Developer: Capy Games
There's nothing more satisfying than watching a Super Time Force replay. A massive army of crazy heroes rampages across the level, annihilating legions of evil robots, dying by the dozen yet eventually destroying the boss in sixty seamless seconds of glorious pixelated ultraviolence. From futuristic cops and angelic cherubs to dinosaurs and Atlantean fishmen, nothing can stand in the way of your chronological cohort as they fill the screen with ruinous firepower.
However, only you know what really happened in that mad minute. Every one of those heroes was you; constantly dying, rewinding, multiplying, changing the future and iterating on a timeline fit to burst with paradoxes. An Army Of YOU.
Yes, Super Time Force is built around a time-shifting mechanic that makes Braid seem simple... but it plays like Metal Slug on adrenaline and looks like a violently explosive collision between a SNES and a Saturday morning cartoon.
So it's ruddy marvellous, then.
The premise runs thusly. Genius scientist Doctor Repeatski invents time travel, only to immediately meet his awesome future self: the leader of a team of time-travelling mercenaries who rampage through the ages to accomplish frankly ridiculous things. The newly epic commander (who wears two eye patches, no less, how awesome is that?) proceeds to brutally mock his original geeky form to tears before leading us into a breathless campaign throughout space and time - fighting against a mysterious-yet-familiar time travelling nemesis who's incredibly jealous and bitter for some reason.
Gosh, I wonder who he could possibly be.
Never you mind, because the lighthearted story is essentially a vehicle to throw the Super Time Force into a range of sidescrolling levels set throughout several time periods. We'll battle to save the dinosaurs from the meterorite impact to create an integrated dino society, quest for the holy grail to nab the best seats in a medieval restaurant, rampage through the post-apocalypse to secure all the browser plugins ever made and generally make a ridiculous mess of the timeline for increasingly dubious and selfish ends. Because, if you had a time travelling device, that's exactly what you'd do.
It's deliciously tight and responsive Contra-inspired run and gun fare, as the Super Time Force slaughter their way through incredibly tough 2D stages. You'll leap over pits, blast an inordinate range of evil robots and/or period appropriate bystanders from velociraptors to Max Max wannabes before usually facing off against a massive boss under exceptionally brief time limits. Though diagonal aiming can be a pain, since we can't stand still while doing so, expect meaty and brutal instant death gauntlets that constantly switch up the pace in exciting ways.
Whether you're leaping over floating cars in a futuristic traffic jam, desperately protecting a Greek God from evil robots before feeding him a sandwich the size of a submarine or battling atop a nuclear missile-turned-battering ram, Capy Games uses the time travelling premise to outrageous advantage. It's as packed with colour, personality and genuinely beautiful sprite art as you'd expect from the creators of Sworcery EP, delivering hidden details and hilarious references to classic movies in merry abandon.
Plus, there's a playable SMG-toting dolphin called "Dolphin Lundgren," who's probably enough to secure our Editor's Choice Award in his own right. However, despite the serious fun and funny factor on show here, Super Time Force succeeds because it's a brilliantly-designed action platformer.
Each Super Time Force member shares the same basic controls -- eight way aiming, normal attacks and a charged heavy attack -- but boasts their own unique abilities. Our starting trio focus on powerful scattershot that bathes the entire screen in automatic death, devastating ranged ricochets that blasts foes through walls and using a massive riot shield to nullify incoming projectiles... courtesy of "Shieldy Blockerson." Yes.
They're soon joined by a range of unlockable comrades if you go out of your way to save them from various silly predicaments (including a laugh-out-loud homage to The Ring's deadly VHS), in no way limited to sword-wielding melee powerhouses, rocket-launching badasses, aforementioned Uzi dolphin and a skateboarding dinosaur who channels Bart Simpson in all the silliest ways. Every character has their role and their chance to shine, but alone, they're no match for the ludicrous odds railed against them. They'll die, die and die.
Not to mention the 60 second time limit, which simply isn't long enough to complete the level. There's never enough time. Or... is there?
Of course there is, since you've presumably already read the intro. At any time, you can pause the action, rewind to anywhere in the level and rejoin the timeline as a brand new character: effectively cloning yourself in the process and free to literally change the future you just played. The 'Time Out' system takes some getting used to, but after treating it as a glorified checkpoint mechanic for a few minutes (it activates automatically after one of your many, many, many deaths), you'll revel in one of the most uniquely brilliant and versatile game-changers out there.
At first you'll use it to react. A character dies... so you rewind time, switch to Shieldy Blockerson and reflect the projectiles back at the attacker, creating a time paradox and saving your original hero. They'll join you for double the firepower. Then a fragile powerup flies out of a downed enemy and smashes uselessly into the ground... so you'll rewind, sprint ahead and wait for it to arrive before progressing through the level. A boss crushes you within seconds, but with attack patterns memorised, you keep rewinding back to the start of the stage and duplicate thirty copies of yourself to amplify your firepower thirty-fold.
Experience brings new ways to totally abuse the flow of time, with each new run creating a new hero, a new possible future and assembling an army of extraordinary paradoxical badasses.
But after a couple of hours, you'll start thinking of more outlandish and aggressive ways to use this system. Every level becomes a puzzle, both in terms of surviving, reaching the end within the time limit, grabbing collectibles and inflicting the maximum amount of pain. You'll eventually start thinking of time as a totally flexible and brittle thing, capable of being broken and stitched back together at whim, as multiple copies of yourself run about, save each other, change the future and fulfil different objectives. Several minutes of tactical time-warping action are ultimately sewn back into a single sixty second replay as the Army Of You goes about its rampant business.
Powerful yet palatable, this system gives even Braid a run for its money, yet to Capy's credit the gameplay always puts bombastic SHMUP funtimes front and centre.
Criticisms are few and far between. I'm not entirely convinced that Super Time Force manages to successfully channel the Saturday Morning cartoon atmosphere promised by last year's trailers; though anarchic and amusing, characters are mute save Commander Repeatski, who talks in an odd mix of textspeak and internet memes. We wanted this, but never quite received it. Personally I also take issue with the chiptune soundtrack, utterly superb as it is, since the low-key melodies often don't fit the bombastic balls-to-the-wall action. There's a time for bleeps and a time for raucous guitars - this was definitely time for the latter.
But time, as you'll realise by now, is a very relative thing. Super Time Force has it in abundance, and lets you do utterly astonishing things with it.
- Finely-tooled sidescrolling action with breathlessly diverse pacing
- Magnificently deep 'Time Out' mechanics lets you abuse time itself
- Rambunctious and infectious personality, frequently hilarious
- Gorgeous and varied art direction
- Finicky diagonal aiming - hold bumpers to lock your aim
- Hit-and-miss humour
- Deserved more wailing guitars
The Short Version: Super Time Force delivers the depth of Braid with the intense SHMUP satisfaction of an old-school run and gunner, letting you assemble a ridiculous army of skateboarding dinosaurs and Uzi dolphins by abusing time paradoxes. Something we don't get to write often enough.
An outrageous, hilarious and potent shooter on its own merits becomes something utterly unique; deep without pretension and never losing the sense of anarchic fun. Fans of bombastic sidescrolling action and experimental indie gaming will find common ground here.