Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Game Review - Super Time Force (XBLA, 2014)

Occasionally a game comes along that executes a concept so well that you're genuinely sad when it's over.  Super Time Force is one of those games.

Channeling some of the best in gaming from the 80's, the highly-pixelated Super Time Force is a side-scrolling action game at heart.  You'll fight through several stages in 7 distinct worlds, each with its own diverse set of characteristic enemies.  The game starts with three playable characters with different weapons and unique abilities.  Over the course of the campaign, you can unlock a dozen more, providing no shortage of skills at your disposal.

Even just those details, combined with a fluid control scheme and somewhat complex level design, make for a solidly entertaining game.

Of course, that's just the foundation for the game's real draw.  What sets Super Time Force apart is, unsurprisingly, its use of time as a gameplay mechanic.

At any point during a stage, you have the option of taking a "time out."  During a time out, you can rewind to an earlier point in the level to redo some sequence and change your active character, letting you switch to someone better suited for a particular challenge.

The coolest part, though, is that anytime you rewind the level, your previous actions are not reset.  Your precise motions will still be carried out, allowing you to focus on other enemies or objectives or even to save a character from an untimely death (giving you a powerup in the process).  As a result, in many stages you may have 8 or more shadows running around with you, firing their weapons, destroying enemies and other obstacles, each representing an earlier sequence of your own gameplay.

It's an awesome idea, and it's awesomely implemented.  Many of the stages are designed in such a way that you cannot possibly beat them within the given time limit without setting up multiple characters to work together.  Bosses are a great example - your damage output with one character is simply not enough to defeat the bosses; you must make good use of the time out feature to survive those fights.

It all amounts to a side-scroller with a strategic twist.  Deciding how to set up your future actions sometimes requires thinking three or four sequences ahead.  You can only use at most 40 time outs in a single level though, so you can't quite brute force your way through everything.

To be honest, I don't think my description quite does it justice.  It's a really cool concept, and it's tons of fun.

Super Time Force also has a good balance of difficulty.  Some of the stages are a little challenging to complete in the first place (though I never actually failed at any of them; 40 time outs is a lot), but earning all the medals in each stage, which requires reaching the end quickly enough, can be really tough.  Nabbing all the collectibles isn't bad, but you really have to optimize your run to meet those timing challenges.

There's also a "Super Hardcore" mode available after beating the game, which makes the game quite a bit more difficult, and leaderboards for competing for the best overall medal counts and times.

Basically, there's a high skill ceiling and a competitive component for players interested in that sort of thing.

To top it all off, this phenomenal gameplay is embedded in a clever little story.  It follows the titular group's mission to defend the world from the robot invasion of 1987 and other awesome things, like saving the dinosaurs from extinction and navigating the Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic world of the 1990s.

While the storyline and writing are pretty silly, it never substitutes randomness for lightheartedness, which is one of my biggest pet peeves with this sort of plot.  It's full of pop culture references and amusing dialogue, making for an all-around entertaining game.

The presentation is fantastic, too.  The pixelated graphics and chiptune-esque audio do a great job of dredging up nostalgia, but it's still fresh and detailed enough not to actually look dated.  It may rub some people the wrong way, but I'd say it's a pretty good stylistic choice.

My only real complaint is that it's just much too short.  I completed the storyline in under 6 hours, which included replaying a few levels to try to get more medals.  Grabbing the rest of the game's achievements (which don't require earning the time challenge medals, so they're not too difficult) took another hour or so, leaving me desperately craving more levels to explore and bosses to fell.

Due to its length, Super Time Force may be a bit pricy for the amount of game time it provides, but it's still one of the most fun and satisfying games I've played in a while.  Do yourself a favor and check it out.

My Rating: 9/10 - awesome.

No comments:

Post a Comment