Time Soldiers Review—Where Time Becomes a Loop
I’ve often thought about what I would do with a time machine. Change past events, like preventing Night of the Living Dead from going out of copyright and thus hopefully averting the zombie craze, or keeping the Cubs from winning any World Series at all. Meet long dead people like Chopin, Plato, and Grandpa Munster. Visit long vanished places like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, or see a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. Discover what really happened aboard the Mary Celeste, at the Money Pit on Oak Island, or who really shot J.R. The possibilities are almost endless.
Alas, in video games the main reason to time travel is to go back and shoot (or sometimes stab) people from different time periods. And not just people—usually somehow, dinosaurs, too. And Time Soldiers is no different. Originally released in 1987 by SNK and developed by Alpha Denshi, Time Soldiers is a run-and-gun game, similar to SNK’s own Ikari Warriors, or Capcom’s Commando or Taito’s Front Line. Rather than navigate a jungle or battlefield, though, you go from era to era, sent from the future to rescue several of your comrades.
The catch is you aren’t send to the correct time where the guy you are trying to rescue is being held. You’re sent to a different age, and you first must find a time portal to travel to another era, which is about halfway through the level. I actually didn’t realize this at first. It’s not overly tricky, since it tells you on the screen which time you are supposed to go to, but it caught me off guard.
Once in the correct era, you must navigate your way to the end of the level and defeat a pair of bosses. You have a regular gun that shoots when you tap the X button and has unlimited ammo, as well as various weapons that you can pick up, which all seem to be very high tech, either rocket launchers or some sort of multi-shot device. One twist is that your bullets and your enemies’ don’t go all the way across the screen; they have a relatively short range, maybe only about sixty percent of the screen. This requires you to bob and weave your way through levels.
Like most of these games, your aim was originally controlled in the arcade by a second stick or rotary dial, and it’s now mapped to the shoulder buttons. It’s less than ideal, but manageable, especially as you can remap them to other buttons. I find mapping it to O and Square to be much handier. There’s also an auto-aim function you can turn on, which has it aim in the direction you are moving in.
There are five different people to rescue and several different eras. You have one with cavemen and dinosaurs, in which I would complain about the anachronism, but the dinosaurs shoot at you, too, so they clearly weren’t going for realism with this game. There’s a level set in World War II, another one in medieval Japan, a Roman level that looks really neat, and a dystopian future level.
There are a couple of mid-bosses for each one, as well as a main boss. All are themed to that level, if very fanciful—for instance, the Roman one features a minotaur and a hydra. And once you rescue all your comrades, you get to have a final showdown on another level.
The flaw of this game, as with many of the genre, is the difficulty. It seems to be deliberately hard, so as to suck down quarters from the player. Sometimes it’s easy, but then there are spots where you face a wall of bullets. I die a lot in these games, but this was even more so than usual. It doesn’t matter so much, since you can continue (except on the final level), but strangely this difficulty is much less when you reach a boss. Most are relatively easy to fight, especially if you happen to still have a weapon power-up. There are three difficulty settings, though, which seem to affect the bullet speed and how often power-ups drop.
Much like Gang Wars, Time Soldiers could pretty much be a PSP game in terms of graphics. The resolution of the game is only slightly less than the PSP’s (at least vertically), and the colors are very vibrant, with extremely detailed sprites. The best example is shown in the game’s attract display (which runs when no one is playing), where there is a really nice-looking Roman mosaic. Sadly, I couldn’t find a good picture of it.
While game companies did a lot of experimenting with digitized speech early on, they had mostly abandoned it by the late ’80s. Not the case here, though, where there is a digitized scream played when your guy dies. It’s not the best example I’ve heard, however, and you hear it a lot. The music is good, though.
Time Soldiers comes close to being a really good game. It’s got a lot of variety, is a decent length, and looks very nice. But the extreme difficulty in spots takes out some of the fun, though it never gets frustrating, since it’s so easy to just continue. And while some levels are really impressive, like the Roman era, some were rather uninspired, especially the future level. Still, on the whole I had fun with it.