3 out of 5. Local Co-op. Gorgeous visuals and music, and tight controls. Level design doesn't live up to the standard set by its Castlevania Inspirations. Its unique ideas could be fleshed out more.
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How Metroidvania is it? Perfect Fit. The control scheme is taken directly from the Igarashi Castlevania games, and while the quality of the level design isn’t as good as its inspirations, it captures that same feel almost exactly.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~5 hours

More Info

Developer: Lunar Ray Games
Publisher: Chucklefish
Sub-genre: Igavania
Features: Map System, Leveling System, Equipment System, Random Loot, Multiple Difficulty modes, Local Coop, Guide/Hint System, 2D Platformer, Melee Combat, Fast Travel/Teleporters, Story Rich, Narrative/Cutscenes Story Telling, Sequence Breaking, Power Fantasy, Time Stopping/Manipulation, Crafting System, Sexual Content/Suggestive Themes
Difficulty: Low
Linearity/Openness: High Gating - Guided
Platforms: Windows, Linux, MacOS, Steam, GOG, Switch, PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: 2018/09/25
Available Languages: English, Japanese, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Simplified Chinese

Store Links

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Buy Timespinner if you like…

  • Stopping time
  • Leveling systems
  • A story focus
  • Lower difficulty
  • Local Co-op

▼ Review continues below ▼

This review is going to sound pretty negative, though I don’t really want it to be taken that way. Timespinner is a fine game. If you are looking for a simpler game that is similar to Castlevania, with gorgeous graphics and music, then you’re not going to be disappointed. However, as an experienced player of Metroidvania games, I feel like the bar has been set higher than this game has reached. There is a lot of missed potential – which does admittedly fall into judging the game by what it isn’t rather than what it is – but when I see concepts like time travel, stopping time, and even political intrigue popping up in a game, I can’t help feeling a little let down when those things end up being little tastes within the experience, rather than part of the main course. Timespinner is a nice, basic Metroidvania – a good game, but not really a shining exemplar of what the genre is capable of being. 

The first thing that struck me as a disappointment was the level design. There are moments of brilliance, but with the exception of one very good area near the end of the game, the good ideas are connected by some really uninspired layouts. There are long, boring hallways, speckled with repetitive enemy types – no variation and no surprises. This type of filler content has in fact plagued some of the genre’s classics like Symphony of the Night, but Timespinner relies on filler too much. To make matters worse, some areas are boring even from a graphical standpoint and the contrast to the better designed spaces is jarring. You move from gorgeous skyboxes with purple planetoids that you can feast your eyes on, to the interiors of castles and caves with plain walls and sparse decoration. Moving from one area to another felt more like a chore than a delight to me, at least until I got the speed boost power 3-4 hours into the game – then it was fun to skip all the tedious hallways. 

On the plus side, the combat design in Timespinner is actually very good. The core of the combat involves orbs that magically transform into weapons or elemental magic when you use them. You have the ability to equip up to two orbs at a time, which alternate as you tap the attack button, and there is a pretty wide variety of orbs to choose from by the endgame. Almost all of the orbs have their uses, even if it’s just to exploit enemy weaknesses. You have large hammers that arc over your head capable of attacking enemies above you, long stretching lightning bolts for taking out creatures safely from a distance, and a fast blunt hit you can use to pummel enemies for high damage if they have the audacity to hold still long enough for you to do it. There are one or two weapons that fall to the wayside due to there being few to no enemies that they can be optimally used on, but for the most part, each weapon is matched to a situation where it is the best choice. I personally found little reason to combine two different weapon types together, instead opting to just duplicate the same orb in my weapon set to rapid fire a single attack type, but you can pre-equip up to three weapon sets that you can switch between seamlessly, which allowed me to make this choice and still be able to switch out for exploiting damage types. 

I have to gripe a little bit about how weapons are improved however. Each weapon orb has its own level, so the more you use it, the better it gets. This approach punishes players for not focusing on one weapon for most of the game. The orbs are tied to a passive bonus you can equip, as well as a “Super” attack that you can charge up, so there is good reason to want to keep the levels high on any effect you want to use, but frankly I don’t see any real value in making it a grind when the game is already so short. I do like the idea of having some kind of “build” progression in the game, since that adds a lot to the game’s replay value. There are elemental beads that add 5 levels to any given weapon that mitigates the issue, but I still feel like letting the player allocate points gained on a level up into whatever weapon they want – or some kind of similar system – might be a better approach than simply making it about repetition (or exclusive use.) How you build your character matters little anyway though, since most of the bosses can be cheesed by consuming the bountiful health items that are available – at least on the game’s default maximum difficulty for the first playthrough (Normal Mode.) This “cheat” option also mars the game’s primary core mechanic – the ability to stop time – by contributing to it being mostly unnecessary for a majority of the game. 

The ability to stop time is one of the things that could have set Timespinner apart from all the other Igarashi style Castlevania games, but it’s criminally underutilized. For a good portion of the game, I actually forgot I even had it. I was only reminded on the occasional opportunity to sequence break by using enemies as platforms, making its function similar to Metroid’s ice beam – only really being necessary in one or two instances that I can remember. You can’t hurt enemies while time is stopped, so it’s generally used defensively – like a glorified dodge. It was a lot of fun to lure enemies around to use them as platforms, and it did feel good to get to areas I felt like I wasn’t supposed to, but I’m left craving more from the concept’s untapped potential. 

The actual Time Travel portion of the game is similarly underutilized. I can think of one optional instance where you can affect the past and have it carry forward into the future, and one part where it’s actually required, but other than that the two time periods serve as just two strikingly similar Castlevanias to explore. Why couldn’t I have been jumping back and forth, organically chipping away at my goals in the future by altering the past? If you interact with the game’s NPCs you will be grabbing objects from the future – such as information and technology – to assist them, but I had kind of hoped for a lot more creativity coming from this idea. 

This issue of untapped potential flows into the Narrative as a whole, and not just because of the Time Travel aspects. Besides a handful of well-developed NPCs there really isn’t anyone memorable enough to give the game’s world flesh. The future time period especially gives this feeling, since it really only has one quirky librarian (who’s very bad at his job) and that’s basically it, other than references to other people that might exist. Villains are defeated as soon as they are introduced; though more information can be found about them through log entries, the main character’s interactions with them boil down to her continuing her vengeful warpath. There are some great high concepts in the story, but they’re handled clumsily, or in some cases the writing comes off as adolescent in tone. Not that the story is too important in any Metroidvania game – it does its job in Timespinner, and isn’t so obtrusive that it ruins things. I merely bring it up to say it isn’t a redeeming aspect that can offset the game’s other issues. 

The primary NPCs you interact with are handled fairly well. I feel like some of the quests you perform need a little work from a mechanical standpoint (they’re boring “MMO Style” fetch quests in most cases), but with the exception of the Soldier trope NPC, I feel like their motives and solutions were well done. I don’t think that any of the NPC quests are required for the game’s “best” ending, so if you get bored doing the quests and don’t care what happens to the characters, you do have the option to skip it. You may have heard from other reviews or sources that a lot of the payoff to the NPC quests involve homosexual romances, and of course, this being the Internet, the focus of these quests creates some controversial discussion in the forums. However, the Developer is gay, so the homosexual themes are most likely a reflection of the author’s personal experiences and views rather than a cynical cash in on current trends. 

One thing that Timespinner does mechanically that’s also somewhat unique is its inclusion of local co-op play. If you’ve ever played Symphony of the Night you may remember the familiars you can tote around with you that occasionally attack your foes. That’s a core mechanic in Timespinner as well, and you have the option of having a friend take control of a familiar. However, I think I’d only recommend doing this with someone who isn’t very good at video games and just wants to participate. The familiar has very few options to keep things interesting. Each one has a basic attack where they hit the enemy for a paltry amount of damage. Repetitive strikes charges the familiar’s unique ability and allows a brief elemental attack that still doesn’t deal a spectacular amount of damage, or a healing spell that makes the game even easier. The co-op friend can switch the familiars on the fly, so they can exploit elemental weaknesses just like you can, so there is some choice other than a point and click affair. But, because the Familiar is invincible, and it really just amounts to sitting on some nearby enemy, my friend who joined me in co-op through the Chicken Keys in Guacamelee 2 was pretty bored most of the time. However, I still think having the option for someone to play with you is great, even in this rather mediocre state. 

Even though I did spend most of this review criticizing Timespinner’s weaknesses, I don’t hate it. It’s a decent game, just bland in the ways that matter to me. I suspect that the reason one of the greatest criticisms levied against it is “it’s too short” is partially because, at least for me, it never hits a point of real satisfaction – whereas even shorter games have managed to pull that off. But, the game plays well and when it’s at its best it creates a fine fantasy world to enjoy. There is an audience out there that will look beyond the game’s flaws and feast upon its strengths, and I think that’s great. Lunar Ray Games does have a lot of talent, and they deserve praise for what they’ve created, even if the game doesn’t create a watershed moment.


Final Score

3/5

Scoring system overview


Metroidvania Breakdown

Combat
– 3

Adequate. The Time Stopping power is essentially used as a dodge. Besides that its decent Igavania combat.

Platforming
– 2.5

There are a few triumphant moments of sequence breaking involving the time stopper - and other good moments - but overall the level design is uninspired

Exploration
– 3

Not really any challenge here. There are two instances where time travel is used to unlock new areas, otherwise its just wandering through obvious corridors

Puzzle
– 3

Time stopping power is occasionally used to get to required places, otherwise its generally optional - making the power seem underutilized - but its fun when you find them

Story
– 3

Has a lot of potential and high concepts, but needs more fleshing out to be called 'Great', and while the presentation is generally good there are some awkward moments

Graphics
– 4

Characters and animations are great, some backgrounds are phenominal, but its balanced out by some rather boring locales as well

Music
– 4.5

Excellent use of instruments and Ambience. I cant think of any place where it felt inappropriate or bland

Replayability
– 3

Two difficulties unlock after beating the game, and there are numerous weapons that are leveled individually, adding variety potential variety to subsequent playthroughs


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