The second game in my SNK retrospective is Time Soldiers. Despite the flaws that I discussed in my earlier Gang Wars review, it still ends up as being somewhat playable for those willing to risk it. Time Soldiers, on the other hand, isn’t playable in the least. In fact, it may very well be the worst example of a top down shooter I have ever seen. The sad thing is that the concept for the game is actually decent.
The player(s) must travel between several time periods to rescue their imprisoned comrades. On the surface, this premise seems to be well executed. Each time period is unique both in terms of level design and the enemies present. The enemies in the World Wars, for example, carry a variety of weapons like guns and rockets, while some in the Age of Rome use shields to protect themselves from the player. It’s pretty cool; though I wish the guys who made the Primitive Age would have realized that cavemen never shared the planet with dinosaurs.
The time travel concept does have its drawbacks however. For each time traveler you save, you must effectively beat two or more levels, each having its own mini-boss before the time portal. This makes the game feel somewhat confusing, since you switch time periods every few minutes. Furthermore, it is possible to enter a time portal even when you are in the same period as the time traveler you are trying to rescue. This means that a simple miscalculated move can force the player to beat additional levels. In a game this bad, that is close to capital punishment.
Where the game really falls apart is in its gameplay. One hit from anything kills you in this game, and you will get hit often. With as many as two dozen enemies on the screen at once, it’s impossible to dodge projectiles. Normally, games like this give you weapon powerups to make things a bit easier, and Time Soldiers is no exception. The problem is that you will rarely live long enough to use them. Taking a hit will cause the player to lose the weapon they have equipped, thus removing any possibility of clearing a room in a hurry. I don’t even know why they bothered to give the extra weapons finite ammo, since it’s likely the player will die long before they run out.
I know that many arcade games were designed to be hard in order to milk the player for more money, but I doubt that anyone could ward off frustration long enough to give this game more than a dollar. Luckily, the PS Minis version gives the player access to unlimited credits via the triangle button. Not that it makes much of a difference to me of course, since this game is still too hard to be any fun. It may be easier with a second player, but I can’t bring myself to force this game upon another person.
Another frustration I have with Time Soldiers is with its control scheme. First of all, there are two separate buttons for the default gun and the special weapon pick-ups. I find this to be a bit strange, since special weapons usually replace the default weapon in other top down shooters. Mapping special attacks to a separate button only adds another step to the process, thus making it more complicated that it needs to be. The only practical application that I can see for this is to conserve ammo. This is absolutely pointless since, as I explained before, the player rarely lives long enough to deplete his/her ammo reserves. I don’t know why someone would conserve their ammo anyway, since the usual strategy for games like this is to spam the attack button.
I am also a bit annoyed by the way you rotate the character in this game. The player can rotate their character either clockwise or counterclockwise by pressing R1 or L1 respectively. While it’s nice to be able to attack from different angles, but this mechanic just feels slow and awkward, especially compared to how quick the lateral and vertical movements are. I think that this could have been easily improved by mapping the rotation to the right thumb stick. Most modern top down shooters use the two stick approach and it works brilliantly. I know that this game was made with a completely different controller format, but it can’t be that hard to incorporate the second stick. Even so, the controls are too irritating in their current form, and they require that I dedicate more brain cells to their operation than I am willing to spare for this game.
Ultimately, I can’t think of any reason why someone should buy Time Soldiers. Sure, it’s a really cheap game, but I don’t think it is worth spending any amount of money on. This is especially true when you consider that there are GOOD SNK games available in the PS Store. In fact, you can get Final Fight, Metal Slug, and King of Fighters for less than ten bucks each! With this in mind, I can’t see why anyone would bother with Time Soldiers or Gang Wars even.
Note: The Time Soliders review was written based on the PS3 version of the game.