Metroidvania is a genre that many Indie developers try to jump in to. From an execution standpoint, there are titles across the quality spectrum. I'd say many are decent or at least passable (and this might be my own bias towards the genre showing). But over the last year specifically, I found myself engrossed by one - Hollow Knight (so much so I wrote a glowing review for it on site). With that completed though, I decided to jump on a recent Game Pass (PC) addition, Timespinner.
Timespinner is very reminiscent of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The menus and layout of the screen clearly presents the game in that way. Graphically it is that vein as well (if not polished to the heights of that generation with modern hardware). The music of the areas also has a great feel to them. Overall, the presentation of the game is spot on for what it's trying to do.
Gameplay-wise, Timespinner is also successful. Across the 7-8 hours it took for me to complete a full playthrough (collecting all of the equipment and achievements possible for a single run), I never had a complaint about the controls or the responsiveness. When it comes to platforming, if a game doesn't feel like it's working, it becomes an instant issue that while you can adapt to it, it never leaves the back of your mind and holds the game back. I can safely say this never happened in Timespinner. The game is very crisp.
So that's the basic overview of the game. Let's get into some specifics.The Metroidvania
So let's start with the genre itself. How is it? I actually found the metroidvania a little lacking. Part of the joy of this genre comes in the abilities you find that open up the map to you. While I enjoy Timespinner, the new abilities fall short. There are a few abilities/items that do the bulk of the work.
- Time Freeze
- Double Jump
- Key Cards/Security Codes
If I compare it to two similar games - Metroid Fusion and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Timespinner has less going on. Metroid Fusion had a lot with Security going on, but that was really just the story. The abilities in that game still came and continually re-contextualized the world around you. Castlevania: SotN had a lot of abilities that gradually opened the map to you as well. This isn't to say the abilities in Timespinner aren't pushed to their breaking point though.
Jumping and Time Freeze are a perfect match. A lot of the game is recognizing how you can use these two elements to reach heights you never thought you could. I think what I did was intended, but it also felt like I had found ways to break the game. Additionally, the game actually gives you the ledge grab ability from the beginning of the game, so your basic movement is a bit more advanced than usual.
There are a couple of other abilities that come in (a dash and a super jump, one that is very reminiscent of SotN's super jump). These are very late game additions though and add little to traversal. What I'm really getting at is that the abilities are really neat, but the map underutilized these abilities and left me wanting more in terms of the exploration.Time Travel
The time mechanics in the game are a cool twist. I found them to do more for the combat and movement rather than the story though (even though I barely used it in combat). There are a few moments in the story where your actions have noticeable changes in the game, but not much beyond that. You'd defeat a boss or find new equipment to change your movement elsewhere, but not much else.
I can say that those few moments led me to believe the time mechanics weren't really part of the game. Towards the end, I found myself unable to access a couple of areas of the map. While completely stumped, I decided to look for a solution to the conundrum. Turns out, this was one a couple times where you would specifically need to use the time travel. It sounds obvious in retrospect, but I never felt the game had pushed me to that thought pattern.Difficulty/Achievements
I found Timespinner easy. This isn't to say it definitely is, just that the game is a lot more beginner friendly (especially having recently completed Hollow Knight). I sometimes bought supplies of healing items, but I never found myself really utilizing all the systems to grow. I focused on using a very small subset of the equipment options and frequently skipped buying new equipment (even forgetting to equip some better items I found along the way
I have recently started a Nightmare run under New Game + (all my stats and equipment carried over) and the enemies hit like a truck now. We'll see if it becomes a problem as I go, but the start had been a lot easier just due my weapons melting the early enemies before they could really do much damage. I took more hits due to impatience than the enemies really having an opportunity to mess with me.
The achievements will require two playthroughs. Your first (Normal difficulty) can get all but 3 of the achievements (for some it will be 4, but that's not a problem). You'll need that second playthrough because of the 4 endings of the story, where I would recommend doing the Nightmare difficulty playthrough. 3 of the endings can be earned in a single playthrough, but the 3rd and 4th endings are an either or that locks out the other due to save points that occur right after this.Story
I went into Timespinner not expecting much here. I figured there would be a lot of the typical story beats given how things were coming along. You've played games in these genres, and you know roughly where it's going to go before it happens. Late game plot twists or story reveals were somewhat expected. This isn't bad per se, just not necessarily new. I do want to highlight something that some people might not like to hear, but was nice to find in this title.
I try to play a lot of games. I want to see a lot of stories and experiences. Timespinner actually had a lot in terms of its LGBTQ representation. The main character befriends a group of people that's very non-traditional from what you'd expect. I don't want to spoil these story beats because it was a nice surprise as it happened, If you've been looking for more diverse stories in your games, this could scratch that itch.Closing Thoughts
Overall, Timespinner is a fun game. It's a very short Metroidvania, but it's well put together. It's a game that left me wanting something more. Either more challenge or more applications with the abilities. But with it on Game Pass (PC) right now, it's well worth taking a look if you're a fan of the genre.