Review by steamliner88

Reviewed: 07/06/02 | Updated: 08/26/04

Time for some Action!

In this modern day of cell-shading and multi-screen handhelds, many classic genres have been pushed to the brink of extinction. The maze game (think Pac-Man) is deader than Elvis, Mike Tyson's career and 2Pac combined and the overhead run and gun genre is soon there too. While I doubt that the modern gamer has any interest in this type of games, I can't help but feel a bit bitter when I see the capability of today's consoles and dream about the games that could have been made with all that power. But instead of anticipating a new Commando, I'm stuck looking through retro collections and reliving the good ol' days when the arcades were full of WW2 themed blast feasts and shameless Double Dragon clones. Back then, another breed of games ruled the arcades, games like Time Soldiers.

Time Soldiers first appeared in the arcades back in 1987, but despite being a good and somewhat original game, it passed below the radar. Still, the quirky overhead run and gun game was ported to Sega's Master System a year later, and despite the limitations of the format, the game turned out to be a solid port. As you might expect, not all of the original's features survived the translation, but what remains is still a pretty good game that matches up well against Capcom's port of their arcade classic Mercs.

As the name suggests, the game features time travel. You are on a mission to "fight your way through the horrors of the past and future to rescue your friends and save the universe". To do this, you must visit five distinguished time periods, ranging from the Primitive Age, where cavemen and dinosaurs tries to teach you a violent lesson in archaeology, to the Future Age, a hi tech battle-zone infested by UFOs, robots and cybersoldiers. Between them, you'll also visit the World Wars, do some sightseeing in feudal Japan in the Age of Wars and enjoy shooting down a piece of history in the Age of Rome. Each age is divided into three rounds, each round ending with a mini-boss. After beating the boss, a time portal materializes, giving you the choice of continuing in that age or entering the portal, throwing yourself into the unknown (another age, that is). After beating three mini-bosses, the screen turns black and you have to beat the big boss of that age in order to rescue one of your fellow Time Soldiers. Then it's on to the next one...

While the way the game is structured enables you to make a decision on where to head next, it's not really a big deal. You'll still have to play through every section at least once, and if you make the wrong choice you may be forced to re-play one or more levels before you get to the real boss. Still, you may want to do so in order to collect extra power ups, even if the game is rather easy without them. There are three types of special weapons to collect, all with a limited supply of ammo: the standard three way shot, the super bullets (travels longer and are more powerful than regular shots) and the missiles, which can take out enemy projectiles and travel over some obstacles. If you pick up the same weapon two or three times in a row, it will become progressively stronger. This sounds like a reasonable concept, but with the highest power on your special weapon, you'll kill any boss in just four hits, making the game a breeze. Killing the last boss within 20 seconds of getting to him is not what I call satisfying, so this is a rather big problem.

Aside from the lack of any real challenge, there isn't much to complain about in Time Soldiers. The controls are simple, with one button firing your regular gun and the other controlling the special weapon, if you have one. One thing that will annoy you at first is that the characters are carrying their guns on their right shoulder. This means that when facing up, the shots will not come out of the centre of the character, but from the right side. You'll have to position yourself slightly to the left of the enemy in order to hit it with your shots. Within a few minutes, this will be second nature, but be prepared with some good profanities when the first few enemies walk straight into you while your shots hits the ground beside them. For some odd reason, this only happens when you face up. In every other direction, the shots will be fired from the centre of the character. Other than this, the controls are responsive and smooth. The simultaneous two-player mode works great, and there is almost no slowdown although some sprites tend to flicker when there is too much going on at the same time. This is a rare occurrence though, so it shouldn't bother you much.

Besides the excellent two-player mode, Time Soldiers' main strength is the varied enemies and levels. Thanks to the time travel plot, the programmers have been able to include everything from cavemen, gladiators and ninjas to robotic scorpions, ghosts and bullfrogs. Unfortunately, you'll soon notice that the cavemen, ninjas, cybersoldiers, archers and WW2 soldiers all behave in the same way. They may look different, but in actuality there are far fewer types of enemies in the game that it may seem at first. Still, compared to the pallet-swapping schemes of most similar games from this age, I can definitely stand to have ninjas and soldiers with similar movement patterns. After all, most of the competition has enemies like red soldier, blue soldier and green soldier, where the only difference is the speed and paint job.

In terms of graphics, Time Soldiers is definitely on the upper half of the Master System ladder. The backgrounds are diverse with a good level of detail and the sprites are well drawn and varied, but the animation is a bit lacking. Most enemies have only two frames on animation, which is what you should expect from an 8-bit game from '88. However, only their legs are animated. Due to this, some enemies seem to be floating around while the lower section of their bodies flicker. It's a minor complaint, but it should be noted. Another problem is the lack of shadows for flying enemies. Most of the time it's obvious if you can walk under an object or not, but some enemies, like the ghosts in the Roman levels and the flying Tengu monsters in ancient Japan, could as well have been on the ground. Since the shots have shadows, I don't think that it would be asking too much to give the flying opponents shadows too.

Sound-wise, this is a roller coaster. While levels like the World Wars sport excellent music, others, like the Age of Wars, are cursed with some of the most migraine inducing bleeping that your poor ears will ever be exposed to. Keep the remote close so you can press mute often, or you may not be able to complete the game with your sanity intact. The sound effects are what you could expect from an SMS game, neither better nor worse than in any other game from this age. Enemies explode with a satisfying boom and the weapons sounds ok. It's a shame that most enemies are completely mute, but again, this is an SMS game. It may have been possible to make the enemies’ guns sound when fired, but it's nothing that I really miss.

Overall, Time Soldiers is a solid game that represents the state of the industry of the time. It’s not the most innovative game ever, but it offers an hour or two of fun every time you take it for a spin. The low difficulty is a bit of a let-down, but it's good enough to make you come back for more many times after you first beat it. A good buy if you find it for a reasonable price. Not a classic, but a worthy addition to any Master System collection

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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