Science fiction can do many things. It can give us heroes and villains that capture the imaginations of children and adults alike. It can show us distant alien civilizations, and in so doing, help us better understand the problems facing our own society. But everybody knows that the most important function of science fiction is to remind us that we should never tinker with time--the smallest change in the past might irrevocably change the present. Super Time Force couldn't care less about such concerns. The delicate nature and strict logic of time fall by the wayside in this side-scrolling shooter, as you harness the power of time travel with reckless abandon to turn the odds overwhelmingly in your favor.
The game assumes a hilariously cavalier attitude about the rights and wrongs of fiddling with time, sending up every sci-fi time travel trope in the book. The moment Dr. Repeatski cracks the conundrum of time travel, late 1980s America becomes a hellscape overrun by angry robots, but rather than undoing his work and setting time right again, Repeatski and his Super Time Force harness the power of time travel in pursuit of the most frivolous goals imaginable. One mission has you venturing to the year 673 to steal the Holy Grail just so Repeatski can sell it and save the Medieval Funtimez chain of restaurants, while another has the team venturing into the 31st century so that Repeatski can get all the browser updates and plug-ins he needs to watch funny cat videos.
At every turn, the not-so-mysterious Dr. Infinity (whose predictable "secret" identity is, intentionally, perfectly obvious from the beginning) is there to try to stop the Super Time Force from altering history. He asks nicely ("I would kindly ask you to step aside and let me destroy the dinosaurs as scheduled"), but Repeatski, drunk on the power of time travel, will hear none of it. The writing is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, and there's a twisted glee in hopping through time not in the name of justice or saving humanity, but just to serve the whims of one man.
Your missions in Super Time Force play out like stages from run-and-gun shooters, but the members of the Force have one trick up their sleeves that Bill and Lance of Contra could only dream of. At any time, you can stop the action and rewind it, and then spawn into the level as another character, or as another copy of the same character you were already controlling. This doesn't erase what you did previously; instead, you fight alongside yourself. There's a limit, but you can do this again and again, filling the screen with a chaotic crowd of Super Time Force members if the situation calls for it, or if you just feel like doing so.
Manipulating time to adapt to the challenges you encounter in a stage is usually an enjoyable process. You might use the heavy artillery of Jean Rambois to advance, get killed by an enemy explosive, and then rewind the action and switch to sharpshooter Aimy Mckillin, whose charge shot can pass through objects, to eliminate the enemy before he even has a chance to toss the explosive, preventing Rambois from dying. When you save a character like this, you can collect his or her essence, giving your current character another point of health and the offensive capabilities of the character you rescued.
The action has the frantic, shoot-anything-that-moves fun common to good side-scrolling shooters, and the level design is inventive and entertaining throughout, tossing you into an ancient theme park, a Mad Max-esque postapocalypse, and the brains of a computer filled with awful websites from the Geocities era. The abilities of the members of the Super Time Force are varied and complement each other nicely; the aptly named Shieldy Blockerson can protect his teammates, for instance, and Zackasaurus--well, Zackasaurus is a skateboarding dinosaur, which is just cool.
But it's the time manipulation mechanic that sets Super Time Force apart. Not entirely unlike the joy of teaming up with friends to overwhelm enemies in a multiplayer game, there's a strange sense of camaraderie and cooperation with yourself in Super Time Force as you see one character--you, from a minute ago--gunning down one enemy while you take control of another character to eliminate another foe.
However, not every scenario is enjoyable. Particularly during boss fights, the game relies too heavily on the time manipulation mechanic. Time is short, so you need to whittle down the health of bosses as quickly as possible. So you rewind the action and layer more members of the Super Time Force into the landscape until there are enough of them firing enough bullets at the boss to defeat it before time runs out. In these situations, you might spend more time rewinding the action than experiencing it, and placing more and more characters into the environment becomes not so much a matter of intelligently adapting to the challenges before you but of employing sheer brute force. Your victories don't require much thought or skill, so they aren't rewarding.
But that's a minor gripe with a really funny game that puts an innovative twist on the side-scrolling shooter. In his classic story A Sound of Thunder, Ray Bradbury warned us that even killing a butterfly that lived millions of years ago might have devastating effects on the present. Super Time Force responds to such concerns with a gleeful "Who cares?" Toying with time is too much fun to worry about the consequences.