Played on Windows
Also Available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, macOS, and Linux.
Disclosure at the end of the review (Kickstarter).
Four years ago, I saw a game named Timespinner that promised to deliver a Metroidvania style in the same vein as Mega man X and Castlevania. While they didn’t say that, I read this as a successor to Symphony of the Night. Being a young(er) naive man, I backed the game without much thought because “I like Metroidvanias”. It also was going to be out in November 2015, so it’ll be a quick turn around. Yeah… I don’t back Kickstarters anymore for a lot of reasons, but let’s see if Timespinner lived up to its promises.
I won’t go into Kickstarter or why I don’t do Kickstarter anymore. That would be worthy of a full article about that. Two reasons are important though, that games tend to dive into development hell quickly on Kickstarter, and tend to not be as good. One only needs to look to Yooka-Layle and Mighty Number 9 to see two games that I wish I didn’t back.
Timespinner, well, I never felt sorry I backed it, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I may have. There’s a lot of red flags on this game. The developer, Lunar Ray Games, only asked for fifty thousand dollars, which is frighteningly low, and getting only a little under two hundred thousand dollars probably means they didn’t have a ton of money on this game. Promising a game in a year, and ending up taking closer to four is an indicator of a long, and potentially troubled development. The promise of reaching the heights of Symphony of the Night or even just Mega Man X is also a huge goal that I think most developers would miss.
I received an early access key due to backing it at a certain level and honestly… I didn’t realize it. In fact, I forget how I heard the game had come out but the game came out on September 25th and around then I picked it up and tried it out. I had just finished Dragon Quest XI and I wanted something more active. I definitely got that.
The game starts with a relatively long opening scene where the main character, Lunaris talks to people about a major birthday for her. She’s bullied by a character and talks to her friend. This is the opening and the first thing I thought as I saw it was “Wow this looks like a Super Nintendo game”. I don’t mean that as a negative but much of this reminded me of games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, and similar games. There are also character portraits next to the dialogue and that looked great. The style was similar to Monkey’s Island from the same time frame, however, the graphical quality here is much nicer, and it’s a nice addition to the game.
The game starts out slow, but you quickly get into the adventure.
The graphics of the game also look like they could have come from the SNES generation. The character model is clean and a well-designed sprite-based character and every monster look like it came from a similar art style. I almost expected a Mode 7 designed boss at some point or some other visual trickery, and the fact is the game avoids that. I talked a lot in the Hyper Light Drifter about the failing of their graphics when they tried to pay homage to the 16-bit era, and I still stand by that. However, I feel that Timespinner nailed that homage perfectly and it looks great doing it. The difference is that I can fool myself into believing this game did come out on SNES, and while there definitely are very small pieces that wouldn’t work there, the majority of the game does look like it belongs on that platform.
The story in Timespinner starts strong. The opening 5-10 minutes has you talking to a number of people in your village and similar to the graphics, we have the typical SNES story, your village is attacked and you have to escape. Yes it’s a very popular trope but here, you’re a Time Messenger, and that means you were supposed to go back in time to warn your village. However, this goes horribly wrong.
Early on in the game, the rules of Time Travel are set up. You can go back in time, but to avoid a paradox, you are removed from history. This might sound good… no, actually I don’t think I can even say that. I won’t judge Timespinner on this fact but, everything about it is wrong. Assume you take a woman, who gave birth to a baby, then goes back in time. She’s erased from history, however, her actions appear not to be, her baby, husband, family all exist as they always were, she’s just removed from time. It’s just a really bad rule of the time travel in this game, and it plays this straight.
The good news is while the rule is mentioned in a couple of notes in the game, it’s not at the core of the game for the most part. It’s a dumb little excuse for why time travel in the game isn’t full of paradoxes. But it doesn’t stand up. An interesting thought but falls apart rather quickly.
Still, I won’t judge it heavily based on that, and I’ll even accept the notion of it, but many logs in the game talk about different Time Messengers and while none show the folly of the idea, they hint around at it. Once you’re past that initial ten minutes or so, the logs are going to be a major part of your story. There is more story, as you meet people and assist them, but while they tell about their experiences, they mostly deal with their own stories. Lunaris has her own and has to make her own decision over time, but much of that is information dumps around bosses.
Much of the character motivation is explained in data logs.
Some bosses will talk to Lunaris and that’s where most of the main story comes from. Itwould be difficult to grow this story to a better level without becoming more annoying to the gamer since Lunaris spends much of her time on her own,. The amount of story was just right and there are quite a few good moments as well.
On the other hand, I do have to call out a little problem that hangs between the story and the gameplay. While the Story is good, if you put down the game and come back to it forgetting where you are, watch out. There’s nothing in the game that tells you what to do next. While you could look at which areas in the game are searched, or which boss you last defeated or items you have, sometimes the game is a little confusing on what to do next. It’s one of the big issues I have with the game.
There were three points where this happened. The first point I earned a new upgrade that allowed me to dash. I was able to reach a new chest but I couldn’t figure out how to move forward in the game. It turned out the dashing upgrade wasn’t important. However, I believe I ignored a rather obvious door to the next area. That mistake is completely my fault, but I still believe the game could have assisted me, or at least given me an indicator to work towards. Instead, I was forced to wander around a bit. This also happened at the end of the game, and there, it was a little more interesting to try to find the missed location at that point but it’s not a great experience.
There is also a point where the player has to get a keycard, the keycard is placed in front of a door of a different type, but it’s rather hard to find. I had to look up where it was, and the amount of questions about that specific card is numerous. It’s not a deal breaker, but I’d suggest to the devs to maybe give the player a hint on that one or a more obvious clue. It’s clearly something people are missing as there’s a decent amount of forum posts on a number of sites about it.
Finally, there was a point where I had beat a boss, and I wasn’t sure where to go. The game doesn’t make this easy on the player, and in this case, I was supposed to backtrack and go to a specific room that was blocked off before. The problem is there’s no real clue that the room has changed, and the game could have been a little clearer. Many parts of the game have the player wander after beating a boss, but usually, you have an exploration path that leads to the next. Sometimes that path is obscure and sadly that’s the part of the game that makes me feel like I’ve gotten stuck in the mud.
That’s a shame to start the gameplay discussion with because overall the gameplay in Timespinner is amazing. It’s exactly what I wanted and hoped we would get, and over the course of four years, I started to lose my faith. I thought the game might not live up to the idea of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I wondered if any game could do that.
However, as I played Timespinner, I started to realize that while it wasn’t the same game, it was clearly a love letter to that style of gaming. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was a masterpiece, but Timespinner captures much of that magic. In fact, it nails much of the Metroidvania style that I feel many games promise and fail to deliver on. While there is the amazing Hollow Night, I feel that many Metroidvanias are similar to Axiom Verge. Great games, but lacking the RPG elements and focusing more on the exploration.
The good news is Timespinner seems to understand what makes a Metroidvania work and nails the formula. You have a level system, and in fact, a few of them, as the game uses an orb weapon system, and each orb type levels up independently to give you more damage. There’s a collection of items, equipment screens, and even your weapons have a great amount of variety.
This screen just showed me all I needed to know. A lot of information and submenus, but it’s welcoming and comfortable to me.
In fact, the weapon system is based on a magical orb system. The game starts out with a typical orb that flies out, giving almost a quick slash motion. In addition, you are given an item with the ability to cast a spell which sends out a trio of magic bolts.
Before long the game gives you new orb styles and each one allows you a different style of attack. I’m quite enamored with the blade orb, but fire orb, ice orb, plasma(lightning) and many many more exist in this game and they all are worth trying out to find the one you prefer.
Of course with the different types of orbs, I believe there is an idea of resistance and weakness with enemies. At least sometimes my attacks did more or less damage depending on what I was fighting. While this could be interesting, for the most part, I didn’t find a need to mess with it. Almost all the orbs are quite effective and while it might take twice as many hits for a specific enemy, no enemy presents a lot of trouble.
As this is a metroidvania there are also upgrades to your movement. One really nice feature is that all the movement upgrades are equipment agnostic. If you want to dash, double jump, or anything else the game offers, you can.
In addition to movement upgrades, there’s the big piece of the game, the ability to freeze time. I was quite excited when I heard the idea because there was a lot of potential in it. Sadly, after playing the game, I’m not convinced anymore. While you are able to freeze time, you aren’t able to attack during it. The early game does use the feature more than once and allows you to climb on enemies or attack or jump over them, and it’s a nice touch, however… it’s actually not used that often especially after the first couple of hours.
Combat looks good, though overall it’s pretty easy. This is an early but rather weak boss.
Only a couple of bosses make using the time stopping power mandatory, and since the freeze runs out so fast and you can’t attack during it, you’ll end up using it sparingly. It was a major feature touted of the game but in practice… It left me underwhelmed. It’s not a bad feature and I’m sure expert players will use it more, but I didn’t find enough reasons to use it after a few required jumps. It’s a shame because it’s a clever idea, but not well implemented.
Though, I did find myself using the time stoppage power on the bosses, even if they didn’t require it. Almost every boss is pretty interesting and has interesting attack patterns, many will corner you and require you to freeze time to jump over them. Though I did find the challenge of the game lessened as I played. The first boss was a tense battle where I died a few times until I got the hang of the time stoppage. However around the third or fourth boss, I stopped really struggling and by the end of the game, I was flying through the bosses, never requiring more than two attempts.
Part of the reason for this is likely due to the fact that I indulged in the sidequests of the game. There are a few characters you meet as mentioned and they all have minor requests. They seem to ask you to help them in areas you’ve already played through, but they’re mostly small quick tasks (though a few ask you to get randomized drops that take a long time to farm). Through these quests, I ended up killing more enemies than expected and wound up rather powerful. I’m not sure if I was overpowered, understood the mechanics, or the game gets easier but I really didn’t struggle much, and even when I did, I would usually win in two attempts on most bosses.
There is also a great mechanic where the player switches between two time periods. There’s a “present” and “past” map, and you’re required to switch between them quite often. It’s a great idea, but… similar to the time stoppage power, it’s not fully realized. There’s a great part early on when you find roots that are blocking your path. You go to the past burn those roots down and now you have a new area to discover. That’s really well done. But it’s also one of the only times time travel is done interestingly. A puzzle requiring something done in the past wouldn’t be unwelcome, and most of the time, the only real reason to “Time travel’ in the game is that someone in the past asks “In the future do they know X”. So much potential missed out on. Now admittedly it’s 1000 years between the two time periods, but that was a design decision and honestly, it still should have been better.
I feel like I’ve been mixed in this review, and I stand by it. Getting lost was frustrating, and I’m saddened by the lack of use of time travel and time stoppage. Yet, I’ll be honest. I really like Timespinner. I did back the game, but I also expected a lot from it, and what it did deliver was what I was hoping for, a game in the same vein as Symphony of the Night. While that wasn’t explicitly promised, that’s the standard I held up to the game, and surprisingly it delivered.
I spent 11 hours playing through the game, and that’s a good amount of time. Though I did complete the map 100 percent and explored quite a bit. I didn’t dive into the harder difficulties though, and those are a bit brutal, but if you find the game too easy, that’s the perfect place for some real challenge, though they are only available after you beat the game.
If you’re looking for a great metroidvania, Timespinner is it. It doesn’t have the highest difficult (for the initial playthrough) nor does it have the strongest story, but it does contain a special something that kept me wanting to move on and see what comes next. There are flaws, but they don’t get in the way of a really enjoyable game.
I’m giving Timespinner a
That’s a strong recommendation. While I know Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is coming soon and might knock this game down a bit, Timespinner is a fantastic experience, and anyone who enjoyed the Castlevania series (The Metroidvania ones, of course) before it’s untimely end should enjoy this.
Final Thoughts: An homage to Metroidvania’s and an excellent example of the genre. While it’s been four years since it’s kickstarter, the final product lived up to the promises and is well worth checking out.
Disclosure: I backed this game on Kickstarter four years ago. This did not affect the review or my score, however some people do feel this is important and so I mention it here and in the review.
Stats: 11.4 hours 29/37 achievements earned