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No Time To Explain

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Platformer
Developer: tinyBuild
Release Date: July 17, 2015

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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Xbox One Review - 'No Time to Explain'

by Brian Dumlao on July 27, 2015 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

No Time To Explain is a 2D comedy platformer that revolves around ribs in people's eyes, giant enemy crabs and jetpack guns.

Four years ago, tinyBuild released No Time to Explain on the PC, where it had a small audience after being funded in the early days of Kickstarter. Two years ago, the game was released on Steam. Critics hated it for being a technical mess. A number of players were able to overcome that and bought the title en masse, growing the number of fans on the platform and making the game a success. Now the title is on the Xbox One and fully remastered with a move to the Unity engine and use of the controller for the first time in lieu of the PC's keyboard/mouse combo. The question is whether the console audience will enjoy the game.

As hinted in the title, there really isn't much of a story. You play the role of a guy who's dancing at his house when a mysterious light flashes before him. A man appears from the light, saying that he's you from the future but has no time to explain anything further. Suddenly, a giant crab breaks through the house and captures your future self. Taking the laser gun left behind, you give chase to try and save your future self.

Despite having a giant laser gun, you aren't going on a shooting spree against aliens. In fact, the only things you'll destroy are blocks, and even that doesn't happen very often. Instead, the gun is used as a makeshift propulsion device to help you get through worlds littered with large walls, spikes and bottomless pits. Point at where you want to shoot, and the continuous beam lifts you in the opposite direction. For example, pointing it behind you forces you to go forward at a faster rate, while firing below you gives you a necessary boost in height. The levels aren't long, but the goal is to always reach the warp vortex to progress to the next stage.

The idea is novel, and the Super Meat Boy-like approach is still fresh despite other games like Cloudberry Kingdom aiming for the same platforming ideal. The stages start with simple things, like spiked walls and floors, though the difficulty is still pretty high in the early stages. As you progress, you encounter more devious traps, like laser beams that pull you toward instant death, launch pads and water cubes, just to name a few. Switches that rotate a level and sections where you need to set yourself on fire also block your way, but they are rather ingenious in execution, making you smile when you figure out the solutions. Thankfully, you have infinite lives and an instant respawn system, so while failure is a constant, at least you'll be able to quickly return and try things again.

The level design requires some dexterity to overcome. Unfortunately, No Time to Explain often feels like it lacks the sort of precision necessary for these kinds of platformers, and the blame for that lies solely on the laser gun. In particular, it's very difficult to gauge the amount of thrust the weapon can give at any time. Sometimes shooting directly below you provides the perfect amount of thrust. Other times, doing the same thing barely gets you off the ground. Doing an angled thrust is the same, as you'll either get a nice burst of speed or hover with slow forward momentum. Passing a number of stages with the gun becomes a matter of luck, as you'll stumble on the right amount of circumstances needed to reach the end of a stage instead of relying on skill. The gun isn't so unwieldy and unreliable that you'll get stuck in a stage, but no matter how long you play, you never get the sense that you can actually master the weapon.

The problems with the laser gun are amplified when you reach the levels where you no longer use the gun. One level set, for example, has you flinging your body toward walls, so you can bounce off them. Another has you take control of a shotgun that gives you a burst of propulsion in a given direction. In both cases, the amount of control you're given is extraordinary once you figure out how those mechanics work, and you can easily land at the exact spot you want due to the precision of the new mechanics. The game is infinitely more fun when in control of these abilities, and it is unfortunate that you don't take control of them for very long.

To a lesser degree, the boss fights make better use of the laser, since precision platforming is no longer a concern. The fights are still tough, but you'll spend a good amount of time doing classic boss fight tactics, like reading patterns, recognizing tells, and finding weak spots. You still have to deal with the propulsion mechanics of the laser to avoid enemy attacks, but at least you'll be able to fire at the boss and damage it. There are a number of these fights, and they're all nicely balanced between annoying and enjoyable. One annoying change is the fact that you have finite lives in these battles. Run out of those, and you'll restart the fight from the very beginning. The sudden change from infinite lives to a full reset in boss fights can be jarring, though there's rarely a fight that feels like it goes on for very long.

Should you be able to deal with the finicky physics system, you'll at least have an experience that is timed appropriately. Though the game features a great deal of levels, the levels are short enough that it'll only take you a few hours to finish the whole game. There's also a hat collection system for completionists that'll tack on some time to the total. Though the hats are aesthetic in terms of purpose, it is an enjoyable endeavor due to the hidden areas in most of the stages. There's also a four-player co-op mode you can play, but as seen with a good deal of side-scrolling multiplayer games, you've got to find the balance between having enough to be fun and having too many.

Once you understand that No Time to Explain originally started out as a Newgrounds creation, you become a little more forgiving of its simple look. It uses plenty of bright colors to paint the world and characters, and the character designs are pretty plain. What separates this from games from The behemoth is the lack of animations. There really isn't anything that you can consider smooth or beautiful when watching this game in motion. It goes through the paces and looks fine doing it, but you're not going to be mesmerized by it or its effects. It's functional but nothing more.

On the sound front, the music is well done. Evoking a vibe from some classic platformers, the compositions fit each stage well if you take the time to listen. The game is a very scant library of sound effects, but you'll barely notice since you're almost always firing the laser gun, a sound that's loud enough to cover everything else. Voice work is helped by the fact that there's only one voice saying things at all times. The problem is that you'll hear your captured self screaming out lines so often that it can become annoying. By the time references and jokes are being tossed around, you'll have already tuned out the constant screaming.

In the end, No Time to Explain is hurt by inconsistency. The laser gun physics produce platforming that relies on luck more than skill, and the boss fight pacing, with the limited lives in tow, sucks away some of the joy you'd get from the battles. That's a shame since there are some pretty good puzzles present, and the sections where you don't use the laser gun are very enjoyable. If you're really craving the Super Meat Boy caliber of difficult platforming, you might want to give the demo a shot before committing to No Time to Explain.

Score: 6.0/10

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