The Metroid-Vania, or exploration platformer as I prefer to think of them, has been an essential mainstay in gaming since Symphony of the Night in 1997. Multiple developers have experimented with the formula to middling success, but I was struck immediately by Lunar Ray Games’ Timespinner, and just how much it reminded me of the classics of the genre.
Timespinner starts in Winderia on the eve that Lunais, the player character, will become her village’s new ‘Time Messenger’, people gifted with the power of Aura that operates similarly to a kind of magical telekinesis. The celebrations are cut short as the village is invaded by the Lachiem Empire and, looking to save her village, Lunais travels back in time using the Timespinner to alter history.
It’s at this point that the narrative fractures, allowing the player to experience both the present day, where Lunais aims to exact her revenge against Lachiem, and the far past, where the player falls between a long fought war between Lachiem and Vilete. The player will explore both time zones of this world, with many actions of the past impacting the present day from a narrative standpoint.
Furthermore, hidden throughout the world are Memories, Letters and Downloads, all of which unveil little segments of the world’s history should you choose to read them. These will give insight specifically into the timezone they are found in (apart from Memories that are scattered across time), and are wonderful in building up the world that’s established in the opening scenes.
The moment-to-moment gameplay is standard fare for any one who has played that games that have inspired it such as the 2D Metroid games, or post-Symphony of the Night Castlevania. The player, taking the role of Lunais, needs to beat her way with Orbs through various interconnected rooms whilst trying to find the way forwards, all the while getting stronger as she levels up. Occasionally there will be items or routes out of reach that will require returning later with new abilities or items.
Timespinner does have one mechanic that sets it apart from the pack, namely the ability to freeze time. If you have sand in your hourglass, you can stop time for anything on the screen excluding Lunais temporarily. This can be used to avoid an attack, reposition yourself to be able to hit a guarding enemy, or even freeze an enemy so that you can use them as a platform to reach higher platforms. It’s this last point that is the most ingenious, so much so, that I found myself often forgetting that I could do it!
There are various Orbs that the player can collect, all of which have different properties and attack in different ways. So the Iron Orb will summon a hammer to attack, the Fire Orb will shoot flames ahead of Lunais, and the Blade Orb will manifest as a sword, among others. These will level up themselves too, increasing their power, but can be augmented further through the use of Rings, which act as an active buff on Lunais giving additional properties to her attacks.
As well as these, your combative repertoire can be increased with Necklaces, which give you a powerful, magical attack that uses your Aura bar to use. These take the form of full-screen horizontal lasers, and gigantic lime-green swords (my favourite), among many others and these can be purchased in the past by speaking to Neliste and handing over the correct items needed (a gold necklace and an Essence Crystal).
The final combative addition are the Familiars, which act as a pet of sorts. The first one you acquire is an adorable little dragon that will breathe fire on enemies, but you can find various Familiars throughout the game that come with different abilities and buffs for Lunais. These, plus everything mentioned before give the player a large amount of freedom in deciding how they wish to play the game, and also allowing for any playstyle to succeed.
The world of Timespinner (as one would expect) is hiding many secrets and collectibles, with fragile walls you can break and hidden rooms scattered all over the map. These can be hiding things as simple as new Orbs, but they can contain documents or even Familiars. In fact, the sheer number of collectibles and quests is staggering considering that this isn’t an overly long title. All of the characters in Vilete have a quest line to complete, and there are multiple pieces of equipment, and lots of items, so you’re never lost for things to find.
From an aesthetic standpoint, I’m slightly mixed on Timespinner. I think that the insistence on a more retro-visual style actually detriments the title as it places it far too close to the games that have inspired it, which is a negative owing to the game not doing anything massively different from said inspirations. The visuals are pleasant enough, sure, but a little too familiar for anyone that has grown up with Castlevania, Metroid, or the early Final Fantasy games.
The music, however, is a wonderful collection of songs for each area that change depending on whether you are in the past or present. This attention to detail gels greatly with the game and raises its profile up from the altogether more disappointing visuals. All of the music is fantastically composed too, with some of the tracks remaining in my head long after my session playing it had ended.
Whether or not I can recommend Timespinner depends on how much you enjoy the games that have inspired it. If you love retro exploration platformers like Castlevania and the early Metroid titles, there is a tremendous amount here to love. It’s not doing all that much different from these titles, but that’s not a bad thing. Even if you’re not normally a fan, Timespinner is worth at least a look. There’s a lot to see and do on the way to the end, and the journey makes it worthwhile.