“Super Time Force”
There was a time when video game developers unenviably squeezed graphics, sound, gameplay, and story into 8-bit cartridges. The indie video game scene has revitalized lo-fi graphics, sound, and more focused gameplay in the last few years.
Some developers attempt to innovate with their retro-inspired games, but Capybara Games’ “Super Time Force” succeeds in creating a delightfully modern take on very old-school nostalgia gaming. You have 60 seconds to clear each level. You have 30 lives. Go.
On the surface, “Super Time Force” is a Contra-style, side-scrolling, bullet hell shooter. Time travel is central to the gameplay, the story and the experience. Yes, the goal is to finish each level with the fastest time possible in the allotted 60 seconds, but the trick is using a time-traveling rewind feature called Time Out to do it.
Death is a certainty, as is the case in these types of games. As frustrating as a cheap death is, it can also be both a blessing and curse. In games of yesteryear, players would get a set amount of lives and were thrown into a hail of bullets, forced to learn patterns or exploit game design to win.
In “Super Time Force”, players get a second chance (actually up to 30 chances) to reverse time to make up for death and to assist with killing enemies and bosses in real-time by partnering up with your previous lives to do damage. This turns dying into a tactic, which is quite revolutionary for the side-scrolling shooter.
Time Out isn’t an infallible ability. Boss fight strategies usually involve brute force through numbers as the player stacks up as many ghost characters as possible. It feels somewhat cheap considering how useful and game-changing the Time Out tactic can be to collect items or rescue new characters without losing time.
“Super Time Force” is a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The story, which is far more story than we got with old arcade and 8-bit video games, is an over-the-top slapstick take on the hazards of time travel featuring characters like Colonel Repeatski, Jean Rambois, and Dolphin Lundgren — yes, he is actually a machine gun-toting dolphin.
Capybara did a superb job of setting a tone with the distinctly retro visual style. The entire game and its cutscenes are animated with a pixel art graphics and a sophisticated 8-bit-style soundtrack that perfectly encapsulate gaming from decades ago.
The stage select menu even takes its cues from Mega Man, giving the player the choice of tackling stages in any order. Each stage represents a certain period of time in which the heroes must prevent disaster, such as preventing dinosaur extinction or actually blasting their way through heaven.
If the fact that you will die hasn’t been drilled into your head enough, I can’t stress enough that there will be plenty of dying in “Super Time Force.” Although it is an integral part of the mechanics of the game, it can also be a very frustrating part of it.
There is a somewhat steep learning curve to this game. It wasn’t until about two levels in that I really started to feel the groove. The tutorial goes over the gameplay, but it doesn’t quite ready the player for the heat of the battle.
Time works against the player as well. It is not uncommon to reach the end of a level and literally not be able to escape on the hero’s ship because the clock has run out. The only option is to use “” and rewind the level enough to a point that you can shave precious seconds off of your time. Some levels were so frustrating that I had to restart rather than search for a point where I could rewind..
These points are enough to drive away the weak. “Super Time Force” is unabashedly difficult, but if you’re willing to stick with it, the experience is rewarding. This game is a speed runner’s and score chaser’s dream game. Capybara designed “Super Time Force” to be replayed continually. There is also no multiplayer, something I’m sure Capybara excluded by design, but seemed like it would be a natural addition to this type of game.
“Super Time Force” shows it is possible to innovate on old ideas, but the feeling that it could have pushed the boundaries just a bit farther lingers. It is short, but infinitely replayable. It is extremely difficult, but not insurmountable. It is a fantastic postmodern take on old-school gaming.
Reach the reporter at Michael.Jerome.Martin@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter at @Bizzaro_Mike