by Melissa M. Parker0
Time Surfer Review
A New Wave of Autorunners
Time manipulation in videogames is nothing new. From Chrono Trigger to Majora’s Mask to Braid, developers have been obsessed with unlocking the possibilities of time in gameplay. Still, using time travel in an endless runner is something that hasn’t been explored. On its face it seems counter-intuitive. After all, the whole conceit of endless runners is that they are one-directional—always forward, never back. In spite of this, Time Surfer makes a good case for why this idea might be just what the doctor ordered to rejuvenate the genre. I think we all know what Doctor I’m talking about.
There are two controls in the game: Dive and Rewind. Tap the right side of the screen to dive down slopes and gain momentum. Tap the left side of the screen to turn back time, and travel to an earlier point on your trajectory. The catch is that your ability to rewind is limited by the amount of time gems in your gauge. Once that gauge is empty, there’s no second chance to avoid those spikes, or that pit, or the end of the universe—a fiery abyss that swallows you up if you lose too much speed.
As with most endless runners, you’re given missions to complete for each turn. Though not explicitly labeled, these missions are sorted by difficulty. The first kind of mission is the easiest, where you have an unlimited number of turns to collect a certain item (200 time gems, for example, or six speed bonuses). The second kind requires you to complete a certain action in a single game (stomp four aliens in a row, or travel 2000 meters). The third type of mission is the hardest, and most unpredictable in terms of what it will demand. “Collect upwards of 70 gems in a constellation that spells CAKE without a magnet bonus? Impossible!”
When confronted with the typical Mission Impossible, you have a choice whether or not to accept it (or so the recording says before it promptly blows up). So it follows that in most endless runners, you have the option to buy out your mission using the in-app currency and swap it for a new one. There is no such option in Time Surfer. Seasons will change, years will pass, gravity will take its toll on all the prized parts of your body, and that same mission will stare into your sagging face until that day when you finally figure it out, or die. And that’s part of what makes this game decidedly hardcore.
Another thing that makes Time Surfer challenging is its upgrade system. In many autorunners, you can purchase all the upgrades your heart desires, as long as you’re willing to endure the grinds or pony up some real US dollars. This enables you to create a character that’s virtually unstoppable. In Time Surfer, however, you don’t get to make dozens of upgrades to a single character. Your surfer can only wear one costume at a time, and each has its own attribute (the Samurai surfer makes time gems 10% more effective, while the Crystal surfer gives you +20% base speed). If you decide that you don’t want to use a surfer, you can purchase a vehicle, alien, or toon—but again, each of these only has one or two special attributes. This makes it impossible to create an invincible runner. Instead, you have to determine which vessels will be most helpful in completing the missions assigned. There are no character-specific missions, so the choices are yours, and yours alone.
For a 2D sidescroller, a lot of attention was paid to the artwork. Each of the areas evokes a completely different setting, ranging from the craters on Mars to a modern ski slope (it’s also worth mentioning that each area has different terrains to alter gameplay, like wider gaps or longer stretches of flat land). There’s no clutter in the background against vibrant skies, except for the occasional tree or rock formation that blends in so seamlessly you’d have to hit pause to appreciate their intricate lines. Each of the characters and vehicles are all lovingly drawn, from the Delor—ahem, “80’s Future Car” (caption: “Just get to 88 mph”) to the Termin—ahemhemhem, “Future Assassin” (“Visit again soon, he said. Later on he did.”) The surfers even have distinct facial expressions for when they grind or wipe out. Though the x’s in their tiny eyes flash only for a brief moment, it takes no more than a moment to understand their profound shame.
The electronic soundtrack is nothing to write home about, but it’s not offensive enough to write your congressman about, either. The only problem I had with gameplay was the occasional stutter when my surfer gathered too much speed, but I hardly noticed it. This game is crazy addictive. And it even comes with two extra modes—Kepler Run, which features vortexes that drastically shift your direction, and Hell Zone, which speaks for itself. Here’s a word of advice—skip the Doctor Who marathon, and pick this up instead. It won’t make the angels weep, but you may hear them whisper, cowabunga!
Summary: If you're looking for a new runner to get hooked on, you've come to the right time and place.