Super Time Force

A game by Capy Games for PC, Xbox 360, and Xbox One, originally released in 2014.
Super Time Force is a run-and-gun actioner with a strategic twist, centering on a time travel mechanic that allows players to reverse time at will – even after death – to play through segments of a level with one or more versions of their past selves carrying out their previous actions. Ultimately, the player may have dozens of copies of himself running around the stages, taking on bosses, and even creating the occasional time paradox as he rescues a past self from his own death. Such is the zany nature of Super Time Force, and it has a cracked narrative match.

Super Time Force was originally to be titled Super T.I.M.E. Force, although the acronym still remains in the final game as Super Temporal Infinite Manipulation Expert Force. The game begins in Philadelphia in 1987 with an eye patch-wearing scientist who has discovered time travel. Immediately upon realizing this great discovery, the world is destroyed by a robot army, and Philadelphia of the USA becomes the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Cincindelphia of the USSA in the year 198X.

Seeing what has become of the world, the scientist decides to use his newly-discovered theorem to set things right, only to be interrupted by his future self, a military commander covered in medals, and wearing two eye patches. From here, a kooky dialogue exchange occurs, setting up the humor for the rest of the game, whereupon the commander attempts to correct the mistakes of the past by sending his team out to shoot everything in sight. At no point does this game take itself at all seriously, except perhaps in the gameplay department, and even that is pretty unconventional.

Players start out in a tutorial, themed as a combat simulator with Commander Repeatski leading each of the three initial characters through the paces and explaining the nuances of time travel-based combat. The first character is the machine gun-toting Jean Rambois, who is not the only character in the game to carry a name similar to that of a popular action movie hero. Jean’s weapon is a machine gun that fires bullets with each pull of the trigger, with a charged shot that allows for a continuous spray of 3-way fire for a few seconds.

Next up is Aimy McKillin who has a bounce shot, as well as a charged sniper rifle shot that penetrates walls and pushes her back a bit when fired. Her narrow special attack is harder to use, but it’s vital for taking out entrenched enemies at a distance.

Lastly, there is Shieldy Blockerson who is primarily in place as a defensive character, although he can also smash enemies with his shield for some up-close action. Shieldy can hold up his shield to block projectiles and deflect enemy bullets back at them, and his charged shot allows him to drop a ring of protection that absorbs all incoming fire until it disappears after a few seconds. This character isn’t incredibly useful on his own, but he comes in quite handy when used in conjunction with the time travel mechanic, as he can block projectiles from hitting offense-based characters in future alternate timelines.

As you play, you will unlock new playable characters, each of whom has a primary rapid fire and secondary charged attack, although their core abilities are the same… Each character has a high 3x variable jump, 8-way directional aim, and the ability to lock their aim in a given direction and move independently. Unlockable characters are encountered during the course of your adventures and must be saved from some sort of imminent danger before they can be added to your forces. Other characters are unlocked as you collect a certain percentage of in-game items (more on these in a bit).

Some of the zanier unlockable characters include a skateboard riding dinosaur with a spitting attack, Dolphin Lundgren the machine gunning dolphin, a piece of poo named Squirty Harry that can shoot its own fart clouds to create huge explosions, and a fellow that uses a light saber for melee attacks and tosses it for heavy damage. There are more than a dozen characters in all, and their primary and secondary attacks make them each play quite differently.

At the start of each level – which begins with your drop ship crushing some hapless citizen of the time into a bloody spray of pixels – you may select any of the available characters and take off running to the right, blasting away at everything you see, just as in your typical shooter. However, despite the retro aesthetics and 1-hit kills, the game is not meant to be played like a typical shooter… especially since each level must be completed in 60 seconds.

Sure, there are some time boosts lying about that add a few extra seconds to the clock, but this still doesn’t leave enough time to play levels carefully or sit patiently behind cover waiting for the for the perfect opportunity to strike. If you play this way, you’ll find the timer running down before you reach the end of the level where no amount of time manipulation can save you. Instead, you need to run and blast almost constantly.

In each level, the player is offered 30 attempts to reverse time, with the opportunity to grab a few extra time reversals during the level. This essentially amounts to a stockpile of 30 lives, on top of which is added the foreknowledge gained from running through the level on previous attempts. You may initiate a time reversal whenever you like, and time reverses automatically whenever you are killed. From there, you may reverse time as far back as you like, even replaying the entire level from the beginning, or just hopping in a few seconds before your last death.

When time resumes, so too do all of your previous actions. This means that you can double (or triple, or quadruple, etc.) your firepower against a tough enemy, correct a previous misstep, or even save your past self from taking a bullet by shooting down an enemy before he has the chance to kill you… er, him… or whatever. It’s also important to note that charging your secondary attack slows your movement speed, so you can actually rewind time and catch up with your former self by laying off the trigger for a while, making it easier to save your own past life.

If you do manage to alter time and save a past version of yourself, you can run over to your previous self, which then acts as a pickup, allowing you combine both characters’ charge attacks and unleash them simultaneously. This means you could have a double spread gun, or even a spread gun sniper combo, or any other wild combination given the wide range of available characters and abilities. Grabbing a past self also allows you to take one extra hit of damage without being killed, although you will also lose the second character’s charge shot in the bargain.

While it is possible to play levels straight through with a single character, this is not the case with boss encounters, as it simply isn’t possible to do enough damage to a boss to kill it before the timer runs down. In addition, the time travel mechanic requires you to use different strategies than you would in a typical boss fight. Boss battles are multi-phase affairs, and their attack patterns change as they take damage. So, if you simply chase the boss around the screen while shooting at it, and then reverse time to do it again, you will eventually cause enough damage for the boss to enter its next phase, thus altering is movement pattern. This means that the past version of yourself is probably running around like a madman spewing bullets into the sky and not causing any additional damage.

This is where the strategic element comes into play. Rather than chasing the boss down, it’s a good idea to set yourself up for future success by placing your various selves in the most effective locations. For instance, you may use Shieldy to stand on a platform and do nothing but block projectiles until the timer runs down, then reverse time and put Jean behind him with a 3-way spread, delivering his sweet soft spray of buttery bullet batter into the face of whatever mechanical monstrosity stands before you. Other effective strategies include flanking airborne bosses with characters who can deliver a wide spray of damage, or using someone like Jef Leppard to toss continuous volleys of bouncing bombs for ground-based foes.

While time travel shootery is interesting as a basic mechanic, in practice it means that the same strategy is used to fight all of the bosses in the game, thus removing some of the nuance from these encounters, and making 30- to 60-second boss fights last several minutes. Completing the game unlocks Super Hardcore Mode, which adds an additional constraint by only allowing you to use each of the Super Time Force members once – unless you manage to save them from their own deaths – thus requiring a bit more strategy than the basic "shoot, reverse time, shoot more" pattern that tends to emerge during most of the game’s boss encounters.

Once you complete your mission in the year 198X, you are free to select from any of the remaining time periods and play them in any order, with a center level locked Mega Man-style until you have completed all of the levels around it. In all, there are six time periods, ranging from 198X to 199X, to 1,000,000 BC, medieval times, and the future, each with appropriate time-specific challenges, such as fighting armored knights, dinosaurs, and Atlantean poop monsters, along with a healthy mix of robot invaders from the future. The robot army is led by Dr. Infinity, who suggests that the wrongs that the Super Time Force is righting are actually rights that they are wronging, and that he is attempting to re-right the wronged rights that were right in the first place… at least that’s the gist time travelly silliness at the core of the narrative.

There are several floating pickups spread through each of the environments. First off, Clox add a few extra seconds to the ever dwindling level timer. Glorbs are shiny yellow things that grant you an extra time reversal, and there are ten in each level. A few of them are just floating around, but many of them are gained by destroying certain enemies or objects in the environment, as denoted by sparkles rising up from them. Destroying one of these bedazzled things will send a yellow shard flying through the air, and if you don’t manage to grab it before it hits the ground, it shatters and disappears. Of course, you can use your time manipulation abilities to position yourself in the shard’s landing spot, but some of them launch forward by quite a distance, making it difficult to collect them all if you’re not aware of where they’ll end up. As such, you may wish to return to previously completed levels for Glorb-specific runs, as collecting all of the Gorbs in each level will allow you to unlock some new characters.

Lastly, there are a few floating shards that only become visible once you have reversed time. These floating pink things may be touched or shot to slow down time for a few seconds, allowing you to charge forward and blast away at your enemies, often before they have a chance to get off a shot. Interestingly, it’s also possible to reverse time and shoot these shards before your past self shoots them, allowing you to use the powerup more than once. There are three of these in each level, and collecting all of them also allows you to unlock new characters.

Once you complete a level, you are awarded medals for completing various challenges, such as collecting all of the shards, and then a level replay is shown. Since time travel is involved, the replays are a bit strange, showing all of your actions playing out as they would have appeared within the context of a linear timeline. You’ll watch yourself run through levels, split into multiple characters, and grab time-slowing powerups that make you appear to move very quickly, even though your original perspective was of you moving at normal speed with everything else slowed down.

In addition to the general mayhem that the time travel mechanic allows for, there are several gameplay altering challenges, such as levels featuring jetpacks where you must finesse the thruster to fly and shoot simultaneously… or just fly and bash through things with Shieldy. There are also more constrained time-based challenges, such as attempting to outrun a rising wall of fire while taking down enemies, and then using time travel as a shortcut to pass through openings and access ladders that are being activated by your past self.

Super Time Force was developed by Capy Games based in Toronto, Ontario in Canada. Their former credits include the highly atmospheric adventure Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, with a phenomenal soundtrack by Jim Guthrie (also known for the soundtrack to Indie Game: The Movie), as well as Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes and Critter Crunch. Concurrent with the development of Super Time Force, the studio worked on the development of Below. The game was published by Microsoft.