Review: Timespinner

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Review copy provided by publisher

Imagine for a moment that you are a fan of the venerable Castlevania series, and you’ve found yourself wanting more now that Konami has fully moved on to turning their storied IPs into gambling machines. Exactly how close to that particular sun do you need your games to fly? Would you be satisfied with, say, wandering a somber insect kingdom, or suplexing your way through a mad luchador adventure? Or do you need the traditional grid map, the warp rooms, the cute familiars, and the progression of power-ups that reveal the world to you? If your answer is the latter, then I can wholly recommend Timespinner to you, a Castlevania game in all but name and surprisingly winding plot, with nary a vampire in sight.

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Lunais belongs to a secretive clan tasked with safekeeping the Timespinner, a temporal manipulation device appropriately resembling the guts of a timepiece. The Lacheim Empire has finally caught up to them and desires that power for themselves, however, and after a chaotic battle Lunais finds herself lost in time. With her command of the Timespinner, however, she has the chance to change all of that, delving into the past and present of two empires, and the people who have suffered between them. As plots begin to unravel and the true shape of history reveals itself, Lunais must make some far-reaching choices regarding the fate of her world, her family, and herself.

I tend to hate time travel stories unless they make the most of their potential paradoxes, and Timespinner does that to a satisfactory degree. I’ll tell you up front that you won’t be making dramatic changes to the actual map or gameplay but the plot makes good on the incredible powers you command by the end. Instead you’ll be exploring the environs of the same area between two eras, locating points of interest in one that hint at keys to your quest in the other. More tangibly you get a time-stopping mechanic that allows you to scale frozen enemies like platforms and avoid big attacks. It’s not used too terribly often, to the point that you might forget about it at times, but the moments it does come up are definite high points.

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Outside of time trickery, the rest of the game is lifted almost wholesale from the major Castlevania titles. Maneuvering Lunais is going to be incredibly familiar to series veterans, all the way down to the backdash and soaring jump from Symphony of the Night and the endless dash from later games. The equipment, item, and familiars all derive from Symphony as well, while your three active attacks are near copies of the glyphs from Order of Ecclesia. They’re orbs instead of sigils, though, leveling up independently and expanded by a crafting system that lets you make superpowers and passive abilities through jewelry. Starting from basic fire and blade orbs, you’ll eventually locate exotic attacks like grim eyeballs, plasma arcs, and transforming guns that give combat some much-needed variety.

The truth is that if anything, Timespinner borrows a bit too liberally from Symphony of the Night without really adding enough interesting setpieces and items of its own. Symphony itself suffered from a preponderance of empty hallways, a syndrome alleviated in later titles but sadly resurrected here. Your mobility powerups contain none of the surprises found in titles like Hollow Knight nor the variety in Symphony, and the equipment system is distinctly underused. Gameplay-wise this is very much a throwback to a timeless classic that doesn’t iterate on its inspiration much at all, even as other titles in the intervening period did.

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Fortunately there’s more than just the gameplay to experience here. Whatever Timespinner lacks is made up for in its setting, a refreshing mix of technology and mysticism, secular science and supernatural influence. Nearly every boss you encounter brings with it another twist in the story, winding past ancient conspiracies and betrayals as Lunais begins to dismantle the gears of power. She finds allies that give her simple quests to collect or kill but garnish the tasks with expanded lore about the world, tales of political strife or emotional hardships. You may also notice that character relationships are a bit more varied here, a nice detail that gives the setting more color and will only give pause to the most fragile and backward of souls. And then there are the endings, four in all, each with grand consequences that take the stakes to their logical conclusions.

Timespinner ends up being a classic Castlevania with a dash of modern worldbuilding, and in the end that’s perfectly fine with me. The six hours I spent plumbing the game’s secrets and hunting down the different endings were wonderfully relaxing and fascinating to follow. I won’t claim to have been challenged by the gameplay or really surprised by any of the combat or exploration, but it was worth it to learn about the world and its characters. As a story-driven platformer this is definitely one of the better ones, even if the gameplay isn’t quite in the same league, so even if you’re not a Castlevania veteran there should be plenty for you to dig into here.

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