Timelie is the debut puzzle game from Thai developer Urnique Studio, a small indie team that won awards for their initial demo back in 2016. I recently had the chance to briefly test out a demo so I was interested to see how the full release fared. Your player character, a young girl, awakens in a bizarre world and discovers she can move back and forth through time at will. She's forced to make her way through strange "realms.", each of which is divided into individual puzzles, and after completing a realm you unlock a memento that opens up the next realm. It feels a lot like many other indie games, with stripped-down visuals and storytelling. You click where you want to go, manipulate time back and forth with A and D keys, and use the spacebar to activate abilities. In the case of the girl, you have to collect a glowing power up in each puzzle that can be used to rebuild bridges, and for the girl’s cat, it’s a cute little meow used to distract robotic guards. If caught you won’t be killed, per se, but the screen turns a red tint and you have to rewind to fix your movements. Later on, you can destroy the guards as well, but the limited resources (most levels have just one or two power ups) means you can’t simply wipe out the guards and breeze your way through everything. Some puzzles are solved by destroying guards in a specific order, moving through gates and unlocking the right doors at the right times, but mostly you’re defenseless and always trying to hide. There little in the way of storytelling, but the game isn't as concerned with telling a story as it is providing puzzles to solve.
The funnest part of Timelie is easily the “single player cooperative” gameplay that Urnique has developed. After you get a grip on the puzzles and mechanics as a solo player, the game introduces a tabby cat, who you can also play as. You can change between the girl and the cat at will, preparing their movements and timing things just right. For example, you can use the cat to open a door with a pressure pad while the girl grabs a power up, rebuilding a bridge to escape the level. Whoever you’re not controlling will do whatever you last told them to, leading to a very enjoyable act of rapid-fire switching between characters. It’s delightfully smooth and easy to grasp, and the rewinding mechanics are fairly forgiving. It’s fun to save your companion by timing your meows just right (a strange sentence if ever I heard it) and I grew quite fond of the relationship between the two. Who wouldn’t? It’s a cute little kitty. The gameplay reminds me of the cooperative campaign from Portal 2, if a little more high stakes — the two characters care for each other quite a lot, and Urnique did a surprisingly good job making me feel for them in a short amount of time.
The puzzles I ran through in the demo have been slightly tweaked, margins of error are a little wider, the enemy AI isn’t so quick, or their paths have been changed. It’s a welcome change, bringing difficulty down from frustrating to satisfying. A handful are still very reliant on getting your timing just right, and I sometimes felt less like I had solved a puzzle as much as brute-forced my way through it. Once you solve each puzzle, the game plays your successful run back to you. It’s a neat touch the first few times, but eventually I was skipping it so I wouldn’t have to watch myself run around the level again.
There’s a distinctly eerie sense to Timelie, helped along by the dark visuals and a foreboding soundtrack. Only yourself and your cat stand out as bright colours in this otherwise muted world. It took me a while to realise that I was actually quite on edge while playing. The guards are terrifyingly quick and punish mistakes fiercely, and never once did I feel like I had the upper hand. Even after gaining the ability to destroy guards, I was always rewinding to minimise the chances of coming into contact with them. That constant rewinding ends up tiring and frustrating if you spend too long on one puzzle. Later in the game, the girl and the cat are split up and forced to solve puzzles alone, many of which are stunningly difficult. There are no hints, no optional solutions, not even a tooltip that might offer you a direction to go in.
The demo I played a few weeks ago was prone to serious crashes, but Urnique assured me that these were caused by issues between the Unity engine and AMD graphics cards (Timelie was demoed and reviewed on a Radeon RX 580). Unity has since patched those issues, and I only had one crash during review, compared to a dozen or so during the demo. Nonetheless, it’s something to note for AMD users. The weirdest thing about Timelie is that it’s on PC. Timelie feels like a mobile game in a lot of ways given its bite-sized puzzles, minimal storytelling, and development on mobile-friendly Unity. The controls are like a slider in a music player on your phone, and I can’t help but feel like Timelie would be an excellent experience to port to mobile devices.
All in all, though, Timelie is a good time. The mechanics are polished and easy to learn, but it’s hard enough to play that I never felt like I always had the upper hand. That’s a tough balancing act, especially for a debut, but Urnique Studio has managed to make it look effortless.
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