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Super Time Force Ultra Review: Time-Wimey Arcade Goodness!
When Super Time Force made its debut for Xbox gamers back in May, I have to admit I was a little jealous. It looked like a quirky and inspired take on both the bullet-hell side-scrollers of my gaming childhood (Contra and Metal Slug) and time-travel narratives – not to mention a hell of a lot of fun. Thankfully, Capybara Games have finally brought their debut title to PC gamers this month with the updated and improved Super Time Force Ultra.
Although Super Time Force is far from the only indie side-scroller on the block, it’s got less in common with indie side-scrollers like FEZ or Limbo and much more in common with the absurd and episodic shenanigans of Saturday morning cartoons than anything else.
Heck, the premise of Super Time Force even makes it sound like a 80s/90s cartoon. You take control of Super Time Force, a time-travelling paramilitary group who travel through time doing battle against their nemesis Dr. Infinity and correcting history’s worst mistakes. Each of the game’s six stages/adventures takes players to a different time period and tasks them with such noble endeavors as “Find The Holy Grail and sell it on eBay” or “save the dinosaurs from extinction by fighting off the asteroid”. It’s a well executed premise brought to life by a killer soundtrack and some absolutely hilarious dialogue moments from Time Forces’ leading man.
At a glance, it’d be easy to overlook the nuances to Super Time Force’s gameplay and dismiss it as a game that tries to get by on charm alone. Thankfully, this isn’t the case. It’s a solid side-scrolling platformer in the vein of Gunstar Heroes but with a key mechanical twist that isn’t initially clear – in fact, the game doesn’t really reveal itself until you die. Upon death, players are able to rewind through their playthrough of the level, respawn and then fight alongside their previous-self. It’s the kind of thing that’s awfully convoluted to explain but an absolute delight once you see it in action. You can even travel back in time to prevent the death of your previous self – adding their abilities to your current characters. As expected of its genre, there are plenty of collectibles and secrets to find, and there’s a lot of challenging replay value beyond Super Time Force Ultra’s main campaign.
Super Time Force itself only starts out with three members but each level brings new members to the team. There’s a literal ton of variety here with highlights including but not limited to a skateboarding dinosaur and a demolition specialist called Jef Leppard. Ultra adds a few additional characters from Valve’s software library to the mix bringing the final roster to about 19 or so. Each character feels different, not to mentioned formidable but thankfully Super Time Force leaves it very much in your hands to play the way you want.
Super Time Force Ultra’s art-style is equal parts old school pixel-art and new-school MS Paint. It does sometimes get a bit overwhelming due to the sheer number of things on screen at any given time but that’s less an issue with the game’s presentation and more a characteristic of the genre itself.
Although I have literally no idea how it could be implemented without completely breaking the game, it would have been cool to see some sort of co-operative multiplayer component to Super Time Force. While aiming weapons without the aid of a proper gamepad was a bit of a pain, Super Time Force is mechanically robust on almost all fronts. It does a great job of encouraging you to get the most out of its unique mechanics without penalizing you for wanting to approach it more traditionally.
Super Time Force is a really fun and refreshing take on bullet-hell side-scrollers. It strikes a great balance between charming presentation and rock-solid mechanics. It builds itself up to be this incredibly absurd experience, and then draws you with into take part in the hilarity that unfolds. Super Time Force Ultra is the best available version of one of the year’s best indie titles. Pick it up and have a great…time.
Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.