Just a thought is all I’ve got
A notion has been buzzing around our minds for a while now. It seemed foolish at first, enough for us to dismiss it. But after this issue’s Play selection, that buzz has grown louder, and we can ignore it no longer. So here goes: is the time-loop game simply a new variant on the Metroid-like?
Bear with us while we explain. Or, rather, ask another question: what is the main defining trait of this genre? In the likes of Recompile (p118) and Axiom Verge 2 (p120), you focus on gaining powers to expand your ability to navigate a world, and in turn to deal with the various challenges found within it. In each case the environment is subtly gated: you will encounter obstacles that you cannot pass until you return with a new ability.
In time-loop games, you only really gain one ability, but it’s a particularly powerful one: knowledge. It’s the insights you gained from the previous go-around, and the one before, and the one before that, that allow you to make progress. In Metroid-like games, your reward is more space to play around in; in Twelve Minutes’ (p114) three-room apartment, it’s time. And in The Forgotten City (p121), it’s a bit of both, as you steadily grow familiar with the rhythms of this ancient Roman settlement and its populace in order to unlock its secrets and avoid an early demise.
There’s no threat of death when making a sequel (well, not including the ones from idiotic so-called ‘fans’) but the process must be similar. Lessons will have been learned, and in theory pitfalls can be dodged. Double Fine has taken that to heart with Psychonauts 2 (p102), having consulted mental-health experts to ensure its surreal depictions of various issues do not diminish their seriousness. The result is a game that has been occupying our thoughts ever since.