Time Recoil Review
A brief, but fun and action-packed ride through time
We seem to be in the thick of a recent trend in video games - particularly among indies - that celebrates the more frantic, action-based elements which were prominent during the 80’s and 90’s. Many recent titles have harkened back to these simpler times, often stripping away theatrics, strategy, and long sessions of grinding, and instead embracing the fast-paced, twitchy qualities more reminiscent of retro gaming. 10tons’ Time Recoil certainly adheres to this enduring and familiar style, though the game is also laced with some cool and unique elements that help it stand out amongst the rapidly growing “Nindie” scene on Switch.
Upon picking up this twin-stick shooter for the first time, you might indeed feel like you’ve teleported back several years - and that’s not because of the time traveling concept which is the cornerstone of both the narrative and gameplay - but rather, because of the feel of the game itself. Time Recoil instantly gives the impression of an NES title that’s emerged from some time vortex with its flat, top-down view complete with tiny avatars, rapid, unforgiving gameplay, as well as a simple and tight control scheme. And while the experience doesn’t quite feel as rich, authentic, or in-your-face crazy as something like Hotline Miami, Time Recoil provides its fair share of grueling difficulty and exciting, heart-thumping gameplay which makes it enjoyable in its own right.
The premise of the game is sort of “Terminator meets Back to the Future” with a little Kill Bill mixed in. Our hero is Alexa - and no, she doesn’t have the ability to play your favorite tunes, locate the nearest Italian restaurant, or spit out obscure historical facts on the spot, but she does hold an essential power - the ability to travel through, and manipulate, time itself. Once an experiment of a mad scientist dictator unimaginatively named “Mr. Time,” Alexa has broken free from his schemes to rule and to destroy the city of Paris using his time-manipulating technologies. At the start of the game, Alexa finds herself in the late 1980’s where, with the help of a rebel organization, she must travel to various years of the last decade in order to alter the events that led to Mr. Time’s rise to power, and ultimately defeat him. This all sounds more complex and cool than it plays out however, as most of the time you’ll just find yourself teleporting to generic indoor locations to gather intel, intersect with allies, blow things up, and gun down henchmen.
Despite being somewhat overused in the Sci-Fi film world, I still contend that the time-bending concept is a neat one, and offers tremendous potential in gaming. It’s unfortunate then, that in the case of Time Recoil, this potential feels somewhat unrealized, at least when it comes to the forgettable narrative and the environments. Since you’re only traveling back through the span of a single decade at most, the usually bland corporate buildings and laboratory sets all look pretty much the same. Although the game drives the time travelling point home through exposition from allies and readable memos/documents, you might as well just be walking from one floor of a building to the next.
Overall though, the time manipulation idea is utilized more creatively and memorably within the gameplay itself; primarily in the form of Alexa’s powers. The run and gun style is enjoyable on its own merit, but the incorporation of time-slowing and stopping adds some pizzaz to the experience - as well as a welcomed advantage for the player. Rather than operating on a multiplier system, Time Recoil rewards skilled gamers by slowing down the movement of the gameplay via stringing together kills quickly enough. To use yet another movie reference to illustrate - think Neo dodging bullets Matrix-style. It’s a clever way to subtly incorporate a sort of combo system that’s firmly interwoven into the gameplay itself, and pushes you to keep things moving. Slowing and stopping the current of time can also be beneficial in making your way across a hallway of mines or slipping through a path cut off by lasers, adding a touch of strategy that’s otherwise missing.
Although constant slow-motion shooting isn’t essential, it certainly proves helpful, as enemies will react quickly upon approaching them, and will take you down fast. Given that the game otherwise moves at a lightning pace, slowing things down helps you to better plot your attack and take in the chaos. As you make your way through each of the dozens of missions, you’ll gain some fun new abilities to boost the offense as well. These include an explosive pulse attack that annihilates all in its vicinity, and a dash move that can plow through several enemies at once. Both of these powers allow you to destroy those pesky thin walls that stand in the way as well. The most notable enhancement might be the time-stopping power obtained deep into the campaign, which freezes all enemies, giving you carte blanche to run around freely and deal some major damage to several henchmen without risk.
Each ability requires you to rattle off an increasing number of kills in succession before triggering. You’ll need only 2 kills in a row to enable the simple dash attack for instance, while a time freeze will require a whopping 8 kills in a short timeframe to initiate. Enabling these better abilities isn’t as easy as it seems amidst the chaos of trying to evade shots often fired from multiple areas. On top of this, you’ll also find yourself having to dance around lasers, landmines, and grenade-tossing henchmen at times in the later stages.
Thankfully, the simplicity of the twin-stick functionality, and the control scheme in general, allows for both precision and quickness. You’ll be particularly thankful for these attributes when stuck with a measly pistol, which is often. You’re typically granted limited ammo, so spraying barrages of bullets is ill-advised, as you don’t just risk alerting baddies to your presence, but you might find yourself without ammo and forced to melee an enemy; an effort that usually doesn’t end well. You’ll sometimes have the opportunity to snag better weapons like an assault rifle or shotty which allow for easier and more efficient slaying, but these are given sparsely until well into the campaign.
Even with the frequent dying and restarting - and believe me, you’ll perish frequently - the campaign mode is pretty short. While 50 plus missions sounds like a lot to have on your plate, each is but a bite-sized taster, many times taking well under a minute to complete. A typical mission will involve emerging through a wormhole, running into a hallway while picking off a few guards, scrambling into an adjacent room to grab some intel or destroy a control panel, clearing out any remaining baddies in your path, and retreating back into another wormhole. End scene. Most of the enemies look and act the same, with the primary difference being the weapons they wield. Although there are some shielded henchmen and a few that can absorb more hits, boss fights are nowhere to be found, save for Mr. Time himself. The campaign certainly could have done with a bit more variety and depth; if not in the form of objectives, then at least when it comes to the henchmen. Still, these micro missions provide plenty of excitement in terms of the rapid action, and for the fact that you’re under the constant threat of instant death. All it takes is a single enemy shot.
The game’s time attack mode further demonstrates this brevity and minimalist gameplay – and amps up the already fast-paced nature of the game to a fever pitch. The key difference is that in these scenarios, you’ll be rigidly timed during your run through the missions. This is where Time Recoil gets far more difficult. On top of fighting merely for survival, you must now also race against the clock as well. While simply completing the stage notches you a single star, earning 2 or 3 stars requires you move essentially at lightning speed without a hitch to even have a chance at hitting the absurd time limits set - many of which are mere seconds. I often found myself having to try and fail several times just to get reacquainted with the stage layout and location of my target objectives before I even had a prayer of hitting the designated time. Even when utilizing time slowing, you essentially have to know exactly what you’re doing when jumping in, and execute flawlessly.
Additionally, there are 2 higher tiers of difficulty that can be initiated within these trials or the main game. If you’re a masochist looking for a true challenge - and scrambling to hit those insane time limits somehow isn’t enough - this is where you’ll find it. Here, enemies react as if they’ve chugged a few Red Bulls, and fire with absurdly swift, accurate shots. This all but requires you to get a jump on most of them before they have a chance to shoot.
Time attack is definitely a fun addition in short bursts that helps add some difficulty and meat to the gameplay. It manages to provide a far different vibe and feeling of urgency, despite containing the same scenarios and environments as the campaign. It also wisely includes online leaderboards - a subtle addition but one that I very much appreciated. For my money, this feature offers the most incentive to keep powering through the abuse of the trials, as it’s cool to see your name atop the sparsely populated scoreboards. With all this said, this mode is still a bit lacking. It seems like the game is essentially forcing you to engage in a speed run the entire time, and it feels as if the stages aren’t completed so much as they must be exploited via shortcuts. With how fast everything whizzes by, the enjoyable gameplay found in the campaign gets somewhat lost in the translation here. After narrowly missing that 4.5 second time limit for the 15th attempt, even with the inclusion of leaderboards, you’ll inevitably reach a point where you’re asking yourself, why am I bothering? Sure, the game is enjoyable, but not to the point of replaying the same stage 20 times.
On a more positive note, Time Recoil’s soundtrack is possibly one of the best I’ve heard in recent gaming history. As something of a music snob, it takes much for a game’s soundtrack to stand out to me, and yet this is one of the few cases that I could actually see myself buying the tracks and enjoying at my leisure. The game utilizes some cool thumping techno beats and synthwave music straight out of the 80’s - which is fitting given the setting of the game. The constant pummeling of its rhythms mesh well with Time Recoil’s intense pacing, while its synthetic melodies further paint the atmosphere and balance it out with a simpler, more soothing undertone. It’s not only a treat for the ears, but a terrific representation of the game itself. On the graphical front, it’s something of a different story. Some cool explosive and electric effects and decent lighting are sprinkled throughout an otherwise bland and blocky aesthetic, though with its distant, top-down perspective, picture-perfect detail probably isn’t necessary.
Time Recoil might not be the next great top-down shooter, and falls a bit flat on both the narrative and aesthetic front, but the game flourishes or at least serves its function in most key aspects. The gameplay provides constant doses of action and intensity, and the mechanics feel solid for the most part. The ease of the control scheme makes for an action shooter that’s not too intimidating to pick up, but avenues also exist for the diehards who crave a more grueling challenge, in the form of Time Attack and the unforgiving Hardcore and Murderous difficulty. Some additional content, unlockables, or online play would have been a nice supplement to a somewhat brief experience, though the bite-sized missions do well to offer quick gaming fixes which are a good fit for the Switch’s portability.