Yeah, well, history is gonna change.
-Marty McFly, Back To The Future
“The following is a contributor post by the ABXY Mage.”
In 2014, Lunar Ray Games formed with with the “aim to create games using nostalgic elements from [their] favorite SNES and PSX titles…” This is very apparent in their first game, Timespinner, which was funded through Kickstarter. Published by Chucklefish (publisher of Stardew Valley), Timespinner draws very clear inspiration from classics like Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of The Night. Does this translate into an instant classic or does it set the bar too high by comparison?
The game opens on a very special night. Lunais has just been named the newest Time Messenger, and her friends and family want to celebrate. This is especially exciting considering you play the game as Lunais.
Anyway, Lunais has just been named the newest Time Messenger. This is a big deal, and a great responsibility, but that’s all we know at this point. Lunais, the mother of a tribal elder, was chosen because of her Aura powers. These powers give her telekinetic control over special orbs. These powers can also be concentrated into spells that can be released with special jewelry.
After giving Lunais some ancient orbs that have been passed down for generations, her mother tells her that it’s time for the induction ceremony.
Before the ceremony can begin, thunderous explosions shake the earth. Lachiem battleships are firing on the tribe. This is what the Time Messenger is for: to travel back in time and warn the clan of impending danger. But, this time, no warning came.
You and your mother must rush to the Timespinner. It’s the only way to save your clan. You can save them in the past. You can prevent the Lachiem Empire from ever finding your tribe.
The entrance to the temple crashes in and Emperor Nuvius and some guards storm in. The Timespinner’s portal opens. Your mother shouts at you to get in first. Lunais enters the portal, but before her mother can, Nuvius catches her.
It’s too late to save her now. But you can save her in the past. You can save them all in the past.
The portal closes, and Lunais falls onto a strange and unfamiliar land. This is where the adventure begins. Can you piece together the Timespinner, alter the course of history, and save your friends and family?
Timespinner does a lot of things, visually, very well. Looking for a game that near-perfectly nails the SNES aesthetic? This is it. It has certain elements that seem like clear modernity, but they blend in beautifully, really giving you that nostalgic ’90s feel. You could almost remember this game from your childhood. Unfortunately, if falls short in just a couple of areas.
Many of the backgrounds appear layered, and they move with your point of view as you jump, climb, run, and fall. The effect adds an interesting life to the environments and makes the world feel much more real.
However, some of these environments are dark, and often utilize color schemes that seem almost monochromatic in their similarities. Luckily, it’s not all areas, it isn’t immediately noticeable, and depending on how long it takes you to complete the game, you might not notice at all.
The character sprites will undoubtedly evoke memories of Chrono Trigger, something that obviously deserves praise. The diverse cast all have very different looks and unique personalities. Over the course of the game, and the two time periods, you get to learn about their various backstories, as well as follow their lives in the present, as they progresses into the unknown.
While enemy design is varied, that doesn’t mean that all of the enemies are interesting. In fact, several enemies are interesting only in appearance. Many of the bird-related enemies make little sense as to why they look or behave the way they do, for example. This is mostly made up for with the number and variation of bosses, though.
Timespinner has an impressively full soundtrack for being a Kickstarter game. Among the instruments you may hear are acoustic and electric guitars, strings, flute, drums, accordion, piano, harpsichord, and more. The game has several excellent toe-tappers as well as beautiful ballads, both epic and minimalistic.
Several tracks, especially some of the more melodic tracks, are reminiscent of Final Fantasy soundtracks from the ’90s. Composer, Jeff Ball, does a great job of both portraying, and provoking, emotion.
While some of the music can remind you of Chrono Trigger or many Final Fantasies, some of it seems more inspired by Castlevanias or the battle themes of any number of JRPGs. It’s all wonderfully nostalgic and fresh at the same time. Every song might not be a smash, but rest assured, you will not be bored by the soundtrack to this game.
The sound effects are all spot on. Everything sounds the way you want it to. Lunais even yells and grunts as she fights and jumps. All told, the sound in this game is the modern equivalent of top-tier SNES or PS1 style soundtracks.
Depending on your taste, you may or may not agree that it’s a good thing that we are seeing such a growth in the development of Metroidvanias. Personally, I think it’s great. I always wanted more of them. Well, as long as they were good. And, these last few years, we’ve seen some very good ones. As if Castlevania: Symphony of The Night and Super Metroid aren’t behemoth enough to try and stand up against, recent generations have brought beloved titles like Axiom Verge, Guacamelee!, Hollow Knight, and Dead Cells.
While solid in many ways, and technically great, Timespinner must live in the shadow of these classics. It’s good, it just isn’t great. It’s not “classic” material. It does, however, do most of what it tries to well.
The controls are intuitive and responsive, the story and progression is pretty straightforward, there are little-to-no waits for loading, and the game never asks you to do something that doesn’t make sense. Even the time travel makes sense in the world of the game, and never confuses or hinders your progression or understanding. So, from the technical standpoint, it gets beyond the largest and most deadly of the pitfalls.
Having said that, as a Metroidvania, Timespinner falls short on multiple fronts. Firstly, let’s point out the key components of a good Metroidvania game: power ups, exploration, and the use of both to find secrets and enter previously inaccessible areas.
Power ups appear in many forms in Timespinner. While the variety is nice, most of them come out too shallow.
First, there’s the ability to stop time. This power allows you to avoid enemies or their attacks as well as use enemies and their attacks as platforms. However, you really only need to use these “platforms” a half dozen times at most (really only two or three times if you don’t care to wait until getting the jump enhancements later), and stopping time as a means for survival really only occasionally helps in some of the boss battles.
Familiars are another form of power up. Familiars are small magical creatures who fight alongside of you. With a second player, the familiar can be controlled. When playing alone, the pets act independently. In addition to their standard attacks, they each have special and unique moves such as healing you, breathing fire, or firing slicing wind attacks. Sadly, they are all basically equal in strength and mostly unnecessary. While you can acquire items to feed them and level them up, they do not appear to learn new moves or ever become very strong. They come off as more of a novelty than anything else. I suppose that would change if you played through multiple NG+ games, but not in a single playthrough.
Lunais is able to equip one necklace and one ring at a time. This jewelry acts as conduit to special abilities. Some of these include a giant hammer, a burst of flames, a plasma beam, a shield, and imbuing orbs with different elements. Finding a few different materials throughout the world will allow you to have different pieces made, but there are only a couple of ingredients. The system could be much deeper and fuller with many more items to combine for unique accessories.
Pretty much the only power ups that really help you to access new areas and secrets–aside from stopping time–are the double jump, the dash, and the item that allows you to breathe underwater. Nothing all that special, disappointingly.
Finally, there’s the weapon system: the orbs. This, sadly, feels like a real wasted opportunity. Lunais acquires several different orbs throughout the game. Each one, when equipped, allow you to do a different attack. There are orbs used for melee, orbs that create hammers and swords, fire plasma, wind attacks, ice, guns, and several more. In addition to this, certain rings will add various effects to your orbs such as fire damage, ice arrows, or spinning blades.
You can also dual-wield, allowing for a lot of interesting combinations. Presumably, some enemies would be weaker to certain orbs’ attacks, but usually you just have what is clearly the strongest and best attack that you almost always use. This only changes when you get a new, better orb. You can put collectable gems into orbs to increase their level, but some have such insanely higher attack stats that they immediately make other orbs obsolete. I also rarely used orb combinations. I usually just went with double whatever the strongest one I had at the time was. A bigger game and more in-depth orb system would be a lovely marriage.
So, while all of these features add to the game… they just also make you wish there were more. These are the kinds of a things that a good sequel should take and build on. A little more meat on these bones would make for a hearty feast.
In part, thanks to the lack of (my) desired depth in the areas listed above, Timespinner is very accessible. It’s especially accessible for a Metroidvania. When you meet your mother, before the celebration, she teaches you how to fight and how to use the special power you have from the necklace she gives you. The game starts off slow and easy, and it tells you how to use any new powers you gain. Certain side quests and items, however, are less intuitive and require more careful attention.
Grading challenge is not all about whether a game is hard or whether a game is easy. It’s about whether or not a game is the difficulty it should be for maximum enjoyment. This is one of Timespinner‘s weakest points. It did not get the challenge factor correct. Timespinner features multiple difficulty levels. Dream Mode is Easy Mode. I can’t imagine why or how anyone could need this. Normal Mode is Normal Mode. It’s far too easy. Normal should be somewhat challenging, at least in some parts. Because of its lack of challenge, Normal Mode makes the game feel much shorter than it should be. Nightmare Mode is Hard Mode, and it’s literally close to ten times harder than Normal. It might be a little more difficult than a Normal Mode should be, but it’s closer to middle than this game’s Normal Mode. Apparently, there is also an additional Nightmare Mode where you are capped at level 1. Hard pass.
As previously stated, there are multiple–and even eventually challenging–modes to play through. So, if you really enjoy the game, you can always step it up a notch and play it again. Well, not always… only until you play all four modes, obviously.
Timespinner also features a New Game+ which, if you aren’t familiar with the concept, allows you to start a new game, on a new difficulty if you want, while carrying over all of your current items, equipment, and in this game, familiars. As with any Metroidvania, there are quite a bit of secrets to be found if you didn’t get them all the first time, as well. Strangely, you can get nearly all of the multiple endings in a single playthrough. So, depending on the amount you enjoy this game, and replaying games in general, this could be a great feature for you or it could ruin some of the replayability for you.
Timespinner uses its inspiration well. It doesn’t come off as copying or rehasing anything, but rather comes across as fresh while wonderfully inspired. Yes, Metroidvania isn’t new, but few games are creating new genres these days. While the indie scene seems to be quite taken with the genre, it’s still unfairly represented in the big picture of the gaming environment.
Timespinner‘s story revolves around a literal war of classes and traveling back and forth through time to change history. And, while the weapon and power system are also quite unique, Timespinner is probably most original thanks to its characters. It features several LBGTQ characters and relationships. Given the smaller cast of friendlies, it does seem a little too on purpose, but it’s refreshing all the same.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
Timespinner is a good game. Parts of it are great. Unfortunately, its shortcomings cannot be ignored. I liked a lot of the features of this game, and I really liked playing most of it, overall, but I wanted to love it. I definitely, quite highly recommend playing it for yourself.
As a debut game, it’s a real treat, and I am excited to see what Lunar Ray comes out with next. I will definitely be following their progress and future projects. And, I hope, I will eventually get to see a sequel or spiritual-sequel to Timespinner, as it’s a great foundation. Building on from this game could result in a truly excellent, inspired game.
We would like to thank Lunar Ray Games for supplying us with a copy of their game for this critique.
Aggregated Score: 7.1
The ABXY Mage leads a double life of unfathomable hipness, if his expertise in jazz is any indication. Music maker, fandangoist, writer, you can find this hip cat as ABXY Reviews on Twitter and on YouTube.
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Categories: Game Review