Time travel is a tricky business. I’m not talking from the perspective of someone actually trying to travel through time; I imagine that process to be much simpler. Find a special atom, do some stuff to it and hey presto, you’re HG Wells. No no no, when I say that time travel is a tricky business, I mean from a creative point of view.
Telling a time travel story is always such a colossal risk for a writer. No matter how good your story is, you’ll always have some smartass group of contrarians who say things like, “But why weren’t they erased when they changed that?”, “But this thing wouldn’t exist anymore” or “The science just doesn’t work lol” according to these highbrow critics. It’s in this instance that I commend the developers of Timespinner, which has just been ported onto the Nintendo Switch. Not only have they successfully crafted a wonderful story and a cultivated a cast of memorable characters, but they’ve also managed to pack it all into a package that is incredibly engaging.
Timespinner is a Metroidvania, kind of like every other game released on the Switch lately. I don’t mean that as a slight as the genre is just incredibly popular right now, largely because there are so many bad takes on the formula that people are desperate for one that’s actually good. Timespinner sets itself apart from the competition by placing time travel at the centre of its design, simultaneously offering players one large interconnected map that can be explored in both the past and present.
Each time zone features unique enemies, obstacles and items to discover. Developers Lunar Ray Games should be commended for their use of space, essentially doubling the size of the game whilst only theoretically using a single map layout. The worlds are unique and self-contained, each having distinct visual tones and audio cues to reinforce that although you’re in the same place everything is profoundly different.
It’s just a pity that the main hook of time travel isn’t utilised to the full extent that it could have been. It’s rare that one can say this, but it almost feels like Timespinner is game that was written before it was designed. Changing aspects of the past to affect the future only serves story beats rather than creating tangible mechanical differences. Which is fine, I get that. Yet it seems like a waste to have these two separate timelines to jog around in and only utilise them for the sake of the narrative rather than the gameplay. Less of a flaw and more of missed opportunity in my mind.
Other than that, Timespinner plays like a fairly standard platform Metroidvania featuring abilities that allow for progression, sections that involve precise jumping and combat that will have you watching out for telegraphed attacks, evading and zoning back in for damage. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s nothing special. That being said it is still a very fun Metroidvania to play, something that can’t be said for a lot of other titles in the same category.
Spells and weapons all feel unique and will have you experimenting with different combinations to find something that really fits your playstyle. Three separate gear slots also mean that you switch styles with a click of a button, which means that adapting to a new enemy or boss is never overly difficult. I would have liked to have seen some unique traversal abilities that really make use of time as a central theme instead of the now quite generic double jump and dash to name but a couple of tropes.
The story is where Timespinner truly shines. A great deal of attention was placed on the cast of characters in the game as well as the overall world building. Lachiem is littered with detailed information on the world’s history, everything from letters of correspondence between warring royalties to memories of a long since passed family member. The Timespinner team have poured themselves into this narrative and I adore it when I can feel the love someone has put into making a game.
There are so many cheap bucks in this industry that it really does make me smile when someone comes along and shows how passionate they are about their work. Also, Im going to put my SJW hat on here and say how fantastically inclusive Timespinner is with its characters. Never forced or tokenised, the representation of different sexual and gender identities is both refreshing and handled very well, bar one particular camp fire scene that felt more like a textbook than a conversation. Again, it’s not often one can praise a game for doing their LGBTQ+ characters justice, but Timespinner excels on this front.
And I think that’s why I really enjoyed Timespinner. Not just the representation, but the love present within it. Lunar Ray clearly has a soft spot in their hearts for good ol’ fashioned Metroidvanias, the ones you would have played on a Gameboy back in the days of the ’90s or early 2000s. It’ would have been so easy to throw together a cheap 16-bit clone of any number of explorative games and ride the nostalgia wave many are currently experiencing.
But the crew around Timespinner wanted to make something special, they wanted to not just cash in on the search for the next great Metroidvania but to rather pay respect to those games of a past era. I want to say that it does struggle with a bit of a short length, but even then that’s just because I was enjoying the time I spent with it so much; any more would have felt like padding especially due to some light pacing issues. I just finished it this afternoon, unlocked New Game+ and I’ll admit I’m tempted to just keep playing, despite there being more games that need reviewing. Timespinner just feels like a warm hug.
I think sometimes a warm hug is just enough.
Timespinner is a wonderfully accessible and inclusive Metroidvania that does justice to the genre despite some missed opportunities and brief run time. – 8.0
Last Updated: June 28, 2019