An incomplete history of time-travel games

Back to the Future Part II & III (1990)

We said we’d steer away from movie-based games, but we have to make an exception for Back to the Future. While the original warranted a standalone game, its sequels got lumped together in one big combo-pack. This worked well at the time, because the two films’ stories lent themselves to topsy-turvy interweaving. But nowadays, when you mention a game based on the concluding phases of a trilogy, all people can say is, “you mean like Enter the Matrix?”

Did It Do Your Head In? If Marty returned to the same place, little time-paradox-spawned clones of himself would chase him down and mess with his space-time continuum. You also had to perform actions in the past to make it through future levels.

Were There Cowboys In It? You have seen Back to the Future III, right?

Cowboys and Indians! Who knew those could be combined??

Time Travel Satisfaction Rating:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time (1991)

Because the Ninja Turtles were always a ridiculous exercise in superhero absurdism, it would have been rude not to send them on a time-travel adventure. So this sequel to the smash-hit (read: pitched at hyped-up preteens) arcade beat ‘em-up dutifully provided more of the same, this time over a variety of historical backdrops. Pizza was consumed, mutants were walloped, and the dishonourable code of the Ninja was ever further misrepresented for the entertainment of impressionable Westerners.

Did it do your head in? The game actually included an elegant solution to the philosophical problem of the Grandfather Paradox, in which… oh, look, seriously, what do you think?

Were there cowboys in it? That old-west train wasn’t going to rob itself!

Above: Foot Soldiers on ponies. Too precious 

Time Travel Satisfaction Rating:

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure (1991)

Above: A whole new adventure, with entirely fresh cover art to match

As a rule, we’ve tried to steer away from games that just adapt a time-travel movie’s plot. However, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure didn’t do this: following on from the movie’s story in isometric RPG form, the game gave the catchphrase-rich duo a whole new adventure on the NES. One that happened to revisit many of the movie’s more notable locales. Hmmm.

Did it do your head in? The focus of the game was finding the “bait” that notable “dudes” would follow you through time for. So if your idea of brain-bashing is figuring out that Cleopatra will only get into a phone booth if presented with a major credit card, this one will keep your melon scrambled.

Were there cowboys in it? If the real-life Jesse James had had the Uzi with which the Wild Stallyns lure him to their cause, maybe he wouldn’t have been assassinated by the coward Robert Ford.

Above: Alex Winter has never looked more special, and Alex Winter was in a movie all about circus freaks 

Time Travel Satisfaction Rating:

Time Traveler (1991)

Above: Box art for the home version. Note the ridiculous cabinet (not included)

“Time Traveler?” Bravo, Sega, that one must’ve taken you a bit of focus-grouping. The creation of Dragon’s Lair designer Rick Dyer, Time Traveller was a magical relic from a utopian future: tricky optical illusions provided a pseudo-holographic effect that made the game’s sparse smattering of digitised characters and props appear to float ethereally before the player. “It’s like that chess game from Star Wars!” we all gasped, before playing it and discovering that actually it was Dragon’s Lair with worse acting.

Did it do your head in? The villain had a tricksy scheme for manipulating time for his own ends, but this mainly manifested itself in kidnapping a Princess and making the hero rescue her. Consider our heads firmly undone-out.

Were there cowboys in it? The hero was a cowboy! Specifically, a dopey Stetson-wearer named Marshall Gram, who didn’t know much about no fourth-dimensional no-goodery but couldn’t bear to see a fine filly kidnapped by no dastardly varmint.

Above: He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends your guy to the hospital, you send him back to the talent agency 

Time Travel Satisfaction Rating:

The Lost Vikings (1992)

Beloved Norse orienteers Eric, Olaf and Baleog proved such cult heroes that they found their way to a cameo in World of Warcraft. The poor fellows, it would appear, are never getting home! Their first adventure, though, saw them traversing a variety of temporally alien climes, solving puzzles and acting all gruff and hirsute.

Did it do your head in? The time-travel may have been a fairly perfunctory story device, but the puzzles sure did their best to conquer your poor noggin.

Were there cowboys in it? There were Egyptians (always a popular second choice), but no cowboys.

Above: Take what you can get 

Time Travel Satisfaction Rating:


  • bonerachieved - October 27, 2009 8:39 p.m.

  • barrage7667 - October 25, 2009 9:37 p.m.

    what? no timeshift?!?!?!? i mean the entire game you are time traveling even while playing!! COME ON!!!
  • UnrealCanine - October 23, 2009 11:49 a.m.

    Why didn't you include the flash game Back to the Cubeture?
  • tgboy - October 23, 2009 6:48 a.m.

    Legacy of Kain series?
  • TriLun0r - October 22, 2009 11:44 p.m.

    lol no timeshift? good. that game sucked. saaadfaaace
  • Spybreak8 - October 22, 2009 11:19 p.m.

    Turtles time traveling in the comic books are really bad ass, that is all lol.
  • V13Dragongal - October 22, 2009 8:53 p.m.

    In sonic CD it gets hard to keep track of WHEN you are. Example, you go to the past twice, the future once, then the past 3 times, then future 5 times, past 2, then go to bed, wake up, forget everything that happened yesterday and do it all again. It dosent help that if you go forward or back far enough you start getting Day ja-vu(no idea how to spell it). Zelda was awesome however.
  • nebno6 - October 22, 2009 7:48 p.m.

  • helix92 - October 22, 2009 7:45 p.m.

    Does Assassins Creed count??
  • Spacegrass - October 22, 2009 5:06 p.m.

    I would have liked to see Serious Sam on this list; especially since, with his revolvers and coach-gun, Sam is basically a cowboy himself.
  • Yaro - October 22, 2009 4:41 p.m.

    Oh man, I'm so sad there is not legacy of kain, I mean as you play all those games or at least Soul Reaver 1 and 2 and Defiance, it's mind blowing, the finale of Soul Reaver 2 and Defiance are so...I dunno indescribable. You just stare at the credits with that awesome music and just wonder. I will never forget in my life the last line of Soul Reaver 2, "History abhors paradox." It took me quite a while to make sense of that statement, since english isn't my native language too. Anyway nice list and great article as always GR =)
  • Conman93 - October 22, 2009 3:13 p.m.

    No majoras mask??? Odd. Guess orcarina does have TIME in the title
  • Xplosive59 - October 22, 2009 3:08 p.m.

    as soon as i saw the title i knew that Chrono trigger would be in here
  • deedob - October 22, 2009 12:03 p.m.

    The Magic of Scherazade on the NES (maybe a typo there in the title :)...) was an arabian night-style where you had to keep going back and forth in time to solve puzzles. Can't go to an island to reach a temple? Travel forward in time a few hundred years when there will be no lake around the temple. Can't defeat an ennemy boss/demon thing monster? Go back in time a few millenias when he was still new to the world and beat him then. I still think it was a better "Zelda-like" game than Zelda itself. Chrono Cross/Trigger, Darkest of Days and yes... even the very known, but rarelly played DaiKatana could've been mentionned here. All games BASED on time travel.
  • Flyingwoody - October 22, 2009 3:09 a.m.

    Nice Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford reference. Awesome movie. I approve.
  • bamb0o-stick - October 22, 2009 1:36 a.m.

    I'm surprised Darkest of Days isn't mentioned in here. It was kinda fun jumping from war to war in mankind's history.
  • linkganon - October 22, 2009 1:06 a.m.

    Final Fantasy, which may or may not have had sequels, actually started the ball rolling with some half-hearted attempts at time-travel shenanigans. The game’s initial villain, Garland, believes he has created a time-loop in which to live forever, whereas his repurposed corpse turns out to be a vehicle for the ultimate evil, itself sent back in time by villains from the future. So basically it sets the tone for what would follow by being a wonderfully unintelligible load of old pants. What? this doesn't even make sense
  • CH3BURASHKA - October 21, 2009 11:27 p.m.

  • Ded - October 21, 2009 10:45 p.m.

    Aw! No Eternal Champions, I thought that was more well known than that Time Killers game :D
  • Cyberninja - October 21, 2009 10:04 p.m.

    where is eturnal darkness it was great game about time but had no cowboys

Showing 1-20 of 27 comments

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