sweet. Completing the game takes roughly 8-10 hours for a first playthrough.
As well as traveling through time, the player is able to stop time at will. Stopping time is the game’s main hook, as some platforming challenges cannot be done unless the player freezes surrounding enemies and jumps off of them. Unfortunately, the time stop mechanic feels drastically underutilized. Enemies cannot be attacked while time is frozen, which means it has almost zero application for combat. For a game that’s half exploration and half combat, including a time stop mechanic with no combat application feels like wasted potential.
Time stop is also made less useful by the game’s relative lack of any challenge. I completed the game on Normal difficulty before writing this review, and I never died once. Enemies generally do not do a lot of damage, there are plenty of save points around the map that refill your health, and enemies drop so many healing items that I never felt challenged. One of the few applications of time stop is to dodge fast attacks, but because they do so little damage there is no real incentive to do so. I would suggest more experienced players pick the harder difficulties if they are looking for a good challenge.
Where time stop left me wanting more, the weapon customization satisfied my creative itch, but it comes with its own problems as well. Weapons take the form of orbs, each with their own unique powers, and the player is able to hold two at any time and use them both in satisfyingly quick succession. There are also special attacks and passive abilities that level up based on which orb they are aligned with. Orbs level up the more they are used, but this is a double-edged sword; leveling up your favorite orbs ensures the same playstyles adapt to stronger areas, but it can be difficult to commit to new builds when any new orb you acquire starts at level 1. The variety of orbs allows for experimentation, but new orbs will require grinding in order for them to be on par with your favorites. Still, the combat is enjoyable once you find a build you like, but be prepared to grind when you find new orbs to try out.
Timespinner is a gorgeous game with a strong narrative and characters, but some of the game’s finer mechanics have their fair share of flaws. The time stop ability seems cool at first, but without any meaningful or creative applications, the game’s main hook is often forgotten. The orbs are the saving grace, with a wide variety allowing for creative builds at the cost of some heavy grinding whenever the player wants to use a new orb. The small map, streamlined bactracking, and lax difficulty means playthroughs will be relatively brief, so do not expect a huge, sprawling adventure. Timespinner is an enjoyable but flawed game that I am still glad I played despite the imperfections.