Metroidvania is a gameplay style which nearly always works and despite there being many games of this style in recent history, it somehow avoids oversaturation. Developers who set out to create an open-world 2D adventure inspired by the seminal Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night tend to succeed in bringing their own unique twist. Just in the last five years alone we’ve been lucky to see many inventive and utterly enjoyable Metroidvania adventures with the likes of Axiom Verge, Ori and the Blind Forest, Dead Cells, Salt and Sanctuary, Hollow Knight, and even the upcoming Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.
Although I have previously complained about certain genres being done to death in the indie gaming scene, Metroidvania is the only exception to this rule as despite the sheer number of titles to choose from, each somehow succeeds in offering something novel and worth your while. And as long as it is designed soundly with immediately adaptive controls, it can distinguish itself on the basis of art, story, theme, music, combat, and importantly, inventive RPG and gameplay systems which encourage a player to develop the playable character in a number of interesting ways.
Timespinner joins the recent crop of stellar Metroidvania games, and finds itself in close proximity to the release of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. This timing (pun unintended believe me) is challenging for Timespinner because the man behind Bloodstained is one who founded (*cough* took all the credit for) Metroidvania. Still, Timespinner has potential to stand the test of time (yep, that one was intended) and give Bloodstained some healthy competition too. If you’re a fan of the genre, then you won’t be too miffed if you have to end up playing both games.
Timespinner takes place in a world which aesthetically takes the best from Middle Eastern, Scandinavian, and Eastern European art, bringing these contrasting and yet complementary styles to present a wonderfully unique art style and architecture. In fact, one of the things players will catch early on is how the backgrounds are drawn with such finesse, resembling something which should belong on a canvas. Graphically, Timespinners is SNES inspired without a fault but even so it never looks dated, as the graphics and sprites resemble those from Final Fantasy VI quite strongly. This is actually a great thing, given how much of the SNES library has aged like fine wine in both gameplay and visuals. The character and monster designs look great too, and while most of them draw upon familiar fantasy designs we’ve seen historically, they are still unique and memorable in their own way. If anything, many of the costume and monster designs seem to have been inspired by Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal.
Timespinner presents a game world and storyline which actually has a very rushed setup, so rushed that you barely get a moment to care for the context or the situation the characters are facing. The story starts off with a tragedy which hardly has any emotional impact, but thankfully things only improve from this disappointing setup as the world and lore building is engaging. It doesn’t take long for the protagonist and the rest of the cast to situate themselves in a context far bigger than themselves, which makes their journey and plight worth investing in. The main premise involves using the power of time to change the course of history, and although it is a premise done many times in art and entertainment, Timespinner uses this familiar and paradoxical plot device to drive a rich narrative.
The concept of time isn’t just a plot device; it serves a meaningful role in the core gameplay as well. Early on the protagonist, Lunais, learns the power to pause time which not only makes platforming interesting (time-still enemies can be used as platforms), it also adds a fresh twist to boss pattern memorisation as well. Lunais learns all sorts of new abilities and skills as the game progresses (including help from creatures called familiars) but what separates her from every other protagonist in recent Metroidvania titles is that, unlike anyone else, Lunais has actually successfully replicated Alucard from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. This is a huge deal.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night innovated many things, among them being a mechanically sublime playable character in Alucard. Many elements of Symphony of the Night have been successfully emulated and imitated by other games, but none have ever succeeded in capturing Alucard’s mechanical intricacy until Lunais in Timespinner, which is something we’re not even sure if Miriam (Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night) has achieved. Lunais has the exact inertia of Alucard’s sublime movement, and the rest of her combat prowess comes pretty close as well. If one were to nit-pick one thing, it would be her jumping momentum doesn’t always execute and land precisely, but this minor mechanical hiccup can become accustomed to.
The game and world design of Timespinner on Xbox One is done very well, from both a macro and micro standpoint where all the level and gameplay elements have an organic and scaffolded progression about them. The world you get to explore is tied together in a cohesive and coherent fashion, and there are rarely any moments of aimless detours or confusing dead-ends as it becomes very apparent to the player if they’re meant to be in a certain place or not. The game itself is generally quite challenging (easy mode is handy) as the many regenerating enemies are stubborn and the boss battles provide a Castlevania-grade challenge.
The gameplay segments are punctuated by story elements too, whether in the form of cut-scenes or finding pieces of lore which bring the universe to life. Speaking of Castlevania-grade, the music of Timespinner is clearly influenced by the adventurous styling of famed Castlevania composer, Michiru Yamane. From haunting pianos to a duelling combination of guitars and violins, the soundtrack of Timespinner fits the aesthetic and action without relying too much on looped themes.
Even in the presence of so many great options for a Metroidvania experience, the quality of Timespinner is strong enough to warrant interest from not just genre fans, but anyone looking for a consistently engaging and polished 2D adventure epic. Timespinner is definitely worth your time.