The Xbox One online game store gives you a good idea of how things have changed over the past eight years. When the Xbox 360 was released, it was a haven for the indie gaming community; small publishers finally had an outlet to release their wares. Great games like Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, Outpost Kaloki X and Wik: Fable of Souls were on equal footing when it came to competing against heavyweights like Call of Duty 2, Perfect Dark Zero, and Project Gotham Racing 3. Nowadays, the indie community has all but abandoned the Xbox One since Microsoft made it harder for those developers to get on the platform while simultaneously making it easier for Sony and Nintendo to court developers that were less than pleased with Microsoft's policies. Things are a bit better now the system has started to open up, and while it isn't as embraced as the PlayStation 4 by the indie crowd, it's starting to get some support. One of the more significant titles from that space is Capybara Games' Super Time Force, which has been in gestation for several years.
In the year 198X, Professor Repeatski discovered the formula to time travel. Shortly afterward, the world was plunged into chaos as a force of evil robots led by Dr. Infinity took over the world. Several moments later, the professor is met by his future self, General Repeatski, and told he shouldn't worry. His crack team of soldiers, the Super T.I.M.E. Force, will save the day and prevent the destruction of universe. That's only a small sliver of the story since you quickly defeat Dr. Infinity. After your hard-earned victory, your goal is to run some random missions while stopping Dr. Infinity from planning his revenge.
As you surmise from the opening moments, the story is rather silly. Every line of dialogue is accompanied by a joke or two, whether it's in the form of bad spelling or using nonexistent words or funny phrases. The characters have pun-filled names, like Dolphin Lundgren or Jef Leppard, and all have a silly trait, like Zackasaurus constantly tagging in the cargo hold of your ship or Dr. Infinity trying to hide his face with a tablet. The missions and their purposes are equally silly, as you go from time period to time period to save the dinosaurs so they can live with humans or help make Atlantis the 51st U.S. state. The same can be said for some of the enemies, which include living feces and enemies made of ASCII characters. The game goes for laughs all the time, but most of it consists of sophomoric internet humor, which can be grating for those who don't like that sort of thing.
The core game is exactly what you expect: a side-scrolling shooter in the same vein as Contra or Metal Slug but with the ability to choose the order in which you tackle each time zone. Your heroes traverse multiple environments either horizontally or vertically as they blast everything in their path to reach the end of the level. Each hero has a basic and charged attack, and each is vastly different. Jean Rambois, for example, has a basic pea shooter and a charged rapid-fire spread shot while Aimy McKillin fires bullets that can bounce off walls and a charged shot that goes through walls. Shieldy Blockerson has a reflective shield and the ability to create a protective bubble around himself. As you go through the levels and uncover secret passages, you'll get other heroes who toss grenades, spit acidic slime, or throw around laser swords, and from the beginning, each hero is selectable in any level. No matter which hero you choose, every one of them dies with one hit, and while that can be a roadblock for less-experienced gamers and a godsend for those clamoring for the brutality of older games, Super Time Force uses that as a fun new mechanic.
Once you die, you can instantly rewind to any point in the level and play from there, either with the same character or with a different one. Doing so doesn't negate your previous character but makes him or her repeat the same actions in the same places in the same time period. Preventing your past self from dying gives you a chance to pick up that character for an extra hit and their special charge power fused with yours. Having Shieldy die and then letting him be rescued by Lou Don Jim, for example, gives you the ability to throw your sword while putting up a protective bubble.
The more advantageous effect of this time manipulation is that all of your past selves' actions still affect your current timeline, giving you a ridiculous amount of firepower at your disposal. Since the ability to rewind time can be used at any point, you can create some big advantages. Load up several spread shots in different locations, and you can effectively blanket an area with bullets. Set up a bunch of soldiers in one area with concentrated fire and come in with Shieldy to put up a protective barrier at the right moment, and you have a massive turret alongside lots of hits when you rescue the party. For players who like tactical shooters, this works wonders.
Of course, with the player at a huge advantage, Super Time Force throws in some roadblocks for some balance. For starters, you only have 30 lives to spend per level before you hit the "game over" screen. These can be refilled with yellow shards that you pick up in each level, but extras don't carry over to the next stage — if you're skilled enough to get extras in the first place. Secondly, each level has a 60-second time limit. Like the lives, you can pick up items for 10-second boosts, and you can pick up fragments that slow down time, but no matter what, you'll always be fighting the clock. Unless you end up being really good about not dying and picking up every extension available, you'll use the time manipulation gimmick over and over again.
That is perhaps one of the things that works against the game. The levels are designed in a way that exploration is tempting, especially when you see the alternate passages and pick-ups. Yet the presence of a persistent timer really stresses the need to finish as quickly as possible. If you're the type of gamer who likes to explore, you'll be hard-pressed to do so here, even though hidden goodies open up things like a mode where you need to rescue characters to use them instead of spamming the screen with multiples of the same character. The other thing certain players may not like is the overpowering preference of brute force over strategy. The final level in the game really makes you use your head when it comes to planning out which character should do what, but for most levels, all you really need to get through tough situations is use Jean's spread gun multiple times to blanket the area with bullets. Effective but inelegant, it'll beat most of the game rather easily while the aficionados will tinker with character combos to get better times using the least amount of people possible.
If there is a game that embodies a stereotypical indie aesthetic, Super Time Force is it. Every element is comprised of pixels that fully embrace their blocky nature, from the characters to the backgrounds and the explosions. Every character and enemy is sizeable to the point where one can easily tell everything apart. The game runs a full color gamut, so the game looks rich, and movement is smooth and no slowdown occurs. As for the sound, expect a full chiptune assault with tunes that fit in during the 8- or 16-bit era, and the effects sound like richer versions of what gamers enjoyed back then. It's all beautifully set up for retro enthusiasts to appreciate, and it works very well with the playful nature of the game.
Super Time Force is a good shooter with some depth. The time manipulation gimmick works great for those who want to use brute force as well as those who want some strategy, though the latter won't be rewarded until the very end. It makes the well-worn genre feel fresh again, and even though the initial game can be short, the amount of secrets and the presence of further difficulty levels give the game some legs. The writing and humor may not be the title's strong suits, but with everything else running smoothly enough, it can easily be overlooked. For fans of the genre, Super Time Force is worth checking out.
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