It seems as if certain things in life are cyclical in nature, always making their way back in some familiar form or another such as fashion or history. Video games with pixelated art are no exception. Countless purposely pixelated games on existing hardware have been the norm for years now and it’s no surprise that more are to come. This is how Super Time Force presents itself, but underneath its retro aesthetic lies a fun and innovative gameplay experience that’s, though frustrating at times, deeply satisfying.
Aside from its pixelated graphics and equally nostalgia-inducing music, Super Time Force is a side scrolling shooter whose main gameplay mechanic is what’s at front and center. It revolves around manipulating your play through with the ability to control time. The way this works is by first utilizing the “time out” button (B) which stops time itself. From here you may rewind to an earlier point in your play through or fast forward to the point you initially hit time out. Everything plays out the same as the first time, which includes deaths. Now, the brilliance in this mechanic is you can rewind to before your death or any other time and try to play through it again with the ghost of your former play through self fighting side-by-side with your current play through self. You start with 30 “time outs”, but you can obtain more through out the course of the stage.
As you make your way through the wildly chaotic stages you will have access to multiple types of characters along the way, each with their own unique attacks. Each character has a regular attack and a special which can be triggered by holding down the X button. A special attack can be a barrage or bullets in three different directions or a shot that can go through walls. There is also no limit to how many times these special attacks can be done, which is great because your character can only take one hit before it is destroyed. A bonus is earned if you save one of the characters from a previous play through from death. For example say an enemy shot your character because of a miscalculated jump. Rewind to before your ill-fated jump and if you succeed in destroying the enemy that killed your former self before said killing, you gain a bonus. This bonus is two fold. By saving the life of previous characters you obtain additional lives per characters saved and are able to perform each of the characters special attacks you saved regardless of how many different ones you saved.
While Super Time Force‘s novel take on gameplay is fun, it is also the crux of the game. The frustration levels can be high at times, especially since there is no reset button for the time outs. You must complete the stages, mistakes and all. The 60 second time limit can also be frustrating, but much like other aspects of the game, I wouldn’t remove it. The 60 seconds you have to finish a stage feels too short on some stages, but just right on others. I had a couple stages that I actually completed with less than a second left on the clock. I had to “time out” over and over just to try to get to the exit just a little faster. I would venture to say this has more to do with the difficulty of some of the stages than the time limit itself. This innovative/frustrating take on gameplay makes me wonder if something could’ve been done to make it less frustrating without taking out or changing what makes it special.
Besides the pixelated art and gameplay, two other qualities of Super Time Force stood out to me. The first being story. It’s ridiculous. Super Time Force in general feels like a game made in the 90’s, and that’s not a bad thing. The story revolves around the Super Time Force going back in time to change events for hilarious reasons. To me it sometimes felt like the antagonist was actually good because of his constant plans to try to stop us from changing events in time. You follow orders from Col. Repeatski and travel to different times for ridiculous reasons. This fit the game perfectly and I highly enjoyed its non-serious story.
The second quality I enjoyed was the music. Simply put, it’s wonderful. Right from the start screen the retro music is pumping in your ears and it never lets up. Every stage has memorable music to it. Even the stage select and all the boss battles have great music. Super Time Force, in more ways than one, reminded me of Mega Man and that wasn’t such a bad thing.
Small issues aside, Super Time Force is an exciting take on an old genre. The story is ludicrous, but fits the game perfectly. The time out mechanic, for the most part, is very fun to use and while the stages could get wild with action, it somehow fits everything else about the game. Add in some great music and pixelated art and this game has been one of the best in 2014 so far. It’s all over the top, but at the same time it’s just right.