Is it déjà vu or jamais vu?! I take a look at a fantastic homage to metroidvanias – Timespinner by Lunar Ray Games!
Déjà vu, the illusion that although you’re experiencing something for the first time, you can’t help but feel like you’ve seen it before. Now, when it comes to video games, that feeling can be all too familiar. And whether or not it’s advantageous or detrimental is left up to the one playing. To some it’s a warm cozy blanket, and to others it can make the game feel outdated and stale.
I’m not saying either feeling is right or wrong. In fact, I’ve experienced both opinions on multiple occasions. But we can’t always judge a game by what we see on the surface because even simple subversions of the tropes ingrained in a genre can make all the difference! And these small changes can turn a cookie cutter “déjà vu”-vania into a cornerstone of every game collection!
After all, when it comes to the people behind these games, sometimes it’s just their way of expressing their love for a genre instead of trying to chase or cash in on that ever fleeting nostalgia bug. I would have to imagine that that process alone gives them a chance to relive an experience that they remember fondly. Maybe it’ll prompt them to create a wholly original product in that vision and one that’s considered an homage instead of a clone. I mean you can’t change the past, so you might as well improve upon it, or at least try to.
Unless, of course, you have the ability to change the past. Perhaps through the means of time travel or something. Then you could really change things up and become THE creator of the genre you hold so dearly! But we’ll walk away from that paradox. My mind can’t handle such shenaniganizing!
Well my dear backloggers, this time around I’ll be taking a look at the game that tries to alter the future by changing the past – Timespinner. So polish your orbs, open your mind and pretend you’re totally not a sci-fi Symphony of the Night, because it’s time for another Backlog Review!!
Kickstart to the Future
Timespinner is a 2D side scrolling action platformer developed by Lunar Ray Games. Originally conceived as a school project, Timespinner was created to showcase both founder Bodie’s skills as a programmer and his love for the classic Metroidvanias of the ‘90s which in his mind were tragically underrepresented. After receiving praise for the quality of his work, Bodie decided to focus his attention on Timespinner and make it a full fledged game using the XNA/Monogame framework.
It wouldn’t be for another few years of working on it nights and weekends before it became a full-time endeavor for Bodie. That’s when the Kickstarter campaign, used to raise funds for the development, was launched in 2014, and it successfully shattered the initial goal and raised just over $170,000. With their dreams realized, Lunar Ray Games began pouring their heart and soul into creating Timespinner.
Be that as it may, it wouldn’t take long before they realized that due to the increase in scope from the unlocked stretch goals (things like New Game+, Additional Costumes, various console ports, etc.), the end product would have to be delayed from its initial projected 2015 release date. It was worth the wait because by the time 2018 rolled around, we were finally able to get our hands on a beautifully polished homage to metroidvanias.
And now it’s available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch!
In Timespinner you play as Lunais, the heir to a long line of timekeepers – an ancient clan of time manipulation practitioners. These secluded and sagely people have been the caretakers of a powerful device known as the Timespinner, which not only gives them their power but also domain over the fate of many.
After her village is ransacked and her family murdered by the maligned Lachiem Empire, Lunais vows her revenge and plans to utilize the Timespinner to undo the past and stop Lachiem before it has a chance to corrupt the present. However, her plans are swiftly derailed when the Timespinner is destroyed, and she is thrust through time and space to a seemingly unfamiliar land 1000 years before her time.
Now stuck in the middle of a civil war between the Lachiem outcasts and their oppressive ancestors of Vilete, Lunais must determine if her actions are worth the consequences rippling to the future. And maybe what she believed to be good and evil is a little more ambiguous than she was previously willing to accept!
First of all, the narrative of Timespinner is fascinating! It focuses on a world torn in two by corruption and greed and how the effects of a millennia stewed in hatred can turn the oppressed into the oppressors. Then it throws you moral curve balls such as questioning the validity of aiding a people who would eventually grow to be just as vile as their enemy! That’s not to say everything Timespinner tries to tackle narratively sticks the landing, but when considering all aspects of the story, you can tell that Lunar Ray Games made the effort to create a somber, deep rooted and intriguing world for us to get wrapped up in.
It is a world which is not only accented by its gorgeous environments and character designs, but also enhanced by a soundtrack that echoes the melancholy of each scene, yet packs a punch when urgency is needed! It very much reminds me of games from the late 16-bit era, specifically games from Squaresoft in the way that the sprite work is impressively detailed and expressive! And then of course, the inspirations from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night are laced throughout, both aesthetically and mechanically.
This is all tied together with Timespinners’ central theme of time travel and time manipulation which honestly didn’t seem quite as integral to the game as the title would lead you to believe. Yes, you’ll be traveling between different time periods, and some of your actions do have consequences, but they all seemed to be implied more so than having any real tangible ramifications. I just felt like it lacked the robustness of something like Chrono Trigger where the contrasts between the multitudes of ages you could travel to were strikingly apparent! Unfortunately, in Timespinner there are only two time periods to visit. I mean, half the fun of Chrono Trigger was seeing how the people and even the landscape varied from the distant past to the distant future and everything in between, not to mention the branching paths and divergent endings! If Timespinner were to ever get a sequel, it would only benefit from something similar.
The same could be said about Lunais’ time manipulation specific abilities which could certainly be advantageous, like her ability to freeze time for a few seconds. But more often than not, I found them to be ineffective. It made me rely more on a brute force approach than a strategic one, at least when it came to combat.
Where these abilities really shine is when you use them to solve the platforming and environmental puzzles found throughout the map! It is a metroidvania after all! It’s fun exploring every nook and cranny of Lachiem and trying to figure out how you can use each of your skills to overcome the obstacles laid before you! And the parts of the game that were borrowed from the “Vania” half of its portmanteau genre were spot on. You can find and equip armor and accessories, unlock passive and active skills such as double jump or the ability to breath underwater by collection relics, and even find familiars that will follow you around and aid you in battle! So basically, it really is a sci-fi Symphony of the Night!
Where I think Timespinner truly stands apart though, is the inclusion of the orb system which more or less replaces the weapons you would typically find in these games. Depending on which types of orbs Lunais has equipped, she will gain a variety of attack patterns, as well as the ability to cast powerful magic! But you don’t have to settle on just one set either because you can mix and match them to suit your playstyle! It adds a fun layer of experimentation to the combat, and with the benefit of helpful stat boosts, you can fine tune your build for all manners of situations!
Fresh Coat of Paint
What I love to see is developers experimenting with tried and true genres. It’s captivating to see their innovations and improvements, and I think Timespinner did a fantastic job of putting a fresh coat of paint on a well-worn foundation. It may have been lacking in some areas, leaving me longing for more, both conceptually and compositionally, but I think that’s a good thing because it means it has room to grow and improve! I would love to see it expand the possibilities of its time travel mechanics and of course the clever and fun orb system.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that I anxiously anticipate what Lunar Ray Games comes up with next, and I would highly recommend you check out Timespinner. I truly think they have something special, and here’s hoping we get to see a sequel sometime in the future!