Amid all the promises and bluster during Microsoft’s E3 press conference in 2013, I gravitated toward a couple of easily overlooked moments. One was simply a presenter’s t-shirt, which showed three cutesy little critters and the word “Capy.” The other was a brief trailer for a game called Below. It turned out the two were connected, and with Capybara Games bringing Super Time Force to the Xbox One and 360 this week, I knew I was the man to play it.
There are two halves at work in Super Time Force. One is the straightforward side-scrolling shooter that gamers have been playing in one form or another for decades. In typical retro fashion, both moving and aiming are done via the left analog stick, “X” fires — hold it down for a unique charged shot — and “A” jumps. They’re all pretty responsive, even if I wish the game would’ve broke with tradition and allowed the use of the right stick for aiming.
What makes the game unique is its time-bending mechanics. At any point during your run you can press “B” to initiate a time out. This freezes time and allows you move backward using the left trigger; if you overshoot the mark the right trigger will move forward up until the point you froze time. Whenever you reach the point where you’d like to unfreeze you simply press “A” and select which member of your team you’d like to re-enter the world as.
Even though it seems like the current retro graphics craze has been going on longer than the era they actually emulate, Super Time Force really rises above a lot of similarly rendered games by virtue of its colorfulness, variety and charm. Each of the worlds you visit are unique and absurd, transporting you to places like a very Atlantic City inspired version of Atlantis or a time when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. Your selection of heroes is equally ridiculous (Jef Leppard, Dolphin Lundgren, etc.), and the game is all the better for it.
Keeping pace with the endearing pixel artwork every step of the way is an excellent chiptune soundtrack. Like pretty much every other aspect of the game, the music and sound effects manage to pay homage to a bygone era without feeling like they’re anchored to it.
As I watched the opening moments of Super Time Force I could feel my eyes begin to instinctively roll as the game seemed to be trying so hard to be funny… and then they delved into the mystery of how the evil “blounbots” got their name. And I was hooked.
So many games try to be funny and fail, but this one is so absurdly over the top with its endearing goofiness that you can’t help but buy into it. The groan-inducing character names, the childish insults of the evil Dr. Infinity (Super Turd Force? YES!), the preposterous briefings from Commander Repeatski, your leader and the man that invented time travel, and so on. From start to finish, Capybara keeps the jokes coming, and the result is one of the funniest games I’ve played.
More than just humor allows Super Time Force to stand out, as its time-travelling hook is equal parts strategic and chaotic. Initially I thought I was supposed to play in a Prince of Persia: Sands of Time sort of way, and I’d focus on keeping one character alive as long as possible, only rewinding to bring someone else into the fray when I’d been killed. That’s wrong; it’s actually much cleverer than that.
Instead of just being a way to erase mistakes, time outs allow you to combine your squad’s abilities into something more potent. A basic example might see you stick your sniper on the high ground, picking away at a boss’ health, and then eventually rewinding and placing a rocket-wielding character down low. Once time starts again you’ll be double teaming your enemy with a high-low attack. In practice, things get a lot more involved than that, and it’s not uncommon to have more than a dozen team members attacking at once (depending on the circumstance).
Adding a little more to the cerebral side of the ledger is the ability to combine your team’s individual powers. This is done by rewinding time and then saving a character from being killed. So, for instance, you might lead poor Shieldy Blockerson to an untimely death, only to run ahead and save him with Jean Rambois, allowing you to collect Shieldy’s ghost. Now you’ve got a character that can tri-fire a machine gun inside a defensive bubble — plus, you can absorb an extra hit.
As much fun as Super Time Force can be, it’s not without its missteps. The 60-second clock forces you to storm ahead and necessitates the use of timeouts, but it also undermines some of the actual shooting action, turning segments into a blunt force numbers game instead of a carefully planned assault. The game could’ve also benefitted from something that showed progression as it’s not always clear how much longer you need to go. That can be an issue when deciding how far back you need to rewind to try making a successful run.
Some may also grumble at the cost ($15) to length (about three hours) ratio. To be fair, much of the game’s longevity is grounded in your desire to replay levels and increase your speed, so if that’s not your cup of tea you may find brevity an issue. Completing the game does unlock a mode where any team member killed is lost for the remainder of the level unless you can save them on the rewind, but that doesn’t really qualify as additional content.
There’s a lot to like in Super Time Force, particularly its humor and charm. Sure, it’s a little short and the gameplay can be uneven, but it’s absolutely worth buying if you’re looking for something new and innovative for your Xbox One.