Caught somewhere in Time
I didn’t imagine that I would find myself using the phrase, “Sonic Syndrome” twice within the same week, and yet here we are. Time Surfer, much like the recently released Noble Nutlings, is heavily influenced by Tiny Wings. It is also a game that bears similarity to the Sonic series, in that the player is often presented with obstacles entirely out of their vision. Jumping straight into talk of other games in a review is usually taboo, but in the highly iterative (if not derivative) market of the App Store, comparison is often appropriate.
Time Surfer is a much closer mimicry of Tiny Wings than Noble Nutlings, it is a game in which you control the force of gravity on a character that surfs over a long series of hills, valleys and pits. At the outset of each game your character is a projectile, flung towards the right side of the screen. By using your power over gravity, you pull the character into the downward crest of a curve, let physics propel you up the next hill, and ever onward. Until, of course, you careen into a wall of spikes or fall down a bottomless pit. There isn’t an end point that I know of, and the player simply replays to progress further and further and to increase their high score.
This is where the time component of Time Surfer becomes important. The player is often careening so quickly through levels that it becomes impossible to predict what is ahead. Be it dangerous or beneficial, you just don’t see many things coming. This can lead to countless accidental deaths, but can also lead to some extremely successful runs. Time Surfer’s developers attempt to mitigate the frustration of accidental death by adding a “rewind” feature- which allows players to turn back the clock and attempt to survive or to grab a desired item. While time is being billed as a central mechanic of the game, it feels to me more like a coping mechanic to iron out the inherent flaws of this kind of game. Because “rewind” is a limited power, you won’t be able to use it to escape some deaths, which makes me wonder if this game could have been more accomplished by divorcing itself from traditional fail states.
Time Surfer doesn’t want for style, and the colorful pixel art is a delight. I even enjoyed the music, although the title music sounds an awful lot like ‘Vampire Killer’ from Super Castlevania IV. One other flashy element of Time Surfer are the pets- little bonuses that are closely tied into the game’s IAP system. The pets aren’t a crucial part of the experience, which in turn diminishes the need for IAP (thank goodness).
On a personal level, I don’t find that the added complexity of Time Surfer gives it an advantage over Tiny Wings. The rewind feature doesn’t feel like a fully integrated mechanic, and it is difficult to use strategically because it most often functions as a first aid kit. In contrast, the rewind mechanic in a game like Braid makes for a highly cerebral and engaging experience.
Time Surfer is a good game within its genre, one that at least on the surface tries to resolve an issue with runner type games, and even make it a feature.
Time Surfer is available as a Universal App for $0.99