If you could go back in time and change the past, would you do it? What if traveling through time meant clashing with an army of robots hell-bent on destroying the world, or navigating a Mad Max-esque apocalypse. What if it also meant fighting alongside Zackasaurus, the raddest skateboarding dinosaur of all time--would you do it then? Super Time Force doesn’t so much ask these questions as it does shout them in your face with the eagerness of a hyperactive child on a caffeine binge. It’s OK, though, because the answer to all of them is a resounding yes.
Super Time Force is absolutely bonkers. In the year 198X, Dr. Repeatski has perfected the formula for time travel. Literally a split second after this happens, Earth is transformed into a desolate wasteland ruled by Dr. Infinity and his Blounbots--and it’s up to a much cooler, future version of the doc (complete with dual eyepatches) to step in and save the day with a team of time soldiers. Super Time Force plays it real fast and loose with the whole time travel thing, and it’s all the better for it. Whether they’re attempting to keep Atlantis afloat so future Americans can frequent its spectacular water park, or ensuring the survival of the dinosaurs, this band of walking 80s action movie tropes blasts their way through level after level of beautifully pixelated ultra-violence. It’s Back to the Future by way of Adventure Time meets The A-Team, and its ADD-riddled sense of humor is full of non-stop puns, one-liners, and pop culture references.
Time travel isn’t just entwined into Super Time Force’s narrative; it’s a core part of what makes it such a fun game to play. Similar to sidescrollers like Contra, Super Time Force is all about mowing down countless waves of robots and hostile natives of each time period. Doing so takes lightning quick reflexes, cunning skill, and absolute mastery of your weapons to make it through to the end of every single harrowing level. But no matter how good you are or how hard you try, it won’t be enough. You’ll die, and you’ll die, and you’ll die some more--but rather than being a source of frustration, death becomes something to look forward to. Each time you bite it, time itself rewinds, and you can choose any point up to that character’s death to respawn with one of nearly a dozen unique soldiers. The phantoms of your fallen allies then fight alongside your freshly requisitioned looper, creating a chaotic scenario where all of your previously summoned soldiers attack simultaneously. What was once insurmountable quickly turns into a hilarious mass of bullets, bazooka blasts, and bodies as you watch your newly resurrected allies make short work of their enemies.
You’ve only got sixty seconds and thirty lives to make it to the end of each stage, and in order to even stand a chance, you’ll need to make use of every character at your disposal. In addition to dying, you can sacrifice one of your lives to move through time with the push of a button, substituting in the right character for each hectic situation. Need to take out a foe hiding behind a wall? Bring in Aimy McKillin and her charging sniper rifle. Giant obstacle got you down? Jef Leppard’s bazooka will take care of the job. There’s no way you’ll get to the end of each stage or defeat the massive screen-filling bosses in sixty seconds without some deft time manipulation, and each ally you warp in helps you push forward faster with their unique attacks. Some characters are far more useful than others, though, and you’ll likely rely on a small handful to get the job done.
Still, each character is brimming with personality, and there’s enough variety in their move sets that combat scenarios play out like a puzzle game designed by the most hyperactive imagination ever. And thirty lives may sound like a lot, but when you’re trying to figure out a particularly tricky section, you can blow through half-a-dozen or more in no time flat--but a well-timed attack can save your doomed timecop and provide a much needed boost in firepower. That moment when you finally overcome the insane odds (whether through skill or brute force) is fun; getting to watch an instant replay with all of your actions playing out simultaneously is even better.
In addition to taking out murderous robots, you'll hunt down the several collectibles strewn about each level. These aren’t just things to find for the heck of it--rather, they alter how you approach Super Time Force’s gameplay in significant ways. Yellow cubes called glorbs give you an additional rewind to work with on each stage. Many of these require quite a bit of set-up to find and catch, and figuring out how to snag the more difficult-to-reach ones will make you feel like an expert time lord. Also, hidden shards will slow time to a crawl when you grab them, again making your life a bit easier.
That said, with the slew of items to collect, the massive number of enemies on screen firing an equally massive amount of bullets, and the constant dying and rewinding, Super Time Force gets incredibly overwhelming. It frequently overloads your synapses with stimuli, and later levels actually gave me heart palpitations from dealing with the ceaseless barrage of carnage. Every victory feels like a hard-won battle to the bitter end, but if you take the time to learn each level, you’ll find yourself getting better and moving faster with each attempt.
Make no mistake: Super Time Force is a highly demanding game that combines the hardcore difficulty of the NES era within the trappings of modern-day game design. But if you’re able to keep up with its manic pace, you’ll discover a hilariously rewarding twitch actioner not seen since those days of yore. It is, without a doubt, a most excellent adventure.
This game was reviewed on Xbox One.