We like Capybara games. The team behind Sword & Sworcery and Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes have already made quite a name for themselves creating unique, compelling indie games that you can really sink your teeth into. As such, when we saw the news that they were working on a new “time-travelling shoot-em- up” we got rather excited. We're pleased to report that their latest Microsoft exclusive is of the same qualitative standard as the rest of their stellar game line up and boasts a charm and level of frenetic gameplay that elevates it straight to the adults table of current indie gaming.
With such high praise, it may seem a bit contrarian to say that Super Time Force has a pretty silly and superfluous story. It's not that there isn't one, rather “the formation of the Super Time Force in order to stop robots from destroying past and present” quite clearly services the gameplay more than anything else. That said, the writing is full of silly puns and ridiculous innuendo that vacillates between laugh-out-loud funny and cringe worthy but definitely adds to the games sense of charm. It also leads to some outright ridiculous situations that only a gamer could really appreciate. Riding a pterodactyl in order to prevent the dinosaurs from going extinct at the hands of killer robots is every bit as nonsensical and ridiculously awesome as it sounds.
While the gameplay is by no means an innovative masterpiece of ideas, a Metroidvania\Contra mash-up if you will, the time-travelling story line makes up for it by contributing the game's core and defining mechanic. At any time, you can pause and rewind the action, usually to swap characters and abilities but also for puzzle solving. If you're thinking Braid with guns, you're starting to get the idea but the amount of times you can use this mechanic is limited per level (usually around 30) and your previous actions tend to overlap one another, so that one version of you can perform one task while another version of you can complete another.
The best example of this is when you're blasting you way through enemy infested corridors as a big minigun wielding death machine, quickly swap to your demo-man to get some goodies from behind a wall and then to a lightsaber wielding Jedi to finish off the level. Yes, there's a Jedi in this game and he's pretty darn awesome. This unique use of characters is actually a very clever design choice and by making the characters all unique and charismatic and by giving them such a wide range of abilities, you can quickly choose favourites, identify exactly who needs to be used in which situation and fluidly handle any challenges thrown at you. This ability to constantly swap between characters as well as clever level design means the game always offers up something new and does something very few games can offer – you want to (and often need to) play as everyone. It also leads to some mindbogglingly awesome sequences as you use 10 different versions of yourself to take down some of the bigger enemies and stages.
With so many versions of you on the screen at once, the game is often a joy to watch, even in spite of not having the prettiest pixel art. Watching your characters dodge and weave through bullets and obstacles during the replay at the end of the level is often smile-inducing and certainly incredibly rewarding. With so much going on at once, at times it can be difficult to decipher the spectacle from what's actually important and I often lost my character amidst the chaos resulting in one bullet too many to the face and a restart. The joy is also outright hampered by the time motif as levels constantly have you racing against the clock, which upon running down results in a restart. While it does add to the replay value and the tempo of gameplay, this element can get frustratingly difficult in the later levels or just when you want to explore. You're never really given any time to soak up the levels, characters and story which is a shame as there's very much a cult-classic feel to Super Time Force with lots of nooks and crannies to peer into and a great deal of depth to a lot of the writing.
However, dealing with unfair restarts is pretty much the only challenge that comes from the game as everything is exactly the same no matter how many times you end up going through a level. It feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity to not add to the charm of repeated playthroughs by introducing some of the clever cheekiness that permeates throughout the rest of the game. Speaking of missed opportunities, we also cannot help but feel that the clever time-warping and frenzied gameplay could have been just that much better with a cooperative element. There are probably many reasons why mechanically this wouldn't have worked, but any opportunity to get friends in on the insane action would have been greatly appreciated. That said, the game is incredibly well paced and the time-travel mechanics never overstay their welcome or get too repetitive. As mentioned above, it also invites a number of separate playthroughs just to try all of the different combinations with which you can get through the level.
All in all, as a result of Capybara's obviously hard work, it's easy to be impressed by Super Time Force. It really is just another indie platformer with a clever gimmick but the fact that it translates so well to such a great gameplay experience cannot be overlooked. While flawed in some areas, the problems are easy to overlook and Super Time Force provides that retro hook that so many of us grew up addicted to. Super Time Force is available for the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One for the RRP of $15.00.
Great Gameplay Experience l Very Funny in parts l Clever design and mechanics
Needlessly frustrating restarts l Not enough time to truly explore