Time Keeps on Slippin’: Hands-on with Super Time Force

“Super Time Force” has been showcased a number of times since it was first born at a 2011 game jam and subsequently garnered the XBLA Award at the 2012 Independent Games Festival. Most recently, developer Capybara Games revealed that this time-shifting 2D platform shoot ‘em up would be coming to both Xbox 360 and Xbox One. At this week’s ID@Xbox Showcase event at GDC, Capy showed off a near-final version of “Super Time Force,” with multiple playable characters and levels.

First, how about a quick catch-up on the story? In the year 198X, one Dr. Repeatski invents time travel, instantly plunging the world into a chaotic state filled with fire, robot armies, and other assorted bedlam. It’s up to you to guide perhaps the motliest crew of characters in gaming history through different eras to – presumably – undo the mess Dr. Repeatski made. If it wasn’t made clear in our synopsis, this isn’t a game that takes itself too seriously.

On its surface, the gameplay in “Super Time Force” is quite similar to anyone who’s ever played “Contra” or “
Metal Slug 3”: jump with A, shoot with X (hold for a charge/alt-fire mode). Pressing B calls a Time Out, which is where “Super Time Force” drastically diverges from the games it superficially resembles.

Every time one of my characters was killed (which was often!), I rewound to try again, often switching characters to figure out who’d be most effective in the situation. The first level in the 198X era saw me rewind 23 times to make it through (you can watch a replay of your efforts after completing a level, a la “
Super Meat Boy”).

If the Time Out feature sounds like it’d make “Super Time Force” too easy, rest assured that it does not. An ever-present clock ticks down, so you’ll want to rewind not just to survive, but to smooth out your runs and make it through as quickly as possible. Worth noting is the fact that your rewound lives are persistent – so if one of your characters collects a power-up and subsequently dies, you’ll already have it when you resume play. This useful tactic allows players to send characters on suicide missions, with the live character reaping the rewards.

The system really comes together when you start to fight alongside your past selves in boss battles. Against one early boss, I ran out of time before finishing it off. After rewinding, I found myself fighting alongside a past self, allowing me to prevail – but I didn’t have time to complete an escape sequence. Rewinding and replaying repeatedly, I was eventually able to vanquish the boss in about 3 seconds, allowing me time to escape.

If it all sounds crazy – it is, but there’s science backing up the madness. In a GDC talk, Tech Director Kenneth Yueng
explained that Capy drew on Quantum mechanics to make sure that all of the time-shifting craziness feels right. “We had no idea it would be this involved when we first got started,” Yeung told me during the demo. “But we think it makes the game interesting, that nobody’s thought of these things.”

Beyond the ability to bend time, players are likely to find “Super Time Force’s” diverse cast of characters to be “interesting,” to say the least. You’ll unlock new characters as you go on, though it’s likely many will be missed in an initial playthrough. Fortunately, you can replay levels, lest you miss Zackasaurus, a skateboarding dinosaur, the bazooka and big hair-wielding Jef Leppard, or Squirty Harry, who is too disgusting to warrant further description.

Playable eras shown at GDC include the Middle Ages, a dinosaur-filled 1 Million B.C., the distant future, and the 80s and 90s. In what era will “Super Time Force” arrive on Xbox One and Xbox 360? We’ll let you know when a date is announced.