There’s a particular point in human history where everything was a cartoon something on rollerblades and everything was drenched in colors Crayola scholars would one day come to call Electric Pink and Razzle Dazzle Blue. Music was unironically infused with pop synth and ripping guitar solos from dudes that refused to wear shirts that properly covered up their hairy chest plates. And for some reason, everyone wore sunglasses.
And that somehow only describes a portion of Capybara Games’ upcoming time-bending side-scrolling shooter Super Time Force. Namely, that describes an unlockable character named Zackasaurus, a totally chill raptor that speaks in 80s rap-style lyrics. Also, he wears a floral Hawaiian shirt, rocks Terminator-style sunglasses, and rides a neon-ridden skateboard. And he might have a mohawk.
Stranger than that, though, is how you obtain him. That is to say, you have to fight a giant cybernetic Tyrannosaurus rex with a huge flamethrower strapped to its head, a rocket launcher on its arm, and an infinite supply of smaller but equally dickish enemies in its mouth. So know that when I say Super Time Force is a weird game, I truly mean it.
The basic premise, though, is simple enough to put into words. You play one of several (starting out with four) characters, each with their own special attacks and weapons, and you must get to the end of a series of levels. You have a set amount of lives that you can lose by either taking a single hit or by running out of time. Simple, right?
Each time you die, however, you are respawned all right, but you are respawned alongside all previous iterations of yourself. This single-player co-op play allows for you to save past versions of yourself from dying, so if you go back and make contact with the saved guy, you’ve made a checkpoint and spared a life from being wasted (otherwise you start over from the beginning of the level).
And once you add in power-ups like slow motion (a particular programming challenge, said lead programmer Kenneth Yeung during the Fantastic Arcade panel, as you aren’t really slowing down but rather you are moving ten times as fast, something that tends to break physics engines), things can get pretty hectic. You can see it plainly once you beat a level and get a Super Meat Boy-ish playback reel of all versions of yourself playing through the stage.
That’s not to say, however, you have to make it that complicated. If you wanted (and are capable of doing so), you could beat the entire game with just one life. Even the controls are simple: just a directional stick, a jump button, and an attack button, perfect for the arcade setting I played it in. It won’t be easy, though, as at certain points it felt like I was trying to dodge so many projectiles and enemies that I was playing a bullet hell game like Jamestown or Deathsmiles instead of a platform shooter.
Each death also allows you to mix things up by choosing a new character to play with. You start out with four including machine gunner Jean Rambois, rocket launcher-wielding Jef Leppard, sniper Lady Sniper, and shield-toting Shieldy Blockerson with the ability to unlock (at least) Zackasaurus during the three-stage demo. Each character has their own unique weapon but they can also hold down the attack button to use their secondary fire. Lady Sniper, for instance, can shoot through walls and Shieldy Blockerson can one-shot most fodder types with a charged up shield.
Zackasaurus is especially unique in that given that he can’t block attacks like Shieldy despite also being a close-range fighter, his attacks actually cut through projectiles. Slashing and dashing, he can close distances between enemies without taking damage, which came in pretty handy while fighting the asteroid.
Yes, you fight an asteroid.
While riding a pterodactyl.
And even without all the ridiculous trappings of a double eye-patched colonel or gigantic armadillo dinosaurs or President Dinosaur declaring open season on humans, Super Time Force is a really good game from what I’ve seen. The game can get super manic, but it’s all by your hand.
Continually racing previous versions of yourself to get the slow motion power-up eventually gets to feeling like you’re a speeding train about to flip off the rail as the turns wind tighter and tighter. Trying to get all past lives to line up with your current and future ones to daisy chain checkpoints and synergize attacks is like spinning plates if the plates were constantly on the verge of getting shot and revived and shot again.
And all of that fits within a 30-second to 1-minute level. Once it’s all said and done, a single successful run from start to finish of any level will be extraordinarily short despite you having just spent the past 10 minutes on it. Imagine you took a playthrough of a Super Mario World level, chopped it up into 100 pieces, and overlaid them on top of each other. Then you have some idea of what Super Time Force is like.
And it’s fantastic.
Look for Super Time Force on XBLA in 2013.