What if you could travel back in time and warn humanity about global warming, pandemics, toxic waste and growing oppressive capitalism? That’s right… nobody would listen and you’d be thrown in a mental ward with bad conditions. But what if you also had platforming skills and magic?! Heck yeah, you could just solve the problem yourself! In Timespinner we’re about to do exactly that.
It’s a nice day for platforming and time traveling. I’ve just landed in the year 38 AE to stop bad things from happening in 1062 AE. Even though we’re thousands of years in the post-Earth future in another solar system (I’m guessing AE means After Earth? It was inevitable), some things remain the same as the real world in 2021. Learning absolutely nothing from the past, a band of cronies are mining nearby planets for resources and profit. They pretend they’re doing it for good reasons, but the silent feeling of struggle and oppression says otherwise.
The gameplay and level design is very similar to the GBA Castlevania games, so much that some room layouts are exactly the same, with similar stat menus and equip screens. Timespinner sets itself apart with its futuristic space aesthetic, featuring all sorts of strange creatures running about. Enemies have some fascinating and varied visual design, merging robot technology with biology. It makes me wonder what would actually be better, a high def camera or a real eye? Unfortunately from a gameplay standpoint, the enemies don’t offer too much challenge or variety in their patterns.
The game feels much easier and less punishing that most other games in the genre. Most enemies you’ll fight in a flat corridor one by one, and their patterns are fairly simple to figure out. Yes I got hit in the above screenshot, but I was also hitting the screenshot button okay? It looks better like this anyway, I suffer for my art.
You have a couple of different weapons to switch from, in the form of Orbs. There’s a sword orb, hammer orb, fire, ice, wind etc. and honestly I found it hard to tell the difference between them. Fire Orbs were the only ones I found that could interact with the environment, and for most the game I just switched between sword and hammer. The ability to freeze time with the X button also throws in a nice bit of creativity, allowing you to use enemies as platforms to reach higher places (as if they were frozen).
Pacing is one of the most important things in a Metroidvania and I enjoyed it in Timespinner. I was constantly excited for the next area and always had some ideas of what to do, despite having no arrows to guide me. It might sound like a hassle to travel between two time periods 1000 years apart, but it’s done very efficiently with fast-travel warp points on both maps. In textbook Metroid progression, you slowly get new abilities that allow you to backtrack and reach new places. It brings its own flavour to this with the time mechanic, as sometimes what you do in the past will change the environment in the future. This is why I didn’t mind the low difficulty, as most of my excitement came from exploring and reading the lore.
The story struck me as oddly relevant to today’s times. The same tactics of propaganda are still used to lie, change history and control the population. The people of the past are so in the dark, you have to go to the library in the future to get history about what is happening in the past, or their present. Sound confusing enough yet? Then you find out the history books are wrong.
It makes a lot more sense as you’re traveling from place to place in the game. This brings another strength of videogames to light actually. It’s much easier to follow a story when you’re physically following it. If I read all of this in a book, it would be much harder to digest. I never really got confused playing this game which is a great design accomplishment. Some of the time travel stuff will force you to suspend your belief but that’s the nature of the beast really. I’ve only ever played one game where time travel was explained and made sense, and that was Quantum Break.
The music is a pleasant gaze into the corridors of another space and time. Gentle reflective chords echo in the distance while sombre melodies play over the top. Occasionally you get a banging baseline with a bit of hype, but it’s mostly subtle. The soundtrack overall is not overly melodic, thumping or piercing, but very soulful. I found myself enjoying reading the letters for the music that played. It’s pleasant, calming, with a hint of mystery. You can have a look at the soundtrack by Jeff Bell here, 57 tracks is very impressive for an Indie game composition.
I enjoyed Timespinner a lot and had a comfy time with it. It’s not a game that excels or innovates in any particular area, but the sum of its parts comes together for a cohesive 2D adventure. The writing also leaves a bit to be desired at times, but the scenario itself is strong. If you want tons of challenge and death in your Metroidvania game, this isn’t the game for you (try Hollow Knight) unless you wait to unlock Nightmare Mode, but that’s more of an arbitrary challenge really. There’s also a randomizer for the game if you’re playing on PC. If anyone who kickstarted this game time travels from 2015 to read this review, thanks for backing it.