“Spawn, die, rewind, die, rewind, die, rewind, die…”
Three years after its prototype inception during the Toronto Game Jam, Capybara Games released Super Time Force, the side-scrolling, time-traveling, platform shooter, and Capy’s first new release since the highly acclaimed Sword & Sworcery in 2011. With a plethora of retro-vibes (from killer pixel-art and a chip-tune soundtrack, to old-school gameplay and pop-culture references) fused together with inventive, new-school mechanics, Super Time Force is one of the most absurdly fun shoot-em-ups in years.
The story follows the titular band of assorted heroes who are strung together by the dual eye-patched Commander Repeatski, inventor of time-travel and not-yet time-war veteran. Repeatski tasks the Super Time Force with six history-changing missions with the intention of making the world a super cooler place. You’ll prevent the extinction of the dinosaurs, the sinking of Atlantis, and the bankruptcy of Repeatski’s favorite medieval restaurant chain (by stealing and selling the Holy Grail). The humor is self-aware and over-the-top—the final cut scene features about 20 “time” related puns in a row—and it all makes for a remarkably cheesy story (in a loveable 80’s way a la Far Cry: Blood Dragon) that often evokes classic time-travel fiction like that excellent old Keanu Reeves film.
The gameplay itself looks and feels like a side-scrolling bullet hell—one-hit deaths, level time-limits, closing boss battles—but with one big difference: Time travel is not just a story element.
Super Time Force is defined by its pivotal mechanic, “Time Out,” a feature which allows you to freely rewind the game clock (VHS-style) upwards of 40 times per level. Wherever on the timeline you choose to rewind to, the versions of yourself that were alive at that point in time will replay alongside you like ghost recordings, shooting again any switches or enemies that you may have shot during those respective lives, until reaching the end of their timelines.
Saving a ghost from death will allow you to merge with the rescued character, giving you an extra hitpoint as well as adding the rescued character’s powers to your current. The opening tutorial level really only gives theory to the mechanic, rather than useful tips, but you’ll get the hang of it quickly with experience. Capy calls the gameplay “single player co-op;” you’ll use Time Out to regroup and gather enough firepower to take down big enemies, but the mechanic is also used in intelligent ways that give the game some semblance of a puzzle platformer.
As well as rewind, Time Out gives you the option to select a new character from the one’s you’ve unlocked, each of which bear a unique pair of attacks that are more useful depending on the situation. You start with only three characters, but more are unlocked naturally during the story, hidden throughout levels, or unlocked per secret conditions. Each is memorable for their absurdity and pop culture references (eg. “Jef Leppard” and “Squirty Harry”), although some are decisively more useful than others. Aimy McKillin, for instance, has the ability to shoot through walls, which is perfect for hitting out-of-reach buttons in a timely fashion, and Zackasaurus (a skateboarding dinosaur) is the only character who’s able to jump on the heads of enemies without being killed. While it’s not uncommon to profusely rewind and cycle through a half dozen characters during a level to stack firepower for an easy win, there’s a surprising depth of strategy and skill required to complete a level perfectly, and it’s in the subsequent moments of brutal difficulty that Super Time Force feels polished and fully realized.
The six main missions are split into 23 levels, each with a new, memorable set piece, and the world hub takes the form of a spacebus where unlocked characters and item collection percentages reside. Most missions consist of shmup platforming, but some will require you to protect an object, and others are just straight-up boss battles—ironically, the game never feels repetitive. Almost every mission has the same two secondary goals: Collect the ten yellow time-stones (which add to the level’s Time Out counter), and find the three pieces of sparkly time-matter to turn the game slow-mo like in that other Keanu Reeves movie. But it’s the tertiary goal that’s the most intriguing—and the most difficult: Super Time Force’s variant on speedrunning is the game’s most infuriatingly clever aspect.
Speedrunning is where all of Super Time Force’s mechanics come to thrive, and it proves that Capybara has hit the perfect balance of mechanics, so you’ll seldom feel encumbered. You’ll need to make use of each item in a level, as well as a variety of characters; run as fast and as far as you can until you get killed, rewind and save your own life (or clear a blocked passage), then rewind again and continue on your speedy way. There’s even a once-per-level “Ultra” state that makes your character’s arsenal temporarily god-like. Despite being a frenzy, Super Time Force is rarely overwhelming.
The speedrun time-limit is unforgiving however, so you’ll need to collect all the time-stones you can in order to rewind any slight mistake. For the even more masochistic, beating the game will unlock a permadeath “super hardcore” mode which retains characters but resets collectibles. It’s terribly difficult at times, requiring platforming skills and a lot patience, but Super Time Force’s amazing replay feature makes success legendarily rewarding.
Whenever a level is finished, a dynamic and fluid replay omitting all Time Outs is shown. It’s hilarious and amusing to watch yourself die repeatedly in the same spot (cold memories of Super Meat Boy here), or to see a dozen versions of yourself spawn and take out a boss in what appears to be three seconds, but was a few minutes in reality.
Super Time Force is full of so many quirks that it had me laughing before I even hit the main menu. It takes inspiration from decades of pop-culture and videogame conventions, from Metal Slug to Braid, but it adds a unique flare with an inventive mechanic that never shies from rousing fun. Super Time Force is a zany, new-school shoot ‘em up for the ages.
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This review was originally published on indiegamemag.com on, and has been edited accordingly.
An Xbox One review code was supplied by the developer. Super Time Force Ultra is also available on PC and Playstation.