By Josh Speer / November 2nd, 2018
|Developer||Lunar Ray Games|
|Release Date||September 25th, 2018|
|Platform||PC, PS4, Vita|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone – Fantasy Violence, Sexual Themes, Mild Language|
Editor’s Note: The author backed this project for $20
Ever since Symphony of the Night lit a fire under my ass, I’ve been a huge fan of the Metroidvania genre. For years I could sate my craving with several of the portable Castlevania games, but then those dried up. Since then, I have devoted a lot of time to searching for any up and coming Metroidvanias that reared their heads. So when I saw a Kickstarter inspired by such games called Timespinner, which featured a time travel hook, I had to back it. Since then I’ve patiently awaited a release date after it was successfully funded in 2014, and as of this September a release date was finally announced. Which always brings fans to a critical juncture – was the end result worth the wait for the project? I aim to answer that question today for Timespinner.
The story starts as Lunais is undergoing a ritual to become the Messenger for her clan. It’s a very special group of people who use an ancient artifact called the Timespinner to travel through time, with the primary purpose of protecting their clan from harm. As you might expect, the outside world covets the power to control time itself, so Lunais’ clan is constantly altering time via their Messengers to stay safe. The twist is that whenever someone becomes a Messenger, they are essentially erased from history, so they can never truly return to their families. They are still welcomed back by their community at large, however. Things start to go wrong when soldiers arrive to take the Timespinner, and Lunais and her mother move to activate the Timespinner. Events escalate, and Lunais’ mother is murdered trying to protect her daughter from the cruel Emperor. Vowing vengeance, Lunais jumps back in time, violently shattering the ancient artifact in the process.
One of the most unusual and pleasantly surprising elements of the plot is that Lunais is not your average hero. In fact, I would question whether she’s technically a hero at all. If anything, she’s a time travelling vigilante, dead set on murdering the man who killed her mother, and to hell with the consequences to the continuity of the timeline. That might sound bad, but it’s very easy to sympathize with her. After all, not only did she lose her mother, she also was erased from history, and thus is a wandering traveler bereft of friends or family. At least, that’s how she is at first. But as the story progresses, Lunais finds ways to travel between the past and the present, and in so doing comes across allies whose trust she can earn. You’re given the option to help these people by doing a variety of side quests, ranging from item fetch quests to escort missions to much more exotic tasks.
Another unique aspect of Timespinner’s plot, and one that was well implemented, was the topic of gender. While Lunais’ gender is not really explored in her quest, the gender of those you help are put directly into the spotlight. There’s a pattern that many who you help are homosexual in the game, but rather than forcing the issue in a way that’s offensive and divisive, it’s done rather tactfully here. You don’t have to care about their gender, but it’s there in such a way that it won’t distract you, only inform their personalities. Hell, there’s even a duo of a dastardly succubus and incubus in the game, and they are ready for loving no matter who their caller is. Outside of this, there’s also a lot to like about the plot. While aspects of the story can be hard to follow at times, the lore of the planet Corandar is thoroughly explored, from the mysterious Bleakness which afflicts non-magical people to the divisive War of the Sisters to the tyrannical rule of Emperor Nuvius. Some of the recurring themes are the dangers of magic and technology, and how those intermingle in the game itself. There’s a lot to enjoy in the various journal entries, downloadable tablets and memories you find in the game, and it all does a great job of painting the world of Timespinner in a way that makes it stand out from other Metroidvanias.
None of this would matter if the gameplay wasn’t fun, but thankfully Timespinner delivers on that front as well. You can tell early on that this was developed by a fan who knows what it takes to make a worthy Metroidvania. It’s very streamlined and easy to get into, but a bit trickier to master. Though the world of the game isn’t enormous, it’s large enough to get lost in, especially when you alternate between different environments in the past and present. I generally didn’t get too lost as I played, though there were a couple of times I was at wits end about how to progress. Both times involved somewhat obvious yet well hidden clues. Once I was trapped by stone-like tree roots in the present, and didn’t realize I had to travel to the same area in the past in order to burn them. Another time, I needed a keycard to proceed past locked gates, and totally missed the glimmering blink on a skeleton that held the item to it’s chest. Other than these, I mostly got through the game at a reasonable clip, managing to beat it in 7 hours.
Besides the exploration, I need to spend some time talking about the combat in Timespinner. Though I’m sure you can play the game with mouse and keyboard, the best way to play on PC is with an XBox controller. The way Lunais fights is with various Orbs she can equip to either hand. There’s a wide variety, from up close and personal attacks to long distance and slower, more powerful Orb attacks. Once equipped, you can attack using the X button. Pressing it once fires your first Orb, and pressing it again fires your second. I generally equipped the same Orb on both hands, since that let me attack twice in a row in quick succession, or as I like to call it, machine-gunning attacks. You do have the option to equip two different Orbs at once, but I found this negatively impacted the rhythm of attacking, besides finding that there are apparently no benefits to mixing and matching. Besides her Orb attacks, Lunais can also utilize equipped necklaces to unleash powerful spell attacks. These require a bit of charging, and once charged, can be unleashed. The spells range a wide gamut, from field clearing colossal blades to raging infernos and much more. The only catch is each spell uses a bit of your magic meter, and once depleted you have to wait, as it refills pretty slowly. Jumping is handled with the A (and yes, you eventually get a double jump), and the LB is used to backdash, while RB is eventually used to dash forwards. Especially cool is that Lunais can use a fragment of the Timespinner itself, the Wheel, to temporarily freeze time! While time is stopped, you can jump on enemies like platforms, which is actually used many times to progress through the game. To keep this mechanic from being overpowered, you can’t harm enemies at all while they’re frozen. Additionally, the longer you have time frozen, the more grains of sand fall from your hourglass, and once it’s empty, you have to destroy enemies to refill it once more. It’s a smart system, and much like the rest of the game, feels well balanced. Finally, you will eventually find a relic that allows you to switch between up to 3 sets of Orbs using the LT and RT buttons, which makes combat even more dynamic.
Further adding to the variety of combat, you can also equip a variety of stat changing armors, as well as spell necklaces. You can even craft enchanted rings that can truly change things up, providing benefits such as increased damage for consecutive hits or blades which rotate around your equipped Orbs. On top of all this, you can also gather food to heal yourself, as well as removing dangerous status ailments. By far the worst in the game is the Chaos ailment, which makes your time controlling sand drain at a precipitous rate. And finally, you will find many relics that will provide new abilities, as well as items that increase your maximum health and sand. All of these elements provide a lot of reason to keep exploring the world of Timespinner, as well as allowing the player to progress at their own speed.
All that’s good and well, but it wouldn’t much matter if the combat wasn’t fun. Thankfully, as you may have surmised, the combat in Timespinner is great. It’s fluid and challenging, and the variety of monsters keeps you on your toes. That goes double for the massive boss fights, which are all very entertaining as well as being distinct from each other. Best of all, Timespinner avoids the trap many Metroidvanias fall into, which is emulating SOTN so much that many of the bosses and foes come across as rehash. Not so here. The bosses all have a lot of flair, and my favorites were those which verged on the truly demonic side, such as the powerful Golden Idol, the unholy Maw of Asmodeus, or perhaps best of all, the hideous avian corpse, Xarion. While it’s true I got through most of the fights without dying once, there’s still enough challenge to keep you from getting complacent, and there are at least a handful of truly challenging boss fights that I died against multiple times.
It wouldn’t be fair not to touch on the visual style of the game, which would be right at home on the SNES or the PS1 or PS2. The sprites in the game are all bursting with life, especially the 2D portraits used for conversations. I especially found myself admiring the art for the various creatures in the game, which start out comical and get more and more creepy as it progresses. The crawling Flesh Arachnids are a standout, though I also enjoyed the wide array of avian Cheveur species. On the musical front, there’s a strong somber note that pervades the game, which is fitting considering the backstory for our heroine, Lunais. Each area in the game is given life by a beautiful soundtrack, and they range the gamut from energetic to eerie. Put together, the visual elements of the game do a great job of giving nuance to a beautiful yet bleak world.
While it’s true so far I’ve only had glowing praise for Timespinner, I do need to mention some small complaints. While it’s true this is a well made Metroidvania by someone who knows how to do them justice, there are some issues. One is that, despite traveling back and forth between maps in two different timelines, the game is relatively short. I only took 7 hours because I got lost for a couple of them. You could easily beat Timespinner on Normal in around 4-5 hours. That’s short, even for this genre, where most of them take 8-12 hours. Another issue is that, while you have a ton of customization options for combat, many of them feel irrelevant. Leveling up your Orbs doesn’t seem to increase their attack power very much, and leveling up Lunais herself only really seems to boost her health and sand meters. Furthermore, many of the slower Orbs just feel irrelevant when you can equip rapid fire ones for attacking. While it’s true you can reference the bestiary for the weaknesses of enemies, it’s easier just to go with speed and power and not worry overmuch about specific foes. Other than these, though, I had no major complaints.
Though I only spent 7 hours with Timespinner, there are features to keep players coming back for more. One is that there are 4 different endings in the game. Towards the climax you can make a choice, and depending on it, you will unlock different paths towards the final battle. The catch is that doing so locks you out of the other choices in the same save file, which provides good incentive to try out the New Game+. Another reason to keep playing is that there’s a super dungeon called the Temporal Gyre. It’s totally optional to tackle, but after beating the game once, I am very tempted to play again. If you truly want to challenge yourself, there’s also the unlockable Nightmare Mode, which is sure to make those less difficult boss fights much more of a struggle. This is one of those Metroidvanias that does many things right, and it inspired me enough that I’ll keep on playing til I get 100%. I really want to get all those achievements as well, since after beating it I only had about half of them. Overall, I was quite pleased with Timespinner. It’s hard to go wrong for $19.99, especially if you’re a fan of the genre. It wasn’t perfect, but it satisfied this longtime Metroidvania fan. I find myself eagerly looking forward to what else Lunar Ray Games has up their sleeves with future projects.
Author Received Review Copy for Backing the Project
ChucklefishLunar Ray GamesoprainfallPCPS4ReviewTimespinnerVita