Symphony of a Metroidvania: Echoes of a Magical Spacetime
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux, PS4, Vita
Developer: Lunar Ray Games
Publisher: Chucklefish Games
Timespinner follows Lunais, a young woman with powerful magic abilities who is chosen by her clan to be the Timekeeper. An individual tasked with correcting and changing history for the safety of their clan and the world around them. But just as she is inaugurated into her new role, her lcan is assaulted by the intergalactic empire of Lichiem, killing her mother, and forcing her to flee to the titular Timespinner, which sends Lunais spiralling across space and time, off on a quest to forge a better future, and also vengeance… But mostly vengeance
While it starts rather simply, the story of Timespinner gradually unfurls into something surprisingly less binary and more complex than I initially assumed. With a lot of this depth coming from a gradual drip-fed of notes and small conversations which steadily formulate a story that, while not particularly nuanced with a lot of its content or concepts, is a well told and slightly subversive tale that kept me interested throughout.
As the slightly gaudy subheader states, Timespinner is a metroidvania, with the emphasis being on the “vania” end of things, as this is one of the most deliberate homages to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night I have ever seen. From the shared mechanical background, general user interface, menu design, stat and equipment driven upgrades, general environmental design, dual world elements, albeit executed in a very different manner, the relic system, and even the presence of familiars. It is clear that the developers are immense fans of the Igarashi produced Castlevania titles, and Symphony in particular, and while such blatant influences might be seen as gauche to some, it both feels like a loving and informed tribute from a developer that studied and understands what makes that game such a beloved classic, and really never dwells in the game’s shadow.
Though even if it did, I cannot say that I would really mind, because of how well the game nails the fundamentals. With fast and fluid gameplay that results in satisfying attacks and good general maneuverability. Enemies that come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and bosses that feature a good variety between encounters, with the majority of them bringing with enough of a challenge to keep things intense. World design that, while a bit more linear than many metroidvanias of yore, does not feel restricted by this focus, and often places meaningful well paced rewards when it does branch out. Along with core upgrades that while limited beyond stat boosts, do greatly improve Lunais’s mobility near the end, allowing players to dash, soar, and dispatch enemies with empowering ease.
As for some of its more distinct mechanics, the role of weapons is fulfilled by orbs, two of which float around Lunais, granting her access to a variety of unique attack arcs and elements. Each one serves as a more permanent piece of equipment, possessing its own level and attributes, and, for certain orbs anyways, retain their usefulness throughout the game, thanks to scaling attack values and fluctuating enemy elemental weaknesses. Though, I would be lying if I said that all were created equal, with some feeling redundant or being more difficult to use, while others feel a bit overpowered in certain situations. Such as how the plasma, ice, and wind orbs all felt very contextual in their use, while gun, iron, blood, and many of the endgame orbs quickly became regulars after I obtained them, due to their high damage output and attack patterns.
Beyond the pair of normal attacks, each orbs also unlocks the ability to create a new spell for Lunais, which mostly function as a means of dealing large amounts of damage to tough enemies or bosses. It is very reminiscent of the soul system as seen in Aria of Sorrow, with some references being more direct than others, though much like the orbs themselves, the balance here is a bit sketchy, with some seeming notably more practical than others. Such as the iron orb, whose spell involves Lunais summoning a giant hammer with excellent range and high base damage, as opposed to the large number of spells that focus on a small and concentrated area, making them harder to use, especially when taking charge time into consideration.
That not being quite enough, orbs can also be used to unlock new passive abilities that do add for quite a bit of versatility to the gameplay, such as altering damage value, enabling forms of automated healing, increasing defense, or adding effects to all melee attacks. I actually found these very fun to play around with, offering the opportunity to support a large number of unique play styles, even if I did keep going back to a few standbys while taking advantage of a handy equipment switching feature.
Then there is the time manipulation feature, which simply allows Lunais to freeze time for a brishort period of time, turning the world sepia-tone and locking enemies and attacks in place, while also leaving them impervious. It is a very interesting mechanic, one that the game explores through a few timing puzzles, using frozen enemies as platforms, and by giving the player the ability better to avoid enemy or boss attacks. Yet despite being such a core element of the game, is feels somewhat underutilized, with it often functioning either as an exaggerated dodge or simply a way to obtain collectibles early.
Ultimately I really enjoyed the gameplay offered by Timespinner, enough that I was more than a little upset with how I lacked the time to partake in the game’s supposedly expansive new game+ mode. But in addition to a few minute grievances about weapon and spell balance, I do have a sack of minor hangups I would be remiss if I were to not mention. The elemental affinity system applied to the orbs is not as clearly conveyed as it ought to be, with weaknesses hidden in the bestiary and orbs lacking any kind of clear symbol to convey their element. The game has an odd ratio that is almost 16:9 but not quite, despite being a 2018 title, and the menu is 4:3 for some reason. Also, I had some screen tearing issues with this game, and it unfortunately lacks native v-sync.
Minor visual issue asides though, I do find Timespinner to be a very attractive game. With well done animations, detailed backdrops, and a fair amount of visual variety in its environments, lovingly replicating and executing a striking 32-bit art style all the while. Though what really cinches it for me are the little things, such as the twirl accompanying a double jump, the frantic actions of Lunais’s familiars, and the constant rotation of the multicolored orbs. Meanwhile the soundtrack mirrors the game’s greatest influence with a distinctively 90s feeling score that shifts between genres along with ethereal and bombastic tracks depending on the setting and situation.
While I can pinpoint a number of minute hangups I had with the title, I still thoroughly enjoyed my time with Timespinner. With its winding story, character growth, and world design all leaving me eager to see what would come next, while its well developed mechanics and feel kept me happily trugging along as I explored the breadth of areas laid out before me. It really does all that I could ask for from a game of its genre, and as such, stands as one of the most enjoyable modern metroidvanias that I have played.