Running, gunning, dying and respawning. The sweet circle of life that dictates the fast-paced action of shooters. Whether it be first-person, third-person, twin stick, or a side-scrolling shooter, the process of death and respawn is an integral part of the experience. But say that process was turned on its head. Instead of dying, players could rewind time and correct past mistakes- saving their own life and precious time in the process. There are a lot of crazy feats the concept of time travel has accomplished, but as far as video games go, Super Time Force Ultra might just be one of the most inspired yet as it has introduced us all to a new genre of game: the single player co-op.
While this isn’t a newsflash to most gamers as developer Capybara Games released Super Time Force back in May 14, 2014 on Xbox 360 and Xbox One, the September launch marks the title’s PlayStation debut. This also doesn’t make single player co-op any less intriguing. It’s not often that long-time video game players get to experience a new “genre,” but when they do it’s certainly a treat and Super Time Force Ultra, or “STFU,” delivers the goods. Not only this, but it delivers said goods with a backdrop of world-rescuing time travel spearheaded by one of the most awesomely funny super teams seen by the world of gaming and beyond. Think a bigger A-Team with cooler guns, a wizard, jedi wannabe and walking dolphin. Take that team and go through the Jurassic period to the far future to save Earth and you have Super Time Force.
The basic gist of STFU is to complete timed stages by using bullets and space time trickery to team up with yourself against tough bosses, cheat death and momentarily slow down sticky situations. Your finger slipped and you ran into a bullet? Press the circle button to rewind time and kill the bastard before he can pull the trigger! Run out of time on a boss? Bring ten of your buddies to pump so much lead down its throat that he goes down before saying “no fair.” There’s no broken situation that the good ol’ Marty McFly treatment can’t fix in STFU, and the more players travel back in time to benefit the future, the more fun they’ll have.
However, as cool as time travel is, it comes with a couple frustrating drawbacks. Much of the title’s pleasure comes from the different possibilities afforded through space time shenanigans, so naturally you rewind over and over like you’re watching the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. As long as you don’t expend the 30 rewinds allowed per stage, you can continue to do this to your advantage. But the more “ghosts” or former plays you leave on stage, the harder it is for you to keep track of your character, which often results in superfluous death. It’s an unfortunate side effect of an awesome ability, but one you’ll often deal with in challenging situations. Also, restarting time on a ladder or pole that you hang from can leave you dead once again as your characters fail to cling when they step back into reality. While these two problems won’t have you shutting the game off, they’re issues that’ll leave a bad taste in your mouth from time to time.
Despite a few minor time travel issues, STFU’s overall feel is quick and crisp. Controls are one of those aspects that’s easily noticed when they’re bad but taken for granted when done well. Luckily, Capybara have done their homework and everything from movement to gunning feels as natural as they did in shooters such as Contra and Metal Slug. This is crucial when rewinding to the past and overcoming especially tricky enemies and obstacles. As mentioned earlier, controls can become complicated when coming out of a rewind, and full jumps can turn into partial jumps before resulting in a frustratingly quick death. But at the end of the day, the problems created by time travel are just as easily fixed in the same way.
Nineteen playable characters all vie for your attention in Super Time Force Ultra. Three of those (Sony Computer Entertainment chairman Shuhei Yoshida, the cloaked adventurer from Journey and Sir Galahad from The Order: 1886) are new entries exclusive to the PS4 version of STFU. Each member of the Super Time Force crew has two attacks- a regular attack that can be done continuously by pressing square and a stronger move used by holding and releasing the same button.
Although it’s nice to have the standard attack, I found myself relying on the charged shots as they seem much more useful and are far more gratifying to pull off. For example, the team’s heavy machine gun expert, Jean Rambois, can shoot a singular bullet vertically, horizontally or diagonally, but the charged attack has a stream of glowing bullets spew from his gun in three lines of glorious destruction. However, characters with a melee attack such as Zackasaurus, a Hawaiian shirt-wearing, skateboarding dinosaur(I can’t make this stuff up), benefits more from quick bursts of his powerful, short-ranged bite attack.
One of the most intensely addictive STFU mechanics comes with the combination of charged attacks when a gunner who was previously killed is rescued by way of time travel. If the fallen team member’s death is prevented, the character will freeze in time until they are touched. After the rescue and retrieval, your character will be given one hit of bonus armor as well as the added charge attack of the saved teammate. Mix and matching charged attacks is quite possibly the greatest thing since cheat codes and gives the same sense of amazement when first discovered.
This character variety also allows players to create their own strategies as they familiarize themselves with STFU and also drives them to retrieve stage collectibles that give access to four more optional playable characters-a perfect excuse to propel replayability. This adds depth to gameplay and has gamers growing close to their favorite characters.
Each gunner is bursting with personality in neat, little 16-bit pixel packages, which brings me to one of STFU’s biggest accomplishments: art style and design. The Capy art staff knocked it out of the park with impeccable character animations, background design and enemy models that brought the game to life with an exclamation point. Although I’ve already fallen in love with the ever-popular pixel art, this title competes with gorgeous works such as Hyper Light Drifter, Cave Story and Axiom Verge – and the personality absolutely does not end there.
Silly, stupid tongue-in-cheek humor which rivals the likes of Rick and Morty, Superjail!, and Professor Brothers is on point from start to finish. Translation: This game is damn funny. From the stage select screen that has serious soldiers lazing around a spaceship to the “Got a problem? Fix it with time travel!” motto, STFU will consistently slap a stupid grin on your face. Super Time Force’s Commander Repeatski is the source behind most of the laughs and always has a sarcastic speech prepared or cocky quip to dish out that seems to sneak up and tickle you right in the funnies. Constant smiles escort the player to the game’s finale and shows just how hilarious some of the minds behind developer Capy really are.
Fun far outweighs aggravation in this game, and the soundtrack by 6955 perfectly places players in the middle of all the time traveling adventures to be had by the Super Time Force. With the addition of HellaDeck challenge levels, STFU clocks in at four to eight hours(depending on how much of a completionist you want to be) and never once feels like it’s dragging. In fact, the addition of two more levels and a few more characters would have been welcomed with open arms.
Do yourself a favor and pick this game up. The level of detail in design, tight controls, overwhelming personality and crazy story will have me coming back to this for years to come. So don’t wait around and miss out on the opportunity to play the game where time is always on your side.
It's about time you played this crazy game.
Time is funny in this side-scrolling shoot 'em up where the Earth looks to a group of courageous time travelers to save the day.