Super Time Force Review

Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of hearing me talk about Back to the Future knows that I love me some time travel. So when I learned about the concept behind Super Time Force I was immediately eager to get my hands on it. Super Time Force is the seventh game created by Capybara Games, developers of Critter Crunch and Superbrothers: Swords and Sworcery EP. I’m a fan of their work and their commitment to breaking new ground with every release.

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The tale of this game is quite simple and quirky. That is a small miracle, considering the convoluted nature of many storylines involving time travel. Much to my delight,  this story sacrifices complexity in favor of humor. I was still laughing at the dialogue on repeat playthroughs.

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The game kicks off in front of the chalkboard of Dr. Repeatski. The moment he discovers how to use time travel, the entire world is wrecked. He is immediately visited by Commander Repeatski, who identifies himself as Dr. Repeatski from the future. Commander Repeatski tells his past self about how the timeline has been screwed up since time travel was invented and that the Super Time Force was created to right the wrongs of history and restore the timeline. Fittingly, the story ties into the time travel theme.

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I was pleased with the story, although I felt that I knew where it was going from the moment I reached the end of the first level. Everything ties up nice and neat, and I feel that the developers took a lot of care crafting what basically comes off as a throwaway story. It is difficult to make a coherent and simple story when time travel is a plot device. Capybara did a good job here.

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During the course of the game, I found myself traveling to many different time periods and locales. The playable characters discoverable and rescuable in the game are mostly found in these time periods. There are several to choose from and they all play differently, which is surprising for a shoot ‘em up. I unlocked nine on my first playthough, and I can deduce that I left at least three more out there to die. My favorite is Lou Don Jim, an alien Jedi-like character with a lightsabre. The developers put a lot of care and detail into these characters; I found that I can deflect bullets back to enemies if I timed my sword swings correctly. Little touches like that really bring me joy.

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The time periods that I travel to over the course of the game set up everything. All of the levels are divided amongst the time periods, and clearing out the levels in a certain time period will beat that section of the game. As the game is about time travel, it is fitting that I can freely visit any of the main time periods, and therefore start any batch of levels as soon as I beat the first level.

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This game has a pretty unique look to it. It comes off as retro at first glance, the graphics are decidedly 8-bit, but not restricted to old Nintendo Entertainment System or Sega Master System hardware limitations. The resolutions is high, but the art direction is closer to pixel art. It allows for some pretty detailed animations and backgrounds that I had never seen on any 8-bit or 16-bit systems. Also, rewinding time reveals a few filters and overlays that exist within the game engine as well.

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In the middle of a heated firefight, I often found myself running through hundreds of sprites representing both my bullets and the enemies. It can get a bit confusing at times, but the simplistic low-rez aesthetic keep it all barely manageable. I only died a few times because I couldn’t see what I was doing. It is fortunate that the developers chose to reduce the opacity of my characters that I’m not in control of. It’s normally not too hard to pick out the character I am controlling versus the ghosts of the character I was just controlling.

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At the end of every level, I am treated to a playback of the entire run. It shows every death and retry together in real time, and it makes for a very compelling show. I can clearly tell what parts of the level I had trouble with, as suddenly twenty of my characters appear and run to their deaths in the same section. It’s painful and fun to watch at the same time. The boss fights are especially epic to watch. It’s cathartic to see all of my runs blast through the boss in under 60 seconds when I had spent over twenty minutes engaged in battle over thirty characters. All of those characters appear and take the boss out super quick.

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The music in the game is no slouch either. The composer of the game, 6955, really brought complex and energetic tunes that match the feel of the game quite satisfactorily. The songs in the game really have the same feel as the graphics. It’s a very retro-modern style.

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Of course none of that stuff means much if the game feels bad when I’m playing it. The controls here are solid. I died quite often, but I didn’t suffer any deaths due to sloppy controls. I had a bit of trouble wrapping my head around the gameplay concepts at the start, and the second-to-last level had me stumped for a week. The first level wasn’t much fun because I didn’t quite understand how to utilize all of my time traveling powers, but it didn’t take too long to get it though it.

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The second-to-last level was a real bear for me. It is a level that I didn’t like, with an unrelenting wall of fire rising from the bottom of the screen. It is the only level where I’m pushed forward so hard. The screen also moves vertically, so I had to get used to that as well. Something about the combination of these two factors really kicked my butt. I didn’t have any fun on this level, but I did finally beat it. Once I got past that part, everything else was worth it.

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The central mechanic of the game is the use of timeouts. Whenever I would hit the timeout button, or anytime I died, the game would go into timeout mode and rewind a few moments. I could then choose a new character and join myself in battle. My previous character would move forward as before, following the actions I just did, but this time I could help out by saving my life. If I managed to do this, The ghost would stop at the point I stopped controlling them and stand there with a “team up” icon over their head. Teaming up nets me the charge attack of that character added to my own, as well as an extra hit point, temporarily taking the enemies ability to do me in in one shot.

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The developers did a good job balancing the ability to go back in time with the difficulty of the game. I get 30 timeouts at the beginning of the level, as well as 60 seconds. As I’m making progress through the level, I can earn ten more timeouts by picking up Glorbs (glowing yellow diamonds that are hidden in the level). I also can boost my time limit by picking up clocks strewn about in my playthrough. These collectables give me something to go back into the levels and do after I have completed the game.

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Finding and rescuing all of the extra characters is another challenge that will keep me coming back to the game. Each character has two attacks which are unique from the other characters and very useful in many different parts of the game. I really enjoyed switching characters to see who’s attacks would get me through tough spots. The secondary attack which is a charge attack is the most useful for dealing damage, but it makes my character move slowly while charging the attack. It’s an interesting balance that took me some time to master. I couldn’t just hold charged attacks because getting slowed down too much would run all of my time down before I could reach the end of the level.

 

The Verdict: 9.0 out of 10

I’ve played a lot of shoot ‘em up games, and I’ve almost never bothered to finish them. For some reason those type of games are normally far too difficult for me to beat, and I am never invested enough in the game’s concept to bother improving my skills. Super Time Force is different. While it is a difficult shoot ‘em up, the developers put in enough mechanics so that the challenge can be met. Other than the one level that stumped me for a week, I wasn’t frustrated with the game. I haven’t completed any other run and gun shooter, except for Contra on the Nintendo Entertainment System in the 80’s. It was nice to add a second one to my accomplishments.

I would definitely recommend picking this game up. Super Time Force brings many features that I am partial to: it is original, quirky, funny and challenging. The visuals are retro, yet still crammed with tiny details. Overall the game feel great and I can’t wait to go back through the levels and take my time with it.

 

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Dustin LaRoe is pretty awful at games. If you want proof, watch him Twitch asGuy105.  His Gamertag and Steam ID are Guy 105.

 

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