Review: Timespinner – a Metroidvania game with heart
Timespinner is easily worth the price of admission.
Timespinner is a game developed by Lunar Ray Games and published by Chucklefish where you play as a woman trying to save everyone she loves from an inevitable cataclysm.
Well, it starts that way, but it turns out there are several things that go horribly wrong. When you have the ability to travel through time, why not try to save it all? Actually, the game has an answer to that, too, but you’re going to have to work for it.
What I expected was a new Metroidvania to sink my teeth into, forever chasing the high of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Super Metroid, the progenitors of the genre. I got that, for sure.
Timespinner is great at what it sets out to do, giving players fluid combat, character customization, exploration, the acquisition of new powers, familiars, equipment, and leveling, all delivered with gorgeous pixel art and crisp animations while set to a delightful soundtrack that oscillates between synthy retrowave and electronic orchestra.
If that’s all you want to know about Timespinner, there you go: It’s great at most of those things and if you like Metroidvania games you should play it. End of review.
What I didn’t expect was the way I could relate to it
The main mechanic that separates Timespinner from other games like it is that, as the Time Messenger trained in both magic and the temporal arts, you can freeze time at will whenever you want. You can use this to defeat enemies more easily, freezing them while you leap out of harm’s way, and you can also use this to solve puzzles, luring enemies into the right spot to freeze them and use them as platforms. It’s all very clever, though admittedly I didn’t use it that often in combat.
Later in the game, you encounter enemies that can debuff you with a status effect called Chaos. See, you can’t freeze time infinitely; you only have a limited sand meter and you have to refill it by breaking torches (an extremely Castlevania mechanic) and defeating enemies. Chaos, however, is like poison but for your time meter. Instead of bleeding out, you bleed time itself.
As someone with diagnosed ADD, wow if that isn’t relatable. See, I think one of the most powerful things games can do is give us an emotional vocabulary that we don’t get in quite the same way from other forms of media. You can watch a thing or read about a thing, but I think it’s fundamentally different to play a thing, to be the one doing the thing and experiencing it through surrogate first-hand.
Here, I was playing a game about fighting bad guys and fixing the timeline when I was suddenly sucker punched by this perfect metaphor for what it feels like to lose focus, to feel the world slipping by, to bleed time.
Timespinner doesn’t just do this sort of thing on accident, either
It’s very clearly made by a team of mindful designers and writers who put an immense amount of care into the details here. The story in Timespinner is perhaps its greatest strength, with the game taking you on a path of justice, but teaching you along the way that maybe not everything is as clear-cut as you thought.
And if you’re going to talk about justice, how can you not include marginalized and non-mainstream populations in your narrative? Minor spoilers, but Lunais, the main character, is both a woman and bi and both are moderately important to the story. There’s at least one trans character! There are multiple gay couples! A few characters are or were poly! And somehow none of this screams tokenism or fetishism.
There’s so much good, wholesome representation in Timespinner that it would be difficult not to find a little bit of yourself in this game, no matter who you are.
Honestly, my only real problems with Timespinner are mechanical, design issues
For instance, you can find a ton of different orbs, your primary weapon type, that all do new and interesting things (like the auto-targeting lightning shown above). This is great! I love options and customization! The orbs do cool things that are fun to use!
The problem is that when you get them they’re either so much more powerful than what you had that it would be pointless not to switch or they’re so much weaker that it would be frustrating to switch and level them up to your current power levels. Beyond that, about half of these seem to just be in random locations throughout the world, easily missable if you aren’t being exceedingly thorough. Their locations don’t feel significant, either; I routinely would run into a new orb and go, “Oh. Huh. That’s random.”
That leads into a bigger problem with exploration, which is that unless you’re Metroid Fusion with extremely well-done travel powers, backtracking is decidedly not great and also kind of tedious. In Timespinner you get a double jump about halfway through the game, a gliding dash about 80% of the way through the game, and an infinitely vertical jump that is, I kid you not, about 99% of the way into the game. These are great if you’re looking for fun in New Game+, but don’t hold out so long on giving me the powers that make exploring the world fun.
My final, related gripe here is that the game’s story is, to me, easily its strongest element
Why is that a problem? Most of the story is hidden in optional pickups just scattered in totally random places throughout the world. You could easily miss the vast majority of them, honestly. Why? Why would you make it so easy to miss the best part of the game?
Overall, I think Timespinner is easily worth the price of admission. I’m irritated by the things it does wrong, but they don’t mar the experience so much that I am at all hesitant to recommend it wholeheartedly.
Play it if you love Metroidvanias and want something new, play it if you long for the Super Nintendo and early PlayStation 2D action games of yore, and play it because you just might see a bit of yourself in it somehow.
Timespinner is available for PlayStation 4, PC, macOS, Nintendo Switch, and PS Vita.
Jake reviewed Timespinner with a copy he purchased with his own money. He’s friends with several folks from the development team and publishing studio and talked to literally none of them about the contents of this review.
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