Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Time Spinner Review

When I first signed up for Xbox Game Pass on PC, I had expected that I would be using the service to play through a lot of big marquee Microsoft titles (e.g. Halo, Forza, Gears). Instead, I’ve found myself primarily using the service as a way to try out indie games that I’ve heard good things about but haven’t been motivated to seek out and buy individually. One such title came out earlier this year, TimeSpinner.

TimeSpinner is an indie platformer that is heavily inspired by the Castlevania games directed by Koji Igarashi. The story follows Lunais, a time-traveler, who uses her time manipulation abilities and other magic powers to seek revenge against the Empire after they desecrated her village and wiped out her people.

  • I’ve played a lot of Metroidvania games, but this one is by far the most upfront about its source of inspiration. Everything from the UI to the controls looks and feels straight out of Symphony of the Night or Aria of Sorrow. 
  • Like the aforementioned Castlevania games, TimeSpinner has very nice pixel art. I liked the level of detail on the design and movement of the enemies. There were also some areas that used multiple layers of parallax scrolling to make for some very cool looking backgrounds. The color pallet in most environments is quite muted, which is not my preferred aesthetic, but it's fitting to the game's tone.
  • Lunais has a variety of weapons and special attacks that can be upgraded and swapped around as the situation requires. While the combat was very simple, customizing her loadout helped keep things feeling fresh.
  • The implementation of time manipulation mechanics ended up being much more minimal than I expected. At certain warp points, you can travel back in time, which brings you to an alternate version of the map. The other time power allows you to temporarily freeze time which is useful for avoiding attacks and using frozen enemies as platforms to reach high ledges. I was hoping that manipulating time would be used for puzzle solving, but that ended up not being the case. For the most part, time travel serves primarily as a plot device.
  • TimeSpinner has a surprisingly detailed story and very rich lore. While the player gets some of this via dialog in cutscenes, much of the material is delivered via letters, journal entries, and other text documents that you find by exploring the world. There are dozens of such documents to collect and each is several pages long. This might be appealing for some players, but for me, this method of world-building did not manage to grab me. The text file approach can work for me in lengthier games where it’s spread out over many hours of gameplay (for example, see my review of Final Fantasy 13), however, in a 9-hour platformer, I’m not looking to spend lots of time reading text in menus. 
  • Despite not reading the lore files, I was still able to follow and appreciate the story reasonably well. The characters felt a little bland, however.
Overall, TimeSpinner is a well-made platformer in the style of Symphony of the Night, whose main point of differentiation, it’s lore, didn’t really click with me. A few years ago, I think this game could have made a pretty big splash, but in 2019’s crowded field of Metroidvania titles, it doesn’t really stand out. For big fans of the genre, I still think playing TimeSpinner is well worth your time; for those just looking to play the crème of the Metroidvania crop, TimeSpinner can probably be skipped.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐
Completion time: 11 hours

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