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NDS Review - 'Chronos Twin'

by R3X on Feb. 13, 2008 @ 12:45 a.m. PST

Playing with the concept of time travel, Chronos Twin sees the player in the driver's seat as Nec, the last best hope for his planet, not only battle to save his world but also to avenge the death of his brother.

Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Oxygen Interactive
Developer: EnjoyUP
Release Date: October 2, 2007 (Europe)

Modern games seem to be following a trend of including some sort of "innovative" gimmick in order to attract players. Bioshock had its hacking, and Timeshift stopped, well, time. In most cases, these aspects are not intrinsic to the game and can be ignored or appreciated accordingly. This freedom is not something Chronos Twin for the Nintendo DS will offer you.

In Chronos Twin, the developers have tried to throw an "interesting" and "innovative" spin on the classic platformer genre. There is a great deal of jumping and shooting, but this is where the similarity to any classically fun platformers ends.

The DS offers developers and gamers a wealth of possibilities, as the touch-screen and dual displays offer a potential wealth of depth and interaction. There are a few DS titles that have really nailed this, most notably the recent New Super Mario Bros., with its use of an action/inventory/map screen and stylus support. It's the very fact that the title should have worked on the DS platform that makes Chronos Twin such a disappointment.

The Duality of Existence

At times, Chronos Twin seems to be an amalgamation of gaming clich├ęs that's thinly held together by the time-travel gimmick. Armed with special abilities and the ability to exist in two parallel time frames, the hero, a member of the Llhedar species, sets off to free his home world from the clutches of the Twime, the super-evil alien enemy that can also exist in two parallel realities. Consequently, as Nec the hero, you'll need to hop between past and present in order to defeat the Twime. There's also a sub-plot about avenging your brother, who was defeated by the Twime, but the hackneyed revenge premise doesn't serve as a very large motivator here.

The dual screens of the DS represent these distinct realities, and as the hero, you're required to crawl, dive, hop and jump through various levels of increasing difficulty. The basic gameplay involves navigating through a myriad of levels that are populated with mini-bosses and moving scenery. You're required to "exist" simultaneously on both screens: The top screen of the DS shows the hero in the present, while the bottom screen displays the hero in the past.

The stylus is not needed; you control your past and present characters (simultaneously) with the d-pad, while different face buttons control the weapons on the two screens. This means that you have to pay attention to which button to press in order to shoot on the correct screen; you'll have to constantly switch between the top and bottom screens, making it increasingly difficult to gauge your progress.

Countless hazards are thrown at you to draw your attention away from each screen. The difficulty begins to ramp up when one screen has one set of hazards while the other has its own set of enemies, and as the hero, you are somehow expected to traverse both. This means that you need to be a member of Mensa and have six eyes to enjoy yourself.

Although there are damage meters and warning signals to alert you of any impending doom, you'll often find yourself missing these cues because there is simply too much happening at once. Factor in the lack of decent checkpoints and save points, and what we have here is a gaming experience that's much more difficult than it should have been. It's not that the gameplay is impossible; Chronos Twin just becomes so difficult that it ends up sucking the fun out of the experience.

Playing With Fire

The level design and puzzle complexity are meted out in a harsh fashion, but that doesn't mean that the levels themselves are badly executed. I found that the source of my frustration was in how Chronos Twin played. As the game progresses, the patient gamer is rewarded with some features that strive to make the experience a little more interesting, most notably the ability to freeze and split time. These nifty features give the player access to previously unreachable areas and offer a brief respite from the enemy onslaught.

The intense difficulty level is present from the outset, which does little to ease the player into the Chronos Twin universe. One is instantly faced with alternating block and scenery, coupled with persistent enemies and spouting lava, displayed across two separate screens and with a scrolling background that will kill you if you stay in one spot for too long. This interferes with the basic function of handhelds, which represents quick and accessible fun to most gamers. Video games exist to be enjoyed, and any depth is seen as a bonus, so although Chronos Twin succeeds in the latter aspect, its difficulty level and inability to be played in short bursts alienates the casual gamer within minutes.

The main issue is neither the premise nor the gimmick, but in how the two elements come together. There is no learning curve in Chronos Twin but something that more closely resembles a learning battlement that requires months of siege and the patience of a saint. For those who revel in uphill struggles, this title will give it to you in spades.

However, there are some aspects of Chronos Twin that do work. Although it's a little on the basic side, the overall look and layout of the levels is acceptable. There isn't much in the ways of variety or color depth, but the layouts seem to have been conceived to offer maximum challenge with a minimum of effort from the art department. As the game progresses, you'll find yourself seeing very similar set pieces repeated, with graphical elements borrowed from several sources. (More on that later.)

Dragonball Who?

The graphics are decent in Chronos Twin, with strong colors and anime-esque elements. Some comparisons can be drawn to Mega Man ZX, but it is important to keep these to a minimum. The sprites, backgrounds and shortcut screens seem to borrow very heavily from the Dragonball universe, and the protagonist looks remarkably like a blue Majin Buu.

As far as the visuals are concerned, the weak aspects of the gameplay are only heightened by the strong influences borrowed from a variety of sources. The sprites are detailed and the effects are aptly executed, but the player is never really immersed in the world of Skyla. Animated cut scenes could have contributed to a more engrossing game, but instead, we are treated to some stills and scrolling text. As a result, the entire experience ends up feeling somewhat bland and distant.

The retro look, the insanely difficult gameplay and the dual-screen madness in Chronos Twin make for an interesting challenge. If you like challenges, then you'll absolutely love Chronos Twin, as the complex combination of puzzles, shooting and boss battles will keep any avid gamer busy. Those of us who haven't been blessed with three sets of eyes, four thumbs and cheetah-like reflexes, however, should think twice before approaching this title.

Score: 5.5/10

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