Let’s get this out of the way immediately: Timespinner bears a striking resemblance to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The level layout, the tight controls, the map… it all feels incredibly familiar. It’s a comparison that flatters Timespinner, but that isn’t to say that Lunar Ray Games’ four-year endeavour to bring its game to market hasn’t proven worthwhile. This is a Metroidvania game by way of Chrono Trigger, where our protagonist Lunais — a Time Messenger — is sent back in time to prevent her family and her people from being wiped out by an evil emperor.
To do so, she wields a couple of floating orbs which can be hammered in the direction of foes. Exploration yields further orbs of differing attack types — blade, fire, and so on — and each orb levels up with use, alongside Lunais herself. There are eighty enemies to battle across the various 2D landscapes, though a number of these are just reskinned versions in the past and present. They each have their own attack patterns which is impressive given the size of the menagerie, but Lunais’ abilities aren’t limited to just hurling balls at them. A special charged attack is granted by equipping various artefacts you come across, be it a massive sword which can smash down on multiple enemies or swirling bolts of energy that can be unleashed across the screen.
Additionally — and crucial to your progression across the hundreds of screens making up the realm — Lunais has the ability to stop time. Not only does this allow her to freeze enemies in place and get behind them to attack them, it also allows her to turn them into stepping stones, using their petrified bodies as a makeshift bridge to vault across a chasm or up an otherwise inaccessible shaft. Early on, this ability is required so scarcely that you’ll likely forget you even have it. That is, until you find yourself completely stuck and realise you need to freeze a bat in position so you can grab an out-of-reach ledge. In the later stages it becomes a necessity when reams of knights, mallet-wielding giants, technomages and snipers with lasers roam vast corridors, just lining up to kill you.
The game’s difficulty hits peaks and troughs unevenly throughout, the middle portion feeling particularly bereft of challenge before you hit the final third. It isn’t unenjoyable though, and the controls are responsive enough to make you feel fully to blame for the majority of missed double jumps or mistimed attacks which land you in hot water; if you die, save points are scattered generously throughout so you won’t need to backtrack too much. Airborne Familiars are on hand to aid you on your quest too, whether through attacking enemies or healing you — and whichever flapping friend you choose can be controlled by a second player which is a nice touch.
The game would benefit from significant tightening up, both around the introduction of its interfaces and its sprawling levels. In the first case, aside from a flurry of control explanations many of the menus are left for you to discover. I didn't even notice I was obtaining quests until I completed one. Similarly, much of the stats system is left unexplained. Even by the end I was struggling to understand what impact Will, Luck and Fortitude had on Lunais, or whether I should prioritise one over another. Side quests are included but these are the epitome of grindy fetch or kill quests. They aren’t particularly interesting but they’re also not difficult to achieve as part of your main mission. The characters you meet along the way offer a humanitarian counterpoint to the constantly respawning screens of foes, but again it doesn’t feel like enough is done with them. With the levels, there are plenty of instances where the back and forth between areas and time periods is done over barren land devoid of anything other than basic pixel landscapes. Later passive items help speed things along (literally) but until that point you’ll become very familiar with each area’s quirks. In fairness, the past and present are represented distinctly and even the areas within them are easily recognisable, important given the amount of time you’ll be hitting time portals to fast travel.
Lunais is typical of many blue-haired characters found in SNES RPGs, but she’s likeable enough even if the game’s writing doesn’t fully bring out her personality. Instead, the source of the peril the game puts her in is revealed via memory fragments left by her mother, which slowly builds a picture of Lunais and her clan. Further information about the present day situation is downloaded from terminals, and the oft-trodden story of mankind performing feats outside of the natural order and using the results to take control of the world can feel a little bland at times. It doesn’t help that the time-hopping, different clan names and who slighted whom at which point becomes hellishly tricky to unpick. You may be forgiven for ignoring it and getting on with smashing the heck out of enemies to get to the next boss — these bigger encounters are one of the game’s highlights and the game isn’t stingy with them. Additionally, Timespinner does do its best to push the main story points into the open; a couple of twists later on prove entertaining enough to justify the world building that comes before.
Timespinner may not be the most original Metroidvania title you’ll come across, but with a pulsing and varied retro soundtrack adding an arcade feel to the action as it ramps up significantly towards the end, you’ll be compelled to see it through.
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