Timespinner is a loveletter to the Castlevanias of yore. It strongly evokes both the gameplay and the artstyle of Symphony of the Night in particular, but borrows from genre staples in all directions.
The signature mechanic of this game is the ability of the main character, Lunais, to manipulate time. This is expressed by the characters ability to freeze time at will, as well as being able to travel through time.
The first of these two has some really interesting implementations. When you freeze time, all enemies and many projectiles become static, frozen platforms that Lunais can climb. This allowed the developers to craft some platforming sections that rely on briefly pausing and unpausing time in order to ascend to hidden areas. It really makes you look at game objects in a different way.
This is unfortunately somewhat underutilized, both in terms of platforming and in combat. There was no single time where the game explicitly told you during a bossfight that the boss was about to use an attack that requires yo to stop time. Many attacks were designed to be avoided using timestop, but you were never quite sure if it was correct way to deal with it, and as you can only stop time for so long, you end up becoming quite reluctant to use it. In practice, this basically results in bosses having attacks that punish you for not knowing about them beforehand.
The ability of the character to travel through time is expressed by the existence of two interconnected time periods: The past and the present. Lunais can travel between these using gateways placed at various points throughout the world, that also act as fast-travel points.
This echoes the Reverse Castle of Symphony of the Night, except that these two worlds can affect each other, as they are connected. At some points, your progress in the future is barred until you do certain actions in the past, and some of the NPCs you encounter in the past require you to fetch items from the future.
However, this is grossly underutilized. It’s a great mechanic, but I can only think of two non-story related times where it is utilized, and they are the same thing but in different places. There could have been so much more done with this mechanic, and I was sad to see it be as underutilized as it was. Doing more with this would have made the world feel so much more alive and interactable, which brings me to my next point.
The world of the game feels very “flat”. It has a fairly large amount of individual rooms, but many of them feel sort of same-y. Some sections were great, like the laboratory, but others were really dull, like the royal palace. Making the areas past and future versions of each area be more connected would’ve gone a long way towards making them more interesting.
The story of the game in general deals with two themes. The main storyline deals with revenge, and showcases Lunias’ anger and fury, while the sidequests deal with love, sexuality and relationships. It attempts to humanize the protagonist, and does a fairly good job of that, but many of the characters you interact with in these sidequests feel somewhat one-dimensional. For most of them, their entire personality is defined by their sexuality. It did have some really nice and cute moments, however, and representation is absolutely important. There is some narrative dissonance here, however.
The developer has stated that they wanted to show people how their reality is like, being gay themselves and having the vast majority of their friends be in the LGBTQ community, which is super interesting, but in the game, it seemed highly unlikely to me that an almost entirely random group of people would all be LGBTQ, unless the populations that are presented are LGBTQ by majority. However, as it mentions persecution at times, this doesn’t quite seem to be the case, which makes it feel like a narrative disconnect. At times, the writing did definitely imply that LGBTQ was fairly common in Lunias’ tribe, but didn’t speak much of the rest of the world, and as her tribe were isolated nomads, you can’t really reasonably extrapolate from that. I will concede that the scenario presented isn’t impossible, just very improbable based on what we can infer about the universe from their conversation.
The game offers a lot of customization and options in how you want to tackle the games gameplay challenges. Attacking is done using two interchangable orbs that define how your main attack works. The normal Blue Orb gives you a rapid-fire short-range attack that hits just in front of you, while the Blade Orb conjures a sword to do a downward slash that hits above and in front of you. There are more than 10 different orbs that can be mixed to help you adapt to different situations. In addition to that, each orb comes with a ring and an amulet. The ring adds a property to all your main attacks, with the Blue Ring, per example, making you take and deal more damage with each successive attack, while the amulet defines how your special charged attack will behave, with the Blade Amulet conjuring a giant version of the main attack to smash your enemies. It also allows you to equip different pieces of armor that increase your defense and offense
However, they are poorly balanced. Certain blade/ring combinations are just vastly superior to all others in almost all situations, with the Eye Orb/Blade Ring combinations being the biggest offender. This makes most other choices feel somewhat hollow, as they needlessly increase the difficulty of an already fairly tight game.
There is one design decision that I do not understand, however.
Lunias cannot move and attack at the same time.
For a game that so strongly echoes the gameplay of Symphony of the Night, it makes no sense to me that attacking locks you in place. It makes movement feel really clunky and encourages you to tackle bosses by finding places where you are “safe enough” to stand still and attack most of the time, and rushing them down before they can kill you. The game would have felt so much better if you could’ve attacked while moving.
UPDATE: it appears I had allowed my nostalgia to cloud my memories. I just remembered that most weapons in SotN actually do lock you in place. So, in short, disregard the above.
In conclusion, there’s a lot to be learned here. My biggest takeaway is the importance of making movement feel perfect in a game like this. Another is how including lore can necessitate including even more lore for it to make sense and feel coherent, which can quickly balloon out of control.
It’s also important to avoid the illusion of choice by making sure that all choices the player can make as to how to play the game are close to equal, and make sure to define and support the styles you include.
Finally, you have to vary the ways in which your players can interact with the environment, or you risk the world feeling very flat.
All this criticism aside, it is a very good and enjoyable game. It should’ve been given the chance to mature a little longer, but it is nevertheless a truly enjoyable and beautiful game.