Let’s do the time warp again
Super Time Force is a co-op shooter for the anti-social. The misanthropic. The narcissistic. It is a game for people who like when a job calls for more than one pair of hands, but would really prefer if any and all extra hands were their own. It is singular-player co-op side-scroller in which you saddle up with an army’s worth of time-displaced iterations of your own past actions and gang up on enemies by flooding the screen with an ever-increasing number of concurrent reality loops.
What I mean by all this, of course, is time travel—time travel abused in all the ways the Federation’s Temporal Prime Directive taught us is taboo. It’s this irreverent approach to brain-breaking theoreticals that sets up Super Time Force in so many ways. Giving purpose to the player is Doctor-cum-Commander Repeatski, a one-eyed, questionably sane scientist responsible for discovering a time-travel technique in 1987. In his hubris, and with flagrant disregard for how history played out, Repeatski assembles an elite team of time travelers to venture into our various past and future eras and tweak them in service to making the present a little more interesting. Wouldn’t it be just the bestest, Repeatski muses before throwing the switch that sends the Super Time Force hurtling through history, if the dinosaurs weren’t wiped out but instead shared the planet with people in the present day?
Such is how each of Super Time Force’s six missions—with Repeatski producing ever-more-deranged ideas and tasking his a ragtag team of time troopers to stir up as big a butterfly effect ripple as they can and not worry about consequences.
Like the plot itself, the primary conceit to Capybara’s fourth-dimension shattering 2D shooter is rooted in the abuse of time travel. In place of conventional lives, players have X-amount of times they can rewind time and create a new reality loop. The premise is obvious enough that Capybara is straightforward about it, going so far as to liken Super Time Force to a marriage between Jonathan Blow’s Braid and the Konami classic Contra on the game’s official website. This effective, albeit somewhat reductive comparison leaves out what caveat, though—that each instance of time reversal results in a new, parallel reality. So when the player dies or chooses to scrub backward, they don’t simply start over again at any given previous point in a level, but rather start anew from that point, joined by the “recorded” actions of their previous playthrough.
This time-travel crap just fries your brain like an egg.
Dismiss any headache-inducing attempts you might feel inclined to make about the logistics of time travel. Theoretical notions aside, it’s all so much fantasy that there doesn’t need to be a grounded, believable approach—only rules, as all good fiction is governed by. Say, for instance, you die (and believe you me, you’ll do that aplenty in Super Time Force). You rewind time a second or two, pick a new character (or the same one, if you prefer), and race ahead to eliminate the enemy responsible for putting your previous self down. Now you’ve got a temporal paradox on your hands, because the character didn’t die, nor can they exist past that paradoxical moment. Instead, they become a hit point to be absorbed by the active character, staving off one-hit kills for a blow or two and (hopefully) lessening the amount of time-outs spent—for a little while, at least.
This is how Super Time Force exists, oxymoronically, as a singular-player co-op game. It’s also what makes Super Time Force, a sort of shooter-puzzler, for while there isn’t much in the way of platforming (not in the skill-based timing that games exclusively defined by that genre label are known for) or, really, anything behind the run-and-gun mechanics behind Contra, there is a certain sense of puzzle-solving behind the repeated rewindings. Players need to lay down a degree of strategy, choosing what characters and what attacks will best work in concert to cause the quickest, most effective amount of damage in order to wipe out threats as soon as they surface or obliterate bosses within the rigid 60 seconds allotted.
Because of this, Super Time Force lends itself to speed runs and experimentations, to multiple playthroughs. So while the stage count might seem insubstantial, the replay value in a game built around short-loop replays is, expectedly, high. And when combined with the game’s Super Hardcore Mode, in which a character’s death removes them from the roster in rewind unless they are saved, meaning you can’t double up on your favorite pop-culture parody, there’s a generous longevity and challenge to what is otherwise a game more or less devoid of a fail state.
Of course, the chaos caused by having so many realities all in motion simultaneously can busy the screen quite a bit, particularly during boss battles. Amidst a pixelated maelstrom of running, jumping, shooting, magic conjuring, explosions, laser beams, shotgun blasts, and dinosaurs on skateboards, sussing out your active character and avoiding incoming fire can be difficult. The game compensates for this by having past loops more transparent and the active one opaque, but so much on-screen movement is inherently distracting, and as such can be frustrating here and there.
If you lack the patience for trial and error, for inevitable (and countless) deaths and to replay the same short sequences over and over—more often than not by choice, but also consequences of failure—Super Time Force may leave your nerves frayed. That certainly was the case, for me, early on. But once you learn its rhythms, once you learn to relish in freedom from unnecessary punishment, Super Time Force opens itself up as a fresh take on 2D side-scrolling shooters and offers an box-external approach to the bullet-strewn mayhem that makes up most modern videogames.
|Developer: Capybara Games • Publisher: Capybara Games • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 05.14.14|
Loathe as I am to lazily make comparisons, Capy did so first. Super Time Force is exactly as advertised: Braid meets Contra wish a dash of cartoony approach to time-travel. The result is just as spectacularly stupid and spectacularly good as you’d expect from such a description, with an added dash of think-y fun formed by layering multiple reality loops. Sounds bananacakes? Well, it is. And it’s great.
|The Good||The pleasures of timey-wimey misbehavior in pixel-art representations of future and past.|
|The Bad||What, at times, is as an oppressive amount of projectiles present on screen.|
|The Ugly||Squirty Harry. Just the worst.|
|Super Time Force is available on Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One using review code provided by Capybara Games.|