[Disclosure: A review key was provided for the contents of this article]
10Tons Ltd’s most recent action game for the Nintendo Switch is yet another twin-stick, isometric shooter, made in an almost visually similar vein to Jydge and Neon Chrome. However, unlike the other two futuristic games, Time Recoil‘s mechanics are completely different, relying on a Hotline Miami-style setup where players must avoid getting hit, shot, or attacked because when you do, you die.
The game follows an amnesiac scientist named Alexa. She’s the only human capable of traveling back and forward through time, and she’s rescued by a resistance group and brought to 1987 where the world has been taken over by Mr. Time and Paris, Berlin, and most of Europe has been destroyed and put under the totalitarian rule of Mr. Time.
While the plot sounds cheesy as a 1960s sci-fi flick, the story unfolds revealing that Alexa isn’t quite who you think she is, and her ability to travel back and forward in time is attached to a plot point that makes her far less innocent than you might have originally thought.
Even still, 10Tons managed to tell an interesting story unlike their other outings, which simply relied on giving players a basic goal and then letting them loose in the game world. Here, Time Recoil is almost entirely driven by its story. You don’t get the RPG elements like in Jydge or Neon Chrome, but you are compelled to keep moving through the levels to find out more about Alexa, Mr. Time, and the whole time distortion that ended up causing the world to be taken over by Mr. Time.
The plot itself plays a huge role in how level progression takes place. Players will bounce back and forth between the mid 1970s and late 1980s, and the various years in between. Now just because Alexa is the main heroine and is the only one who can move through the chronosphere multiple times without her organs imploding, it doesn’t mean she’s quite the Mary Sue heroine you might be expecting.
The plot unfolds by teaching you some of the mechanics about how the time travel works and how Alexa is able to use that to her advantage during gameplay, including slowing down time, which makes it easier to dodge bullets and string together kill-combos, which in turn allow her to utilize special abilities, such as warping through walls at blinding speeds, or unleashing an explosive time distortion charge, or being able to freeze time altogether for so many seconds.
Players will discover these abilities while attempting to repair the time fractures created by Mr. Time, but will also make plenty of narrative-related mistakes along the way, such as killing teammates, key scientists, and others who are vital to the resistance movement. This oftentimes results in Alexa completely botching the future, sometimes resulting in near apocalyptic scenarios. She spends about as much time trying to repair time as she does breaking it.
Players will then be tasked to go back into a different time periods and attempt to rescue someone, kill someone, collect data, or prevent some sort of catastrophe in order to preserve the future.
Now one of the rules is that the time travel only allows Alexa to move between the periods that start with the creation of the time device up until the present day. So that’s why the game is set between 1975 and 1988.
The time period also plays into the game’s weapon cache, which revolves around Soviet-era machine guns, pistols, and shotguns.
If you run out of ammo you can also use the melee attack to stun enemies and eventually incapacitate them.
The gunplay is identical to Jydge or Neon Chrome, so if you’re familiar with either game you’ll be right at home with Time Recoil.
The trick, however, is that in some of the levels you’re not just killing the enemies, you’re attempting to find ways through some of the stages that are laced with traps, have security lasers present, or mines on the ground.
Since all it takes is one hit to kill Alexa, you’ll have to traverse through the levels smartly to avoid getting killed.
And here is where Time Recoil departs so greatly from the twin-stick, arcade-pastiche present in 10Tons’ other games. The earlier levels are a breeze as you pick off enemies – just like Hotline Miami it only requires one shot to kill them. However, the later levels get increasing difficult, and you’ll have to restart plenty of times after getting shot or tripping an alarm or getting gassed to death after a window breaks and toxic fumes start spilling out.
Much like Hotline Miami, you’ll begin to reevaluate each stage and think about your strategies for getting in, getting out, and avoiding any unnecessary deaths.
The later stages turn into a sort of choreographed ballet of picking and choosing your weapons and how and who you need to kill next.
You see, you don’t get reloads in the game, so whatever weapon you have is the ammo that you have for it. This means you have to time your shots wisely and shoot the weapons out of your enemy’s hands in order to pick it up and resume your bloodbath ballet.
With the added bonus of destructible environments, it’s easy to start thinking about how to string together entertaining and destructive combos. Maybe you start with a pistol, kill a shotgun guy; take his shotgun and blow a hole through a wall, killing a man with a rocket launcher in the process; maybe you take the rocket launcher and blow another hole in another wall, killing your target and making an easy pathway toward a mission objective. Alternatively you can just breeze through the hallways using a pistol and landing strafing headshots along the way. While the stages are oftentimes linear in how they must be completed, there are some interesting ways in which you can complete them.
Making things more interesting is the fact that using Alexa’s time abilities allows her to dash through enemies, turning them into explosive puddles of gib. This is oftentimes necessary for heavily armored enemies, or those who have bullet-proof shields in front of them.
It’s a far more strategic game than I originally thought it would be. Forcing players to think about their actions before carrying them out is part of Time Recoil’s charm, and also a gateway to a great deal of frustration and the constant need to keep replaying some levels.
The synthwave soundtrack and Soviet-themed art-style work well enough, and there’s definitely enough differentiation between Time Rcoil and 10Tons’ other games to make it feel like a completely different experience.
Now there are some major drawbacks to the game. You don’t get to select your arsenal before a level throughout the main campaign, which is kind of a bummer, but it was the same way in Hotline Miami. One thing that the game doesn’t do that Hotline Miami did really well was that you don’t get different throwable melee weapons in Time Recoil. If you run out of ammo in your guns then you’re basically done for. In Hotline Miami you could take a bat, or an axe, or a knife and throw it at people and keep the kill streaks going.
It’s not a deal-breaker but it does restrict how you approach some scenarios in the game.
Surprisingly, the way the story unfolds is actually one of the stronger highlights of Time Recoil. It’s told simply enough through little comic bubbles by talking to some of the NPCs or through flashback sequences in between levels when Alexa goes to sleep.
The big twist in the middle of the game that turns the whole resistance movement on its head was a nice change of pace, and the varied level design might be enough to sate the desires of Nintendo Switch owners who would love to play a game like Hotline Miami but don’t have access to it.
As far as performance is concerned, the game runs well from start to finish in both TV and portable mode… except for in a few segments where explosives fill the entire screen, or if you use Alexa’s AOE attack and there are a ton of objects within range and they all go off at the same time, causing a sizable hit to performance. However, this happens only very rarely, and I only encountered it twice during the playthrough.
Now I won’t say that this is a instant-buy game, but I do think it’s worth checking out if you enjoy those kind of games, especially if they have slightly cheesy but interesting time-travel plots. The added time attack mode also extends replay value for those who beat the campaign mode. So it’s a solid…