Shoot-'em-ups will always have a special place in the hearts of many gamers who still find the time to play Gradius or R-Type. The genre that was once incredibly popular in arcades has been able to find an audience, thanks to platforms like Xbox Live Arcade. Zeit Squared is very much like the 2D side-scrolling shoot-'em-ups from the past, but it changes things up with a time travel twist.
Like many other games of its kind, Zeit Squared is set in a futuristic environment where you move from left to right, firing at almost everything that comes at you. Instead of enemy ships, you fire at abstract organisms that look like giant squids or bacteria. We're not really sure what they are--we were nothing but a glowing orb with a blue shield that could fire bullets--but it didn't really matter as long as they didn't get by us. The visuals are quite simple and elegant, at least in the early stages, so you don't feel distracted by too many things onscreen. Boss fights are waiting for you at the end of the stages, which will require some fancy dodging on your part, but the premise is fairly straightforward once you learn all the tricks for staying alive.
In Zeit 2, you can't just hold the fire button and fire endlessly to the right. Your health percentage in the top-left corner will decrease every time you fire. It will increase if you hit your target, though, and it is beneficial to be somewhat conservative with your fire power. Enemies that have a blue glow around them will drain your health if they get past you. There are creatures that don't glow, so you'll want to target the ones that would do more damage if you miss them. We also came across ghosts that glowed, but we couldn't destroy them, making it so that we had to watch them go by as they drained our health. As your health depletes, your shield around you will also begin to shrink, giving you a visual cue that things are not looking good. Health pickups are available, though, to give you a boost, and as long as you keep killing those enemies, your health will continue to increase.
The time-travel mechanic is activated by the left trigger, which will rewind several seconds back and create a shadow clone so that you can replay those few seconds with the help of a second ship. This is particularly helpful when you've got a row of glowing enemies coming at you from the top of the screen and you realize a horde of them is approaching from the bottom. In this case, you can be at two places at once; so by rewinding a few seconds, you can then have your clone take out the initial top row while you handle the bottom. You can't travel back for as long as you want, however; you need to recharge your time-travel energy, and the timer on the bottom-left-hand side of the screen will let you know how many seconds you can rewind. By shooting your clone, you can also get it to fire bullets in all directions.
You'll gain new weapons as you go through the game to help clear out those pesky organisms. We received a beam shot after the first boss, which let us charge up a powerful ray that we could fire across the screen that basically cleared out anything in its way for a couple of seconds. It does take awhile to charge, though, which is indicated by a beam of light around your shield. Other than the Arcade mode, there are five other game modes to compete in on the leaderboards, such as Score Attack, Survival, Wave, Time, and Tactics.
Zeit Squared adds a new depth to the genre, so instead off firing wildly and dodging bullets, you have to think about when to fire and what position to be in to make the best use of your clone. A tutorial at the beginning of the game should gently ease in players, and while you do need to be quick with the analog stick, it's not so difficult that it's frustrating. If the game turns out to be too easy for you, a fast-forward button that speeds up the game are for hardcore players who want more of a challenge. Look for Zeit Squared when it is released January 5 on XBLA for 800 Microsoft points. The PC release will come shortly after for $9.99.