Timespinner is the modern Castlevania that Konami would never make
I like this game a lot. It plays well, it’s got a good aesthetic, and fantastic music. Timespinner is a quality product that anyone who has enjoyed Castlevania-styled games in the past should pick up. Veterans may find it a bit on the easy side compared to a lot of other similar indie games out there, but don’t let that dissuade you. It just doesn’t have a lot of the BS that is commonplace in modern indie platformers.
Let’s get more into it. (Some gameplay/story spoilers to come.)
Timespinner has gotten a lot of comparisons to Castlevania games, particularly Symphony of the Night. The inspiration is undoubtable. However, I think SotN is an inaccurate comparison. Those expecting a game more like SotN may be disappointed. While it may be a bit pedantic, this game draws more from the later DS Castlevanias. The Of Sorrows, Portrait of Ruin, and Order of Ecclesia especially. It has quests, multiple story paths, multiple weapon loadouts, etc. A lot of the endgame abilities are stuff that is common in the endgame of those games. It feels more like a further expansion on ideas that Konami explored in those titles rather than a regurgitation of ideas.
So, what do you do in Timespinner? At its core, it’s about exploration. This game doesn’t give you big obvious waypoints or distinct goals. Often you just have your set of abilities and some vague direction. This means you may end up having to look at your map and figure out where to go. Fortunately, you can place custom markers and the game world is not so maze-like that you’d get easily lost. That said if you’re exploration-adverse then this game may prove a bit frustrating to you.
The main unique hook of this game is that you can freeze time. While time is frozen, most enemies act like platforms. Often times you’ll have to use this to progress through game, and it’s not often apparent when you may need to do this. For example, early on there’s a gap with a butterfly enemy fluttering above. The butterfly’s movements are pretty erratic, but is above you. It took me a while to realize and a couple of attempts to freeze time and use the butterfly as a platform to get over there. This wasn’t the only direction available to me so I originally thought that I would need another ability to cross it.
This a common thread with the game’s puzzle design. It’s all about figuring out how to use the abilities the game gives you rather than some complex leaps of logic or block pushing puzzles. “How can I get there with what I’ve been given?” For this, the game has some interesting answers. Nothing too out of the ordinary. There is a double jump eventually. But there is some fun movement options late in game. It doesn’t have other common abilities like wall jump, fly, air dash, etc, which is kinda nice. It’s movement options are pretty tight and focused for most of the game.
Other than the exploration this game has combat. That’s about all there is to say about the combat. It’s nothing special, but works fine. If you’re looking for something more intricate you’ll not find it here. You have one attack button that, for most weapons (orbs), has a two hit combo. Then you have a spell button. The spells are pretty good mix of offensive and utility. You’ll likely find uses for them all. Personally I recommend the Colossal Blade. You get it early and it just deals THAT DAMAGE.
The variety of weapons is really what makes the combat work. There’s a good 12 or more weapon orbs you find. Almost all of them have a unique attack style and specific strengths. The iron hammer is good melee range. The buzz saw one is good multi-hit medium range. The ice is good when things are below you. Etc, etc, etc. For each load out you can equip two orbs that will cycle every other attack. I found myself just equipping two of the same however. It just felt weird to have mismatching attacks. You can switch between three loadouts on the fly, so that’s where I would have different weapons.
You can augment the orbs with passive abilities. Stuff like they always deal contact damage or they put a burn effect on enemies that deals damage over time. These passive abilities add some much needed nuance to the character’s abilities. You can only have one active at a time which can lead to some tough choices and fun experimentation.
All enemies (including bosses) have elemental weakness and strengths. While this doesn’t factor too heavily into the general strategy, it was fun to try to figure out. Unfortunately I found a lot of the bosses came down to essentially damage racing them while burning through my stock of healing items. Still, there’s a good spectacle to the bosses. Especially toward the end of the game.
Outside of the main plot, this game has a number of fetch quest styled side quests. Almost all of them are “go get x number of y item,” or “go find this unique item that’s hidden in a chest somewhere.” At least once there was an optional boss I had to fight. This system is probably the weakest aspect of the game. Which is a shame because the individual character stories you get from these side quests are all pretty good and I recommend doing them. Fortunately all the amounts are pretty reasonable and you almost always get them before you encounter the required enemy or item. Item drop rates are completely reasonable too. While I did grind to complete some of these quests, it was never for long. Maybe 10 minutes at most.
Time travel is a big theme of this game, right? You’ll be traveling between two time periods, present and distant past, all focused around events plaguing this one empire. For the most part the effects of your time travel are pretty muted. At least until the end. There are times where you will do something in the past that will open up new areas or change something in the present, but it’s never super drastic. I’m of two minds about this. On one hand, I feel they could have done more with it. On the other, the time periods are far enough apart that lack of major changes is justified.
The plot is essentially a revenge plot. An evil emperor murders the main character’s hometown, and she vows revenge on him. Of course, it becomes considerably more complicated than that and eventually she learns maybe things are more important than her revenge… or not. The plot is largely fine. None of its twists surprised me, but never was I disappointed. It’s well told and the dialogue is mostly pretty good.
For all it’s “retro” aesthetics, Timespinner is very much a game of it’s time. All the major characters are queer. The cultures of this game’s universe are anything but heteronormative and that’s super cool. There are trans, poly, bi, gay, and asexual characters. In one culture casual encounters are basically encouraged. Sex is a topic that comes up pretty frequently in the late game side quests, though there is never any depictions. Characters do talk about sex and sexually openly. Spurned lovers are a common motivator for many of the characters in sub and the main plot. This game approaches sex in a mature and modern way. Parents who are looking for a good game for young kids to play, you may want to be prepared to answer a lot of potentially awkward questions. If these topics make you squeamish, then perhaps this game isn’t for you.
Should you buy Timespinner? Yeah. I think so. Especially if you’ve been burnt by some of the more lackluster metroidvanias that have come out this year and are looking for something that really knocks it out of the park. If you’re looking for a cool world to explore while music that rocks, then Timespinner is for you.