It was a long time coming, but Super Time Force is finally here. Last November Double Fine hosted, the indie showcase, Day of the Devs. Besides chatting with Phil Fish, then drinking too much and dancing to his DJ set, I had the privilege of playing Capybara’s 2D-time-manipulation-action-comedy-side-scrolling-bullet-platformer at the event. At the time it was confusing, difficult, and chaotic.
One more delay and 7 months later and what we have is still difficult and chaotic, but nowhere near as confusing. In fact, Super Time Force is a cleverly designed game that turns back the hands of Time and reimagines some of the oldest gameplay mechanics in video game history.
You’re part of a time traveling military force that’s tasked with going back in time to undo certain historical events that may or may not ruin the past, present, and future. This means fighting dinosaurs, medieval knights, and cyber-cops.
The story would feel right at home in the time slot before Bravest Warriors and probably holds the record for most time puns in any form of media.
In the comedic vein of Broforce, Super Time Force assembles its humor through a parodical deconstruction of 1980’s action films. This theme works and the ridiculous malapropism spouting Colonel Repeatski, who through sheer brute stupidity will force you, much like the narrative does, to laugh out loud at least a few times.
Super Time Force’s gameplay will have you replaying sections of levels over and over again, but, paradoxically, this is a good thing. The game gives the twitch Contra gameplay a wrinkle of puzzles, and in doing so creates a rushing, fun flow from the staccato rhythm of pausing, rewinding, and moving forward in time.
Capy, I’m sure, has made some minor changes since Day of the Devs, but the game’s core has remained the same: Single player co-op. The game operates on creating time clones of a series of selectable characters, each with their own specialized capabilities. These clones are used to create a series of simultaneously existing timelines that in concomitance allow you to beat a level.
Does this sound confusing? That’s because in theory it is. If you watched the video above, I’m sure you’re asking yourself what the fuck is going on.
This is because the game has it’s own language, a time traveling rhetoric unique among the simple rewind-time-to-undo-a-mistake games, à la Braid. Aside from saving a character from death, the actions that you commit to a timeline cannot be undone. Sure there are staples from video game’s past, the most ancient of being the timer, lives, and enemy attack patterns.
But each of these rules are reinvigorated, taking on new meaning as you must consider each system from a 4th dimensional perspective. Time management becomes a nonlinear layering of composite actions that in sum manifest a series of desired results. Lives and death become necessary sacrifices and opportunities for power. Enemy attack patterns aren’t simply added to a mental taxonomy of level traversal, but become action-puzzles that can be preemptively solved.
Many critics see the (well crafted) pixel art and Contra-esque shooting and say, “oh, this game is trying to be nostalgic.” Of course, the game has an intimate relationship with time, but to reduce the game to past pandering and yearning is a disservice to Capy’s very modern game. It’s a bit silly and lazy to see pixel graphics, an art style, and immediately charge a game with living in the past.
All this and Capy’s temporal reinterpretation has led me to think that Super Time Force isn’t so much nostalgic as it is denostaligic. The game’s primary mechanic, time manipulation, removes itself from the past, asking, how can you yearn for something that has never existed until now?