There's something very refreshing about Super Time Force. Sure, in a lot of ways, it's a game stuck in the past. With its 8-bit aesthetic and punishing difficulty, you look at this side-scrolling shooter and immediately think, "Oh, right. Contra." But the beauty of Super Time Force, the latest project from Sword & Sworcery developer Capybara Games, is that it's much more than just nostalgia for nostalgia's sake.
At the heart of Super Time Force is a gameplay mechanic that records everything you do from the point the level begins right until you die. But instead of starting over from scratch, you get to play alongside the ghost of your fallen self, each shooting enemies and helping the other progress through a bullet-hell world of stray projectiles and giant explosions. Die again, and you'll start again alongside two ghosts. This keeps on stacking until you've hit the 30-life cap. There's only so much memory on an Xbox 360.
The experience is almost like playing co-op with your past self. So much so, in fact, that when you kill the enemy that killed your past self--thus saving your past self from death--you immediately wish you had a time machine to travel 30 seconds and give yourself a massive high-five in celebration. It's a unique experience.
What this mechanic does is give you a tangible sense of progress as you inch your way through each tough-as-nails level one death at a time. Making it more interesting is that you can spawn back in as one of four different classes, ranging from the sniper type who fires a single, powerful laser beam in one direction, to the armored-up heavy who prefers to bash things with his powerful riot shield rather than use a gun. So not only are you playing co-op with yourself, but you're effectively filling specific roles on the battlefield. It's crazy.
Combine all of this with Super Time Force's irreverent take on classic action movie cliches, and what you've got is a game that pays its respect to 1980s media right before turning that decade on its head and spinning it around in circles. Super Time Force may look like Contra on the surface, but this is a game that isn't trying to re-create the past. It's inspired by what came before it, but that's just the starting point. The finish line is a game all its own.'