It’s 198X and eye-patched mad genius Dr Repeatski finally perfects his time-travel device. Boom! The world is suddenly plunged into in a dystopic alternate timeline, ruled over by Dr Infinity and his heartless Blounbots. Alternate-universe Repeatski though – now Colonel Repeatski – has not only stepped his wardrobe up a notch to sport two eye-patches, but has also formed the Super T.I.M.E Force to sort out any little wrinkles like this one. Step forward Jean Rambois, Aimy McKillin, and Shieldy Blockerson, “our defensive coordinator”.
Starting as it means to go on, Super Time Force is a gloriously silly take on the side-scrolling bullet hell games of our own timeline’s 198X. Plonked firmly into retro-chic territory by its glorious 16-bit style presentation, Super Time Force nevertheless sports a modern gameplay twist. It initially plays like the typical '80s platform shmups it is playing loving homage to. Players select a team member, each with a different weapon and charged shot ability, then start blasting (or in Shieldy’s singular case, blocking), but at the first player death, a key difference becomes clear. The player can rewind time – all the way back to the beginning of the level, should they wish to.
While a time rewind mechanic is not new to games, the genius of Super Time Force is that the ghost of the player’s previous life continues to exist from the rewind point, playing out the recorded moves of that life. In other words, if the player dies, then rewinds 10 seconds, then their character from their past attempt fights on alongside them for those 10 seconds until the point of their recorded death.
Of course, what fun would time travel be without the chance to alter the future? If the player uses their new character to prevent their previous death somehow – by say destroying the enemy that last killed them before it can even fire the fatal bullet – then that ghost has been spared its fate. Saved ghosts freeze at the point at which they previously died, and if the player touches one of these ghosts, they receive that character’s charged shot ability as a power-up, as well as an additional hit point.
Rewinding can be triggered by the player at any time. However, the game allows only 30 rewinds per level. This may seem like a lot, but the game restricts another resource – which ironically, is time. The player has just 60 seconds of real time to complete most levels (with the odd 10 second bonus pick-up to collect), meaning they have to use their time powers not only to progress through the level, but do it fast enough to beat the time limit.
It’s a seriously clever system, and one that’s been amazingly well balanced. The time mechanics often elevate the arcade-style blasting into a serious tactical puzzle. Fire from the right of screen posing a problem? Drop Shieldy into a previous timeline to screen it. Boss too tough? Build an army of clones to fight him. Enemies coming from both directions? Deal with one side first, rewind, and then deal with the other, relying on the you from 10 seconds ago to help you take care of business. As well, the Force also add to their roster as they go along by rescuing additional playable characters from the time periods they visit. Each offers different attacks to add to the tactical variety, although some are a lot less useful than others.
Occasionally, it all gets a tad visually confusing - with 7 or 8 previous yous running around amidst the chaos and explosions, it can sometimes be difficult to spot enemy bullets – but generally it’s a blast to co-operate with yourself. The only downside to the system is that sometimes it becomes evident to the player that having battled through to nearly the end of the level, they don’t have enough time or rewinds left to beat it, necessitating a restart. This is rarely an onerous task however, and the game is one in which the player quickly learns from their mistakes.
With the Blounbots seemingly defeated early on, and Earth apparently saved, the Super Time Force bounce around the space-time continuum with the sole aim of “making life more better” in their own 198X. This means the player heading back in time to stop the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs because Repeatski likes the idea of man vs dinosaur basketball, or to the year 3082 to raid “Googolplex” headquarters for future software because he’s sick of having to update his browser plug-ins. Continuity of the timeline be damned: “You can’t make an omelette without asploding a few eggs”, as the Colonel puts it at the launch of yet another entirely spurious mission.
Not only is the writing often hilarious, but levels are packed with visual gags and pop-culture references; watching the real-time replay provided at the end of each level is a great way to pick up on these. The whole thing is permeated with a sense of what is best described as pure glee, which is encapsulated nicely by each successful mission resulting in Super Time Force being awarded a chocolate chip cookie, and a chorus of kids yelling “yaaaaaay!”
Succeeding both in its gameplay and as homage, as well as being that rare thing – a genuinely funny game – Super Time Force is a gem. Capybara have a winner on their hands.