Super Time Force
360, Xbox One
For an organisation called the Super Time Force, Capy’s band of trigger-happy mercs exhibits precious little concern for causality. Perhaps its members’ cheery ignorance of the potential dangers of time travel is best illustrated when a landing party flattens two bipedal reptiles frolicking with a butterfly at the start of a mission whose purpose is to prevent the dinosaurs from going extinct. And this is not the only era into which your heavyfooted band of guns for hire clatters unannounced.
Time travel is more deeply ingrained in Super Time Force’s DNA than slapstick, however. Your team has the ability to use Time Outs to spool back time at any moment during play, transforming death from fail state to simple inconvenience. Better still, once you’ve turned back the clock, you’ll find yourself fighting alongside your previous iteration, doubling your firepower. Repeat this 30 or so times and you’ll have a small army at your disposal.
It’s an incredibly elegant system, albeit one obscured by the thundering chaos of a realtime analogue to Super Meat Boy’s replays. In fact, Super Time Force conceals considerable strategic depth behind its side-scrolling, pixel-art shooter façade.
You start with just 60 seconds and 30 Time Outs at your disposal to finish each level, but you can collect floating clocks for extra time and bolster your stock of rewinds with Glorbs (golden diamonds that fly from certain enemies or objects that you destroy). In the first couple of levels, this feels generous, giving you plenty of time to make it to the end. But soon enough you’ll encounter enemies that barely flinch as you fling your ordnance at them while the clock ticks down to zero. Running out of time needn’t mean game over, however. You might only have six seconds to slay an end-of-level boss, but a task that seems impossible with one soldier becomes far simpler with ten – you’re squeezing a minute’s worth of endeavour into a fraction of the time, and that health bar tumbles down as a result. It’s not all about firepower, either. Every playable character has their own primary and secondary moves, and each is suited to a specific role. Jean Rambois, for instance, has a pitifully weak rifle, but hold down the fire button to charge his special attack and he’ll unleash a volley of three-way fire. Combine him with Shieldy Blockerson, who can absorb bullets with his shield or deploy a temporary forcefield, and you can use the positions of safety you create to keep Rambois alive for longer.
Layered runs can create paradoxes, of course; should you manage to prevent the death of one of your fallen teammates, they’ll remain onscreen as a flickering freeze-frame image. When collected, this
Super Time Force hands you a super weapon that feels super, and then dares you to try to break the game with it
gives you a hit of armour, and you’ll gain their special move for as long as you can avoid being hit. You’ll save other lives, too: some bonus characters are unlocked through collecting badges earned through skilled play, but others are found in precarious positions within each level. Left alone, they’ll die in a variety of amusing ways, but if you can get to them in time, they’ll join you.
It’s mind-bending stuff early on, but twitch skill becomes less important as you acclimatise to the game’s rhythm. In time, you’ll conduct your force like a death-dealing orchestra: individual runs are performed to complement the others, the noise dips after bottlenecks and swells in boss crescendos, and soloists make forays to collect bonuses or hold off environmental threats for others.
Your understanding of this fine art will be tested to extremes when trying to collect each level’s Looker badge. The Lookers are interdimensional beings who like hanging out with really cool people. They’ve been watching you, and think you might make the cut, but you’ll have to finish each level in dauntingly short order to prove yourself. Such punishingly difficult speed runs mean using Time Outs wisely, perhaps doing a loop with Melanie Gibson’s shotgun to take doors down quickly, then Jef Leppard’s bouncing-grenade launcher to clear hunkered-down foes and Lou Don Jin’s lightsaber to deflect bullets back at enemies, creating a clear route through which Rambois can thread. It feels like Trials on foot, rewarding you with a similar sense of elated achievement when you succeed, and providing a welcome change of pace. An in-built leaderboard provides even more reason to refine these runs.
Unfortunately, such interleaved design doesn’t always translate to boss fights. While levels encourage you to experiment with different characters and weapons, many of the major boss encounters are best tackled by multiplying the same character over and over again. Equally lacking in finesse is that movement and aiming are assigned to the same stick. It’s far from disastrous, but dying as a result of not being able to stand still can frustrate. Still, you’re only ever a button press away from rewinding and having another go.
None of this is enough to dull the sheen on Capybara’s delirious take on the platform shooter, however. Super Time Force hands you a super weapon that feels super – one that gives you the impression you’ve hacked into the game’s code to gain the upper hand – and then dares you to try to break the game with it. That it never buckles, despite allowing you to continually rewrite history as a horde of player characters and hundreds of projectiles fill the screen, is nothing short of remarkable.