Expectations can be a strange thing. When I first saw Super Time Force, it came across as a severely action-oriented side-scrolling shooter with a pixel art veneer, and it looked immensely fun for that exact reason. The trailer looked like absolute chaos with bullets and bodies going every which way. The truth is that Super Time Force is an incredibly cerebral game that maintains a lowbrow comedic slant, and it is totally rad.
Super Time Force follows the adventures of the titular Super Time Force as they follow their leader Colonel Repeatski through time, attempting to rectify the injustices and wrongdoings of history. Well, injustices and wrongdoings in the eyes of the Colonel, which is rather skewed. But through this setup, the game goes from a straightforward, retro-coated shooter to an intelligent action puzzle game.
True enough to the superficial format, you go from left to right and shoot things, often with a pressing time limit of 90 seconds or so. But lucky for you, with the ability to manipulate time, you can rewind and fast forward through your brief existence in the scenario. Each time you do, you can choose a different character, but all of your previous lives still push on, mimicking to a T your past movements.
This comes across as a stock concept in the realm of temporal puzzle games, but when applied to one with a shooting slant, it becomes infinitely more interesting. This copying allows you, for instance, to stack damage on enemies, sometimes becoming the only way to defeat a boss. You can save yourself from death, providing you the ability to pick up your past self as a health and special attack boost, forming a unique strategy to dying in amiable locations.
In this, it reveals the multitude of layers to the game as you peel away with each educational session. On the outset, you attempt to play as an otherwise unremarkable Contra-like, moving forward, dodging, and shooting (emphasis on dodging as you only get one hit). Then you understand how you can massively increase your damage output through multiplication. But finally it hits you: you can work ahead of yourself.
You can simply dump into an enemy that you can’t damage with the knowledge that you’ll force his weak points open on a later life. You can move just into the right place at the right time as a phantom blows up a water tower and a collectible falls into your hands. You can see how this game can be surprisingly taxing on your brain now, mentally tracking past and future progress as you move to both set up and capitalize on opportunities.
And then the characters themselves add so much to the proceedings. First and foremost, they have names that are simply incredibly fun to say, either subtly or overtly referencing something. (Jean Rambois, Jef Leppard, and Dolphin Lundgren, for instance.) And then their weapons and special attacks are unique enough that they make considerable impact based on when and how they’re used in any given situation, making it worthwhile to explore and find them.
The aforementioned Jef Leppard, for example, has a grenade launcher with great splash damage, and Shieldy Blockerson, most obviously, has a shield. Put two of their lives back to back and you have a protected turret of explosive damage. Even a purely close range character has his uses (I won’t spoil who or what he is, but just know that he’s worth it.)
Action in the game also controls rather well. Tight is one way to put it, but coupled with the intellectual and informed designs of how the world and the combat is conveyed to you, it makes moving about and shooting in the game incredibly enjoyable. Your eyes are usually drawn right where they need to be, and then you can execute upon them with smoothness and proficiency.
This, of course, has something to do with the actual visuals of the game. While steeped in the pixelated throwback styles of the current generation, the colors are fun and bright and the animations are bouncy and spritely to the point of making you want to do the same. It’s a really nice visual bow on top of a complex, time-altering present.
On the surface, there doesn’t appear to be much to say about Super Time Force. It looks like what you think it is: a side-scrolling retro-themed shooter. But once you understand its deeper temporal mechanics, it begins to reveal itself as an intelligent, thinker’s game. If you’re tired of shooting things for the sake of shooting them, or even just tired of playing mediocre games, then give Super Time Force a try.
+ Cerebral gameplay that involves backwards and forward thinking
+ Tight, fun, and informative visual design
+ Responsive and enabling controls
+ Characters are distinct and strategic (and have fun names)
Final Score: 9 out of 10
Game Review: Super Time Force
Release: May 14, 2014
Genre: Side scrolling shooter
Developer: Capybara Games
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, Xbox One