Super Time Force Ultra is one the best games I’ve played this year. It is remarkably gorgeous, completely over the top, super fun, and hypnotically addicting. Combine that with pulsating music, smart story telling, and original, deep mechanics and you have another great addition to the Vita library.
Side scrolling games have been around since the mid 80’s and Super Time Force Ultra does a lot of things you’d expect from the decades-old genre. You traverse through a level defeating enemies and collecting items along the way; if you get touched by an enemy you die, and at the end of a level there’s usually a boss or a souped-up enemy that can take a beating. What sets STFU apart and makes it absolutely insane is that it turns what used to be the concept of extra lives into something dynamic and refreshing.
Set in the distant future (when humans have developed time travel) you play as a few different members of a military squad called (you guessed it) the Super Time Force. Lead by Commander (formerly Doctor) Repeatski, it’s up to your team to stop the questionably evil Doctor Infinity – leader of the Blounbots, a peace-keeping army. The interesting thing however, is that Commander Repeatski sends your squad back in time to change the course of history hoping that it’ll help make a better tomorrow… and Doctor Infinity is just trying to stop you from dabbling in the past. His intentions aren’t really all that evil, and it creates an interesting dichotomy – but I don’t want to spoil too much here.
The story is weaved between six different and memorable worlds, laid out in any order you wish to complete. Blowing up prehistoric dinosaurs one level and blasting through knights from the middle ages the next keeps the enemy designs feeling fresh. Playing as characters with names like Jef Leopard, Aimy Mckillin, and Shiedly Mcblocksen, it’s easy enough to realize that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously.
There were countless times that I found myself laughing because of something ridiculous Doctor Repeatski said (it’s worth pointing out that he wears two eye patches), or even parts of levels themselves. One of the moments that stick out in my head is a sewer level in which you have to fight a poop boss. Is that dumb? If I’m being honest, yes it is – and some people may not enjoy it, but those who accept that it’s purposefully lame will enjoy its humor even more.
It needs to be said that the game does have a learning curve, and it will take some practice for most players to get the hang of it. The controls can be a little cumbersome at times. Holding down the X button makes you jump higher but it’s not communicated very well. I found that shooting enemies on a diagonal angle became a little challenging. Once you choose to aim up and on angle it automatically moves your character too, so instead of standing still and taking a shot I kept running back and forth like a chicken with it’s head cut off. On top of that there are many ways in which you can die and after a while of being frustrated by that I realized that it was on purpose. You can be killed by touching an enemy, being shot by an enemy, running out of time on a stage, or depleting your stock of rewinds.
Each level you are given thirty time-outs (that are essentially extra lives), and only when losing all of them do you get a game over. That might sound like a lot, but with the frenetic game play and multiple ways to die this number will be pushed to the limit. The good news however, is that there are also glorbs to collect in each stage to get some extra rewind; ’cause you’re going to need all the help you can get.
Once you go through a level and get killed, the time-out mechanic kicks in – allowing you to re-do what you did wrong and change the outcome. If done correctly, you can save the life of your previous character and in doing so absorb and team-up with them; giving you the combined firepower of both.
This is where the brilliance of the mechanic comes into play. Every stage you play gives you sixty seconds to complete it (time bonuses are strewn about to add an additional ten seconds). I found myself jumping and shooting my way through the stage testing out every way possible that it could be done, trying to find the fastest. Once you figure out the quickest path – dying a whole lot in the process – you use the time-out ability and replay the level with the new-found knowledge.
An additional mode is added once you beat the story called the Helladeck mode. You’re given a pre-selected character and a small time limit to complete some tricky puzzles. These get very hard, very quick – and the trend of trial and error carries over here from the main game. You’ll be sitting there scratching your head for a while (until you master the mechanic of using the time-out), so brace yourself; timing is the essence of the entire game, and even more so in the Helladeck mode.
Another point to be made is that none of it chugs or drops in frame rate. It’s such a tight and smooth experience that you have to be impressed by the developers over at Capy Games. They’ve really put a lot of work into the game, and it shows.
At times STFU does do things at a technical level that a NES game could never do, but it does play and feel like one. It beats your ass (like a Mega Man or Castlevania game) until you discover after much patience and diligence that there’s a method to the madness – and once you crack that code, it all comes together in a “light bulb moment” type of way. Super Time Force Ultra carries the proverbial old school torch and improves on it in a smart and fun way.
Aside from the polished gameplay and humorous story, the game’s graphics and music are top notch. Synth-y beats that remind me of Hotline Miami bump throughout the levels and menus, never getting old. And I cannot stress enough how beautiful the game is; it’s colorful, sharp, retro look is of the highest quality and it truly captures the essence of those 8-bit and 16-bit games we have nostalgia for.
I wouldn’t be doing it justice if I didn’t talk about some of the standout playable characters in STFU. One of the strangest is an upright dolphin that attacks with tangible echo location rings and an assault rifle. Ever more bizarre is a anthropomorphic turd named Squirty Harry who farts out a trail of methane gas. My most played as character was Sir Galahad from The Order: 1886 because of how powerful his electric induction lance is. Another PlayStation character that makes an appearance is the scarf wearing Journey avatar. And I can’t forget Sony’s President of Worldwide Studios, Mr. Shuhei Yoshida who wields his phone as his weapon, sending hearts and tweets to attack enemies with.
All in all I found myself utilizing each character in a variety of ways; combining certain powers together can give you a huge advantage especially when fighting bosses, and adding a few PlayStation alumni was a nice added bonus.
Super Time Force Ultra is a great addition to the library and stands out (easily) as one of the better games for the handheld. The story and characters make you laugh, the gameplay – once accustomed to – is on point, the visuals and music are crazy appealing, and its a game that you will find hard to put down. I would recommend Super Time Force Ultra to anyone, so do yourself a favor and make some time for it.