[Review] Timespinner – Nintendo Switch

Written by Akio Kahoshi
  • Developer: Lunar Ray Games
  • Publisher: Chucklefish
  • Release Date: 04/06/2019
  • Price: $19.99 / £14.99
  • Self Provided Code

SPIN ME RIGHT ROUND

Right out of the gate, Timespinner invokes a nostalgia for the 16-bit era. It manages to be both an old school Metroidvania and an RPG and mostly succeeds in balancing the two genres. What makes Timespinner special though is how it implements time travel to both tell a complex story, and how it makes for a more interesting gameplay experience. This is accomplished with the titular Timespinner, a magical device that allows an individual to go back in time at the cost of their existence being erased.

POWERFUL AURAS

The combat system in Timespinners is probably one of the more unique I’ve encountered. The heroine, Lunais, equips two magical orbs that act as her primary attack. Each orb functions differently, offering a variety of gameplay choices from close melee range, to long-distance, to aoe. These orbs can also be used to create necklaces and rings. The necklaces give Lunais a powerful aura attack such as an energy blast or giant sword, while the rings give the orbs extra functionality such as damage on contact or locating breakable walls.

Probably the biggest issue I found was how the orbs leveled up, which discouraged me from switching to a newer, lower level orb. While there are catch up mechanics and higher-level orbs in the late game, I spent most of the game using the same orbs. This is not as critical an issue as it first seems though, as much of Lunais’s strength comes from her level. While I noticed very little difference each time I leveled, returning to previous zones made the power increase extremely noticeable.

In addition to her orbs, Lunais has a familiar that follows her around and attacks autonomously (or controlled via local co-op). There are several familiars hidden throughout the game, each providing slightly different combat potential. These two leveled separately, and again I found myself just using the starter familiar for the entire game. There are catch up mechanics for them as well, but just like the orbs, they come near the end of the game.

Of course, a Metroidvania is not a Metroidvania without bosses, and Timespinner offers quite a few. Generally, they all manage to feel different, with different weaknesses and attack patterns. If a boss is proving too difficult, the player can simply level up more to make up the difference. This is actually one area where the RPG mechanics benefit the game, as I have played Metroidvanias where bosses are unbalanced. Here, the player can make them as easy or hard as they choose simply by leveling up or not.

JUMP THROUGH TIME

At its core, a Metroidvania is about the exploration and platforming. Here Timespinner does a good job. Lunais controls very well, and the game’s use of ledges to climb vertical spaces is a lot more player-friendly than the wall jumps often used in other games. New upgrades are introduced as the game progresses allowing Lunais to reach new areas, but I found the pacing to be a bit off. It felt like the first upgrade took too long to get, and often I would get two upgrades within minutes of each other after a couple of hours of no upgrades.

Time travel is also an important part of the gameplay. It is used in two ways. First, it allows the player to travel to the game’s different times via portals (they also used to fast travel across the decently sized map). Many of the areas are used in both times but still manage to remain distinct. Traveling between times is required at different stages of the game to progress, and even some puzzles are across the time divide. Destroying vines in the past to open a path in the present for example.

Beyond the portals, Lunais also can stop time on a whim for short periods of time. This feature is unfortunately of limited use in combat since enemies become undamageable platforms. Its primary purpose is either to dodge an attack that otherwise would hit or more frequently to solve platforming puzzles. Many of the harder to reach areas in the game require using enemies or their attacks as extra platforms to jump higher, which occasionally could be annoying if you accidentally killed an enemy needed. Thankfully this was rare, and an upgrade received near the end of the game helps players that struggle with these puzzles.

REMEMBER THAT ONE TIME

What sets Timespinner apart from other Medtroidvanias, besides the time mechanics, is its story. The story was surprisingly deep, with a small cast of well-written characters. Each had their own personalities, and reasons for what they did. Seeing how the world changed over the course of time, and how Lunais’s actions affect those changes, kept me engaged as I progressed. That is a good thing because I often had no idea where I was supposed to go.

In addition to the leveling mechanics are very RPG quests. Some acted as a guide to the next place to go, but often the quests were so vague I would spend what felt like forever visiting places I had been before to try and find new paths. The quests themselves honestly were not the most interesting. Most consisted of killing X of an enemy or Y enemy loot drops. Generally, this just meant exiting and reentering the same screen until I completed the quest, especially since there often weren’t enough of an enemy to complete the quest otherwise.

Despite the quests being slightly tedious, the narrative (and reward) payoffs are definitely worth it. Through them, Lunais grows closer to the quest givers. Helping two of the soldiers to start dating, and even growing closer to someone herself. While by no means a romance, love plays an important part in multiple parts of the story, both in the joy of finding it and the pain of loss.

What I found most surprising was that this love not only included traditional couples but was LGBT inclusive. Most importantly, it did so well without the high handed methods often seen. Two women who are married, for example, never are specifically mentioned as being ‘two married women.’ Both characters are introduced as explained as married, and the player discovers they just happen to both be women. It is rare for games like this to handle the issue so well, where it just felt like it was a natural part of the story.

To cap off a well-written story is not one, but several endings. Each of them involves a fight that is basically the same, which was admittedly a slight disappointment, but narratively they are distinct enough to make it worth trying to see them all. There are also items that are only unlocked after beating the game, and a new game plus to add even more replayability.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Despite stumbling in a few places, I really did enjoy Timespinner. The most important aspects of the game, the platforming and combat, are done very well. While not terribly long, fairly typical of Metroidvanias, it offers a nice amount of replayability. Finally, a deep story helps make this a title any fan of the genre should indulge in.

PROS

  • Great controls
  • beautiful 16-bit graphics
  • Engaging story
  • Large and interesting map

Cons

  • RPG mechanics don’t always work
  • Dull quests

Verdict
Timespinner is a fun and engaging Metroidvania that is sure to delight, despite its flaws.
4/5

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