Timespinner – The Switch Island Review
There’s something authentically old fashioned about Timespinner, as if it too has travelled back in time like its protagonist Lunais. It was this ‘90s look that pulled me in at EGX 2018, where I gave it a brief play and fell in love with its Castlevania-esque design and charmingly retro style. It was obvious then that it’s true home was going to be on Switch, and I’m thankful to Chucklefish for publishing it for us Switchers, because, almost a year later, here it is. It was love at first sight, but would that love stay the course?
Timespinner is a fantasy action adventure game with light RPG elements. It has a relatively strong story, with quite a bit of time spent on exposition and character detail. You play as Lunais, who’s a Time Messenger, one of the last of her kind, who are trying to prevent an empire from taking over the world. She travels through time to try and alter history and prevent the destruction of her family, but her time travel goes wrong (think Twelve Monkeys), breaking the timespinner device, and stranding her in the past. There’s a bit of a The Messenger vibe about all of this time madness, with exploration in different eras necessary for completing certain tasks.
So, if you haven’t guessed already, the play style is essentially metroidvania. (Yes I know, another one on Switch, but shuttup, I love them, go away.) Lunais will be exploring an assortment of themed areas and, at first, will only be able to go so far. With time, and the requisite upgrades, she can get further. Adding spice to this exploration, there’s variety to the world: from ancient ruins and underwater tunnels to a library and futuristic laboratory. But even with the variety, I found the world to be just a smidge too drab, with a muted colour palette and lack of pizzaz that begun to wear me down as I played. The pixel art is lovely, but it’s more PS1 than SNES revival, which perhaps is why it doesn’t quite win me over, with my nostalgic Nintendo-shaped heart. Perhaps if you’re nostalgic for the 32bit era, you’ll be more appreciative.
The enemies are far from drab though. In fact, they’re deliciously surreal. There are weird bird heads on springs and other strange beasts. It’s a refreshing aspect of the game. Annoyingly, they re-appear as soon as you exit a room, which is really not something anyone’s nostalgic for.
The combat is interesting and different and fun. Lunais carries orbs that revolve around her body, and she can equip and fight with two at a time. The first orbs behave like melee attacks but later you collect different orbs that give you a flavourful arsenal, some of which becomes more ranged. Collecting the orbs and trying different combinations is fun, but the strategy feels a little undercooked; it would’ve been interesting to require specific orbs for certain tasks or enemies.
Lunais is aided by her timespinner. It lets her freeze time briefly, turning everything greyscale as it does so, which is a nice touch. This tool is essential for navigating the world, as it lets you jump on frozen enemies’ heads. It mostly gets used for essential navigation rather than for secret areas, and so I feel like it could’ve done more. It’s a neat trick for bosses though; you can’t hit them but it lets you reposition.
There’s a variety of RPG stuff in the game. You can speak with NPCs and do tasks and quests for them, and some of them offer services, like shopping for items or upgrading wearables or weapons. There’s also levelling up, including your orbs and the dragon-like familiar who accompanies and assists Lunais (who is also playable with a second controller). I wasn’t motivated to do many of the quests, as they’re very fetch-questy, such as ‘find me three mushrooms in the caves.’ The rewards for doing these quests aren’t obvious either. But I did enjoy applying upgrades and collecting items to assist the adventure.
I played Timespinner on normal difficulty and about halfway through begun wishing I had chosen hard mode. The game is broken slightly by the potions and food items you can use to refill your health. Being able to pause at any time to use these, even during boss fights, makes everything a cinch. I guess this could be because I play a lot of these sorts of games, but if you do too, and like a challenge, then consider hard mode. However, it does have multiple NewGame+ modes, alongside a variety of endings and bonus areas, which is all much appreciated and will encourage replays.
An outstanding aspect to the game is the soundtrack. Even if you’re not intending to play Timespinner, I’d recommend giving that a stream somewhere. It’s lush, layered, and injects atmosphere and drama throughout the game.
Overall, even with the stellar soundtrack, it’s difficult to fully recommend Timespinner on Switch. It’s a good game and there are no technical hiccups, but it’s just let down in a few key areas. As I said at the beginning, it feels authentically old, which can be both good and bad. It does a classic formula and update it for modern audiences (like, say, Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon), but it’s a little too faithful for its own good. It’s definitely not a game to avoid, as it plays well and has some novel ideas and systems, it just doesn’t all gel as well as it might do. So, cautiously recommended. But, if you are itching to time travel back to the ‘90s for some 32bit side-scrolling action, think about giving this one a spin.
Developer: Lunar Ray Games
Release date: 04/06/2019