Sunday, January 23, 2022

Timespinner (PlayStation 4)

Chronovania: The Spinner of Time

The year 2011 saw the founding of the videogame developer and publisher Chucklefish Limited in London, specializing in the production of retro-styled games. Among their publications, developed by Lunar Ray Games, was the Metroidvania Timespinner, taking heavy inspiration from Konami’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and financed through the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter in June 2014. It originally was to see release in November 2015, although the project’s scope delayed it a few years to September 2018, initially on computer and PlayStation-based media, but it would expand to the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One.

As the game’s moniker implies, Timespinner’s narrative has a focus on time-travel, with protagonist Lunais, a Time Messenger, needing to traverse the present and the past in order to defeat the evil Lachiem Empire responsible for the death of her parents. The story does have a few derivative elements, although the way in which the game tells it is surprisingly effective, for one never feeling forced down the player’s throat as seems the case with most top-tier titles. There are also many documents that add well to the game’s background, with a slight hint of LGBTQ+ themes, and there are multiple endings that add some lasting appeal.

Akin to the godfather of the Metroidvania genre, Timespinner features 2-D side-scrolling gameplay, Lunais able to equip two offensive orbs between which she alternates when attacking, a passive orb (one that can damage foes with spinning blades when they draw close to her, for example), and an orb that allows her to use powerful charge abilities that consume her magical aura energy. Killing enemies may occasionally drop items, some of which are necessary to complete sidequests, with Lunais occasionally leveling as well, and able to get money both from adversaries and breaking light sources.

Throughout the past and present, Lunais can also find items that permanently increase her health, aura, and sand, the last of which she can use to freeze time temporarily, often necessary to use enemies as platforms to reach higher areas. Lunais can further equip headgear, a piece of armor, and two accessories, also able to purchase various items from shops. She also may find items that she can use to increase the levels of her orbs, repeated use also occasionally empowering them. The game mechanics are virtually flawless, occasional bosses impeding Lunais’ progress, the easiest difficulty allowing her to avoid death and fully heal her when she reaches zero health.

Control also serves the game almost perfectly, with easily-navigable menus, enjoyable exploration, helpful in-game maps, and pleasant platforming. While one could possibly argue that on difficulties above Dream Mode (the easiest), the player can waste progress if killed far from restorative save points, a buyable item allows Lunais to teleport to the last safe zone, helpful for when she’s close to death, and in the end Timespinner interfaces with players like a dream.

Jeff Ball provides a soundtrack stylistically similar to that in the RPG Castlevanias, with good use of instruments such as the piano and harpsichord, and there are some voice clips like Lunais’ grunting when attacking, and occasional laughter. The sound effects are good as well, and while there are some silent portions, namely most cutscenes, Timespinner is very much an aural delight.

The visuals also evoke Timespinner’s Castlevania inspirations, with gorgeous pixel art, character portraits prominent during dialogues, enemy designs, colorful environments, and smooth animation. There are a few reskins in terms of foes, but otherwise, the game graphically excels.

Finally, finishing the core game can take as little as four hours, although there is plentiful lasting appeal in the form of a New Game+, and I only had acquired a tenth of the Trophies with a straightforward playthrough, so absolute completion can naturally take far longer.

All things considered, Timespinner is easily one of the high points of the Metroidvania gaming genre, given its superb gameplay, tight control, engaging narrative, excellent soundtrack, gorgeous graphics, and its abundance of side content, even surpassing Symphony of the Night in terms of quality. What some may argue it lacks in terms of quantity, it very easily makes up for in quality, and the aforementioned supplemental content is certain to pacify those who habitually complain about games being short. I definitely hope it isn’t Lunar Ray Games’ swan song, would happily play anything else they produce, if ever, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to fans of Metroidvanias in general.

This review is based on a single playthrough on Dream Mode to one of the standard endings, with 10% of Trophies acquired.

The Good:
+Superb side-scrolling gameplay and exploration.
+Controls like a dream.
+Great story.
+Excellent soundtrack.
+Pretty pixel graphics.
+Plentiful lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Some derivative story elements.
-Most cutscenes silent.
-A few reskinned enemies.

The Bottom Line:
One of the best-ever Metroidvanias.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 10/10
Controls: 10/10
Story: 9.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 9.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 4-40+ Hours

Overall: 10/10

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