(Reviewed on Xbox One)
Think of the game Braid. Now, imagine Braid with a team of whacky characters to choose from, each with their own ridiculous weaponry, quirks and daft 80’s references to boot. Now imagine Braid with those whacky characters and their ridiculous accoutrements, all wrapped up in chunky 8-bit graphics, stupidly awful time gags, internet memes and text speak, and copious amounts of dinosaurs, not to mention the occasional mecha-dinosaur. Especially don’t forget the mecha-dinosaur. Put all these ingredients together and what do you get? Well…to be totally honest, I’m not too sure myself, so forget that – let’s talk about Super Time Force instead.
Super Time Force is a joyous run ‘n’ gun romp through time and space, where logic and seriousness are left at the door, and ridiculousness, leet speak and testosterone-packed 80’s film references are welcomed in with rippling muscular 8-bit arms.
It’s a game that takes time travel to a whole new level of insanity. Although at first the gameplay mechanics of Super Time Force appear to be totally incompatible with your normal brain functions, fight the urge to joy-vomit and stick with it; developer Capy have crafted a fantastic gem of a shooter that feels unique, inspired, challenging and downright stupid…in a good way.
The basic premise is that you need to battle through each level with your elite bunch of chronologically confused super soldiers and correct the wrongs of time (such as the extinction of the dinosaurs of course) by going back into the past, whilst also having a quick tinker about in the future too from time to time. The game plays as a 2D platforming shoot ’em up, a la games like Contra; you simply need to shoot/fart/explode/scream awesome rainbow chest beams of death (trust me, they truly are awesome) at Dr. Infinity’s pesky Blounbots, dinosaurs, knights, dinosaurs, mermen (did I mention dinosaurs?) and a plethora of other creatures that are trying to kill you whilst making your way to the end of the level. Simple right?
Well, not quite. You see, you’ve got barely enough time to make it through the level as it is, and if you do happen to make it through a level in one piece (you skilful thing, you) you’ll find you’ll have but a fraction of the firepower you’ll need to topple the end of level boss in time. The solution? Travel back in time and bring in another of your motley time-fighting team to fight alongside your past self.
You can wind back time when you die, or whenever you want by pressing the B button, which triggers a cool VCR style rewinding effect on the screen (ah, those were the days). You have 30 rewinds or lives in total per level, and once they’re gone, it’s game over man. You can wind back a few moments before your previous death and carry on before you got killed, or you can go right back to the start of the level and try from there. Each method has its own advantages; in fact, some levels require that you start back from the beginning each time, building up an unstoppable horde of time-bending banditos with which you can blast your way through the level boss and beyond.
Completing a level lets you watch and save a replay of all of your lives charging through the level at once, in real time as it were (not that there’s such a thing as real time in this game, but you get the picture), complete with a cacophony of gunshots, yells, explosions and some lovely 8-bit bleeps and bloops, courtesy of 6955’s great soundtrack.
The Super Time Force are, naturally, the stars of the show and the heart and soul of the game. You start off with the basic trio of Jean Rambois (Rambo’s French machine gun-toting doppelgänger) Aimy McKillin (puntastic sniper extraordinaire) and last but certainly not least, Shieldy Blockerson (yup, he’s got a shield). New team members are encountered as you play through the levels, often requiring you to save them from a heinous death sequence in order to add them to your growing team.
Each new addition to the team comes with their own individual shooting mechanics, and although some members are far more useful than others, each stupid new addition will undoubtedly bring a smile to your face. Two of my personal unlockable favourites are Dolph Lundgren, a bottlenose dolphin equipped with a massive minigun, and the Magnum Force Clint Eastwood inspired anthropomorphic shit monster, Squirty Harry.
The main problem that I encountered when playing Super Time Force was that due to the sheer ridiculous nature of the game, it can take quite a long time to get your head around just what the hell is actually happening onscreen. Bullets are flying everywhere, explosions blast through the environment and with all the various time copies of your previous runs playing through the level simultaneously along with your current actions, it can be an absolutely overwhelming overload of noise when you first start playing.
There’s just so much going on in general that it can take several of your precious rewinds just to work out what on Earth is happening! Also, it can take some time getting used to the instant vulnerability of your character. Unlike a lot of games, there’s not that brief period of invulnerability that you often take for granted when respawning, so when you jump back in with a new life/character, your placement back in the action has to be precise and particularly careful. It took me quite a long time to unlearn my ingrained habit of assuming invulnerable respawns when playing Super Time Force; not to mention other conventional game rules that you take for granted in a traditional 2D platformer, but once I’d got my head round the core concepts, I felt I’d got it…well, sort of…I think.
Once you’ve completed the main game, there’s a Super Hardcore mode on offer for the real sado-masochists out there, where upon a team member’s untimely demise, they remain dead unless you can wind back time and kill their attacker. This is where the game truly shines in my opinion, as it ratchets up the tension, adding more pressure to your character choices and tactics. Cock up with Jean Rambois early on in a level? He’s dead for good in Super Hardcore, and the only way to get him back is to kill the person that fired the projectile that killed him, so that he/she no longer exists any more (obviously). It really raises the stakes when you’re down to your last handful of troops, and you know that any mistake is critical. It’s in this mode that you really get to grips with the finer mechanics of each soldier, and their loss from your roster makes each death more significant and painful.
Although Super Time Force isn’t the longest of games, it’ll likely be one of the most memorable and daft ones you’ll have played in a fair old while. There’s achievements up for grabs for getting the fiendishly placed time shards and other collectibles which will keep completionist players coming back for more, and it’ll take some serious practice to get perfect scores on each level and climb those all-important leaderboards for the most diehard and pain-loving of players.
Super Time Force is a gleefully stupid and highly enjoyable explosion of nonsensical joy, and arguably one of the strongest indie titles currently available on Microsoft’s Xboxes. Just try not to think too hard about what exactly is going on onscreen when it’s all going mental, and revel in the sheer absurdity of it all.
Since the game’s original release in May, there’s been the subsequent release of Super Time Force Ultra, a revised version of the game for PC; this updated version contains new characters, bonus challenge ‘Helladeck’ levels and alternate dimension powers; all of which I’m hoping will be available to console players as DLC in the future. If only there was a way of going into the future now and getting hold of that DLC right this very moment…aha! Excuse me while I grab a dinosaur costume, a time-machine, a skateboard and all the cheesiest 80’s references I can carry with my tiny dinosaur hands – I’ve got an appointment with the Super Time Force!