Super Time Force Ultra – What We Think:
Also known as “STFU”, from Toronto indie game studio Capybara Games (who also brought you indie mega-darling Superbrothers: Sword and Sorcery EP), Super Time Force Ultra, evolved from a game jam, feels like a mashup of some of the past 5 years’ best indie titles. Consequently it is sometimes a transcendent beast unto itself and sometimes an awkward derivative smorgasbord.
Time Enough for All
At the outset, the player’s team comprises a multi-character switcheroo mechanic in the vein of Trine whose three archetypes (the heavy, the ranged precision shooter and the tank) reminded me of Bastion in terms of their default/special attack combos. For example the Shield character can either deflect and return shots fired at it or create a defense bubble that explodes. The sniper/hunter can either fire ranged shots that ricochet or send out a powerful shot that penetrates through surfaces. The heavy can jump higher, shoot hard and also send out a Gatling gun-style power attack. Eventually you will unlock many more characters (19 total playable characters at the time of this writing) with distinct personalities and corresponding power attacks, including some familiar cross-over characters ones from other games like Team Fortress 2.
A lengthy introductory cut scene with a rather heavy-handed tutorial attempts to convey just what, exactly, the game’s core gameplay is about. It seems to rely on the meta idea that you are playing an action platformer against a timelock, your time runs out, the game is over and you pause the game, back out of it and try again with one of the three available characters, except that they are added on top of what transpired before. This is something very similar to principal mechanic in Braid, Gateways and the Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom.
The conceit, here, is that all previous versions of yourself will repeat the actions you have thus far established with them, and add a new character action with each successive Time insertion. You only get a finite amount of these insertions per level, though the amount is usually quite generous, once you know what you’re doing. Furthermore, if you are playing your Looper card right, you can fuse your various time-jumpers into a singular being of destructive force, using the various character abilities in tandem like power-ups.
It’s an interesting, if a little obtuse, take on the ever-growing time-travel/Multiplicity genre also seen in the recent indie release So Many Me and last year’s The Swapper except that rather than be puzzle-driven, it is more action-based, like a shoot ’em up. I will admit, that for the first dozen or so levels, it remains quite a head-scratcher. But once things get cooking, it is a form of psychedelic bullet hell transcendence, like digital DMT.
While it is definitely intriguing, and – some serious coding feats have been accomplished herein – I did not find it as elegantly assembled as some of the other titles I have mentioned above. At least at the outset. I sometimes found it exasperating, unfun and cumbersome; the time insertion in the midst of action felt like a mechanic of annoyance that broke my momentum. Then I recognized I was just thinking about it all wrong. This isn’t Megaman or Contra or Metal Slug. Instead it’s a revisionist gag, a metaphor for karma, regret, loss and how we always hope we can go back and fix our mistakes, do better next time, try things over again, another way.
That said, in its rather mad dash for breaking the rules (which is kind of how it started and was ultimately developed, with some reticence from the developers, who were ultimately coaxed forward by awards granted before they had really even committed fully to producing it beyond the early game jams and prototypes), STFU does manage to achieve some actual novelty and turns out to be as much a strategy title as an action platformer/shmup/puzzler, or whatever it is. But whatever it is, at some point along the journey it becomes quite unlike anything else you have played, or maybe even done.
The chiptunes by Jason DeGroo provide a suitably eclectic mix of themes – over 50 in all that can be heard via the soundtrack. The pixel art is gorgeous, as one might expect from the people who turned the indie world on its head with their jaw-dropping modernization of an 8-bit pixel animation in Superbrothers.
The Era Of Our Ways
Once you get the mechanic, STFU becomes a mind-bending joy ride with a huge amount of flexibility and tactics as you undertake level after imaginative level that include booby traps, well-designed bosses and speedrun challenges. You will be able to travel, at your prerogative, to anywhere from Jurassic times to the Dark Ages to Atlantis (a series of levels that I particularly enjoyed; I won’t spoil it but Capybara’s fishy take on the state of the sunken neighborhood is hilarious). There is even a full space fort HQ with barracks, a science lab, and gear lockers for you to veg and track new team members and the energy you have collected between missions.
In spite of all the other titles it brings to mind, Super Time Force Ultra ultimately works as a thing all its own, and delivers some truly multi-layered gaming moments, well-worthy of your attention.
Watch the Steam trailer for Super Time Force Ultra: