The original release of Super Time Force got our top honors when it hit the Xbox One back in May, making our the wait for the PC version hard to bear. Luckily, the wait was worth it. The folks at Capybara Games have crafted something that takes the soul of Contra, the fast pace of a side-scrolling shoot ‘em-up, and the time-rewind functionality that has turned racing games on their ear for the past five years into an unforgettable experience. Sprinkle in tons of humorous dialogue and cutscenes that will get a chuckle out of you, and you get a game that should be experienced by everyone with a love for run-and-gun gaming.
The biggest twist in that formula here is the time-rewinding feature. By pressing B on an Xbox 360/Xbox One pad, you can pause the action, rewind to a certain point, and then bring back another character or a copy of the character that just died. So if you’ve got the sniper-based Aimy with her one-hit charge shot and superb diagonal aiming and you’re dying a lot at a section, you can have her die, hit B, use LT to take things back a bit, RT to precisely move them forward, and then bring in the spreadshot-using Jean and see if your fortunes change. Keeping the other character on-screen doesn’t just help you do some extra damage in boss battles, but it also gets you an extra hit since they’re there to take damage and not just you. As a bonus, if your departed comrades actually survive for a bit, you can absorb their powers and gain hits too — it’s a very well thought-out system that rewards you for trying to win instead of just relying on endless retries and using allies as bullet sponges. Even with the help, this is still a really tough game, but it’s always rewarding to complete a challenging section.
STFU doesn’t just feature fast-paced Contra-style action, but it mixes things up with side-scrolling shoot-em-up areas too. These are among the toughest sections in the game because there is so much flying towards you at any one time, and you’ll need to both focus and spam the hell out of timeouts to win. Most of the missions feature at least one portion that tests your mettle — these do it non-stop. Beating one is a thrill and a real accomplishment. You’ll either want a beer or a high-five after doing so — but don’t indulge too much because the action never stops. You always want to pay attention because you’ll either miss a seamless transition into gameplay (thankfully always cued with a character select screen), or some hilarious dialogue. Heck, just starting off a stage will have you laughing your ass off as your spaceship always kills at least one person upon landing. Word to wise — when trying to lift a sword from a stone from an Arthurian legend, look up and prevent certain doom.
New features have been added to the Xbox 360/Xbox One version, including new characters and a ton of missions. These missions are non-canon training missions that help you show your mastery. They’re more puzzly-heavy than the regular run, jump and time-skip gameplay and use the ghost mechanic to do things like give you a second person to shoot so you can each shoot a target or get a ghost in a certain position so you can grab an item. The execution is reminiscent of the Metal Gear Solid franchise’s VR missions, using the core mechanics in a slightly different way. The timeout feature remains your key, but you’ll be able to either learn it quickly in these missions or become even more skilled at it. The bite-sized nature of them also helps because it takes the pressure off. Instead of dying at a boss battle and dreading a restart because you were so close to winning this crucial battle, the stakes are reduced and you don’t feel as bad. “Okay, I didn’t hit that switch” feels a lot better than “OH MY GOD, THE ENEMY IS TAKING OVER AND IT’S ALL MY FAULT!”.
Visually, Ultra looks the same as the basic Super Time Force, and that’s not bad. The game is pixel art done right — so many games have relied on pixel art as a way to scream retro without realizing that there’s a point to it. Pixel art was done back in the ’80s because there were no options and people, like with any art style, had to master it to get things out of it. Any old person couldn’t just use pixel art to get emotion out of a limited sprite — relatively few developers did that in the 16-bit days, let alone in the 8-bit era. STFU’s art style has a more NES-style blockiness to it, but with a level of speed you would usually see reserved for the fastest of Genesis games, and uses a rewind mechanic no game at the time really could. It takes advantage of the retro craze perfectly by giving players an experience that takes the best of the old and mixes it with some modern-era mechanics like all of the time-bending for both action and puzzles. The end result is a fast game that suffers from no slowdown, and looks impressive every second the experience lasts — especially with small animation flourishes throughout it.
Like pixel art style, we’ve seen tons of chiptune soundtracks over the past few years. Games like Shovel Knight proved the genre could be done well whilst reliving the NES’s glory days. STFU has more advanced sound design and makes use of the extra audio layers nicely. You’ll hear explosions, time rewinds and fast forwards, individual gun blasts, and explosions in real-time. Despite that, things never sound cluttered because everything is happening on-screen and so it makes sense that you’d be able to hear it all at once. The little beeps and boops during cutscenes work well, and every element of the sound design fits into the other like a finely-crafted puzzle. Instead of assembling 500 pieces into a picture, though, you’ll be rewinding and fast-forwarding time 500 times to topple evil — and that’s infinitely more rewarding.
Super Time Force Ultra takes the already-excellent foundation forged on Microsoft’s consoles and makes it even better, with a ton of extra missions and a few new characters. Chock-full of replay value, the added content makes this the definitive edition. Challenging, but rarely frustrating, Super Time Force Ultra is a strategic run and gun. The love it received on Xbox was deserved, and it remains a must-buy on Steam.
Version Reviewed: PC