Run and gun genres can be entertaining, but they’re also hard to innovate at times, even when action’s a-flying. Super Time Force Ultra tries, well retries, to put the boot to the standard running to one side and blasting everything in an explosive mess by using some time manipulation ideas.
Time rewinds play a crucial factor in surviving an encounter, but as fun as it is, there isn’t a lot of growth in the pretty pixel battlefield. A new hardcore mode softens that blow, but it doesn’t remove the game’s small stature. Luckily, Super Time Force Ultra tries to throw in every possible variant in the book before calling it a day.
A big part of the spectacle is the presentation that overflows with color, which filters both nostalgic minimalism and lo-fi together with sharper, shinier details that make levels a vibrant sensory assault. Locations alter color schemes frequently for more refreshment, switching jetpack sky levels with medieval tourneys; sending the team to the dinosaur era or a post-apocalyptic future. Music equally keeps up the high tempo of the game’s impulse-driven display, with modern pumping beats or classic bit tunes that are mostly applied to sound effects.
Super Time Force Ultra is serious about its gameplay design though. Managing quick shooting and jumping action with time manipulation is a requirement, not a choice. Each stage is laid out exactly in the way that characters will need to run through alternate dimension to make the most of the multiple paths to explore.
While one soldier goes into one side of the level to collect some additional time power-ups, the other needs to speed ahead and clear the side-scrolling environments of its many firing enemies. There is some incentive other than necessary pickups to soften this grind, fortunately, as some alternate routes hide new characters to add to the roster.
Moreover, splitting time cycles in multiple ways opens up the puzzle element of Super Time Force Ultra. Any action that leaves a hero to be stationary for too long means that there’s a time rewind that can shave off seconds somehow. Finding out how to improve time can be rewarding, but it’s also frustrating at times, because there’s rarely a clear indication on how to proceed when bullets are flying everywhere.
Even with a neat replay function at the end of a completed level it’s hard to learn just how to improve, let alone having the capacity to foresee such a thing. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of sacrificing a unit just to clear out a room or two from another angle, in hopes that was the right way to layer things. Otherwise, it’s down to a full retry.
The worst in time manipulation comes from the differing levels’ difficulty rollercoaster; some impossible, some way too easy. Stages can be taken on at whim in a sort of Mega Man structure, but some sections can suddenly feel impossible to complete.
Fortunately, these are rare and level designs that make use of completely different gameplay mechanisms make up for it in droves. At any given point, the next challenge can suddenly become a whole different ballgame. At least, playing will never feel like a routine.
Aside from just pure location-based design skill, Super Time Force Ultra also employs a set of fully unique characters. A wizard throws up an area effect, while a sniper can pierce through objects; each choice has its strength and application in a given level. One or two choices may not be that useful, but the majority of characters feel complementary, which urges the team splitting dynamic.
For instance, when a squad member dies from incoming fire, it’s possible to rewind, take the shield bearer and then rush forwards to block incoming fire, thus rescuing the first version. In doing so, it’s possible to pick up this prior version and add their qualities to the current fighter, making them much more powerful.
These rescues can even unlock some incredibly potent combos. Given that team members fill in each other’s qualities, having one unit do all those things at once makes it near invincible. Experimenting in Super Time Force Ultra sure is exhilarating. There’s such cohesion in game design that the game’s irking limitations evaporate.
In particular, Super Time Force Ultra builds on that versatile model with an extra hardcore mode that gets unlocked after a first playthrough. Ultra squads can only live for a few seconds until their instability makes them explode. Yet, before that happens, they can make use of supercharged attacks, should clearing the screen become really necessary.
Sadly, the game is over much sooner than expected, given there are only a handful of locations. Perhaps it’s because every challenge feels so unique through its synergetic designs that the run is over before it registers, but Super Time Force Ultra does leave a taste for more.
Quality over quantity is the thought here. Every scrap of the game’s universe is a fresh new playground, even if its structure is unilaterally the same; split up, save time and survive. There is, however, nearly no filler and the cheeky humor that oozes through Super Time Force Ultra makes time fly by even faster.
Additionally, Super Time Force Ultra has 50 challenge levels, where the whole time manipulation mechanism goes into complete overdrive. Here, there will be an extremely rigid way to complete each task, which makes use of every possible way to game the system. Those who struggle with the already heightened challenge of the main story will definitely meet their match in this puzzle mode.
Short but oh so sweet, Super Time Force Ultra crams in all it can into an expertly built platform and shooter hybrid with clever time manipulation use. Splitting off into different paths, exploring one location in several ways at a time, blasting tons of enemies and rescuing alternate dimension soldiers; just a few seconds in this game can hold so much content. With each character in the roster getting their own personality, there’s also real teamwork involved.
There may not be a lot of it to go around, but there’s an attempt to make the game last as long as possible and that with some replay value added by a hardcore mode and tough puzzle area. It just so happens that Super Time Force Ultra is also just ridiculously entertaining every step of the way, multiple ways at a time. It’s an ultra-good time.