Super Time Force is obsessed with the past

After finishing a level in Super Time Force a replay of the run plays. It’s not just the winning one, but all of them, overlapping, an unorchestrated collage of pixels and explosions. Merlin jumps up and throws a bolt of his staff, destroying a dinosaur, which allows a not-quite-Jedi to jump on the platform and use his not-quite-lightsaber to deflect a few bullets from a robot that would’ve killed an ersatz Rambo. Every so often one these characters dies, or a skateboarding dinosaur spawns out from a sniper. Time is elastic and kind of a mess in Super Time Force.

Super Time Force is obsessed with the past. It’s a product of nostalgia. Its gorgeous pixel art and chiptunes bring to mind the best of the 16-bit era, the way I always imagine it to be, rather than how it really ever was. It plays and feels like a classic Treasure game, particularly their masterpiece, Gunstar Heroes. In Super Time Force you play as a group of historical castoffs, jumping from era to era to right wrongs and stop the post-apocalyptic future from coming to pass. There’s a level in medieval Europe, one in the Google-controlled future, even one in the 1980s.

The obsession with time bleeds into how it plays. At any point, the action can be stopped and rewound and a new hero can be spawned in. The ghost of the previous run still continues, though, which can help and sometimes hinder the player’s current run. Past and present living on screen at the same time. What Capybara does with Super Time Force is turn repetition—a necessary but sometimes grueling part of learning the ins and outs of those old-school punishing games—into a strength. Instead of being forced to the beginning of a level when a character dies, action can be replayed at any point. The main pressure is that there are a finite number of rewinds (a very generous 30 to start) and a time limit of a minute (which can be expanded). Super Time Force takes the repetition and ritual that used to come from idle childhood Saturdays and condenses it.

And, as if unwilling to disturb our memories of those halcyon afternoons, Super Time Force seeks to streamline, to simplify, to ease. This generosity sets it apart from run-and-gunners past and present, where difficulty is a badge of honour. Aside from a few barriers in each level that need to be taken down quickly, most of the levels could, hypothetically, be tackled in a single run, sans ghosts, with precise, careful play. The ghosts, too, make the difficulty of the game elastic. More deaths mean more firepower. It’s like playing co-op with myself: hard parts of the level get stream-rolled with several of my characters running around the screen to help me out when things get too frustrating.

But that’s the thing about a game meant to be replayed: Playing through the first time, I enjoyed but didn’t love it. Knowing how far to rewind and when to rewind and how to play the characters took practice. But this is a work that is built for, and thrives in, repetition. Super Time Force is not a game that demands pixel-perfect skills. It allows for mistakes. The idea of rewinding time, in games, is a modern design pro-tip designed to make losing a bit less frustrating. Whether it’s to reverse a mistimed jump in Prince of Persia, or to nail a turn in Forza, it’s about preventing a mistake. In Super Time Force, the failures live on, but not as condemnations of my lack of skill. My sloppiness as a player is not useless. Seeing them all hopping around on the screen simultaneously, I realize: there can be grace in failure.