SNK Playmore has been doing a pretty smart thing recently. They’ve been releasing old arcade games as PSN Minis. They can charge a few bucks for old games, and people will buy them. Old school fans will want to experience some of their old favorites, while newcomers can see what the eighties was all about. It’s just a good idea.
What isn’t a good idea, however, is short changing would be buyers of a proper experience. By forgetting that these games can be played on PS3 as well as PSP, SNK has severely crippled the game.
Let’s take a loot at what they’ve done.
The setup is simple. You’re a time soldier. Your comrades go missing throughout various times, and you’ve got to go save them. That’s it. Your journey will take you through the age of dinosaurs, the age of Rome, World War II, feudal Japan, and the future. Each stage is aesthetically different and features some signature baddies for you to deal with.
The only mode in the game is the campaign. This will run you through a single player experience that will last anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour depending on skill. You have three lives, and endless continues. Since this is an arcade game, one of your goals is to set new high scores. Said scores are reset after each continue, so the game is less about simply beating the game and more about getting better.
The first of many big problems here is that Time Soldiers is single player only. That doesn’t seem too bad? Well, then you may not know that Time Soldiers is supposed to be a co-op run and gun game similar to Ikari Warriors. It is designed for multiplayer. More to the point, the game still includes the on screen prompts for a second player. It shows how many lives player two has, player two’s score, and helpfully suggests that a second player can join by pressing start. However, you can press start all you want. It doesn’t work. That is a damned sin.
Beyond that, the game options are fairly decent. You can set up how many lives per continue you have, the difficulty, and change the control layout to a degree. For a Mini, the setup would have been OK for the most part. However, there is no way in hell I can forgive cutting multiplayer. Minis can be played on PS3! I should still be able to play this sucker with a friend on my TV!
For starters, the character models are blurry messes that barely resemble what they’re supposed to look like in most cases. Humans are deformed to the point where I can’t even tell if they’re actually supposed to be human anymore. Most enemies are palette swaps of each other. Some do look OK. The bigger they get, the more interesting they get. The bosses look fairly decent as a result.
The backgrounds are a mess as well. While they perhaps look OK from a purely aesthetic point of view, they fail in utility. It is often unclear as to what represents a barrier and what does not. A fence may not obstruct your movement in one place, but it may in another. The water and tall grass look like something you should avoid at first until the camera pushes you into them.
I understand that this is a quick port for nostalgic purposes. It’s just that these kinds of games could really use a visual overhaul of some sort. There are too many old school problems here that can negatively affect gameplay until you’ve gotten used to them.
Also, if someone can explain to me why EVERYTHING explodes when you shoot them, I would greatly appreciate it.
I actually have no problems with the game’s music. Each stage get its own theme, and they’re pretty much always appropriate for the era they represent. The boss theme seems eerily similar to the main theme from Doom, which is pretty awesome. It’s old school music, perhaps not at its best, but still enjoyable.
The sound effects are classic arcade noises. The sounds that accompany you as you travel from one time period to another are something that would be at home with anything in the Namco library. The explosions are typical, as is the tinny sound of automatic gunfire. It can get old after awhile, but one can’t expect too much from a game of that era.
One thing that did bother me was the death scream. It was like a nail being driven into my ear repeatedly. The obvious solution to this is to get better at the game, but this is easier said than done because of control issues I’ll get to later on. Suffice it to say that you’ll hear your character scream a lot, and it will get old in a heartbeat.
Theoretically, the game is intact. You move, shoot, and then shoot some more. One button is for regular fire, and the other is for special weapons. It seems very hard to screw up. Well, they managed it.
This game was clearly made with only the PSP in mind. Since the PSP only has one analog stick, that means the job of aiming had to go somewhere else. The decided the shoulder buttons were the place to go. That’s right, if you want to turn, you have to press a damned button. This is slow, cumbersome, and makes the game very difficulty to play. I get that sacrifices have to made to make the game playable on the PSP, but what I don’t get is why the same control scheme is used for the PS3! I checked. The arcade game definitely used a joystick. This is a sin on par with the loss of multiplayer. It’s just wrong.
You can, if you so choose, change the control figuration so that you aim automatically. However, this may actually be worse. You see, this control method maps aiming to the movement stick. In other words, if you move left, your character aims left. As in every other game that uses such a method, moving and aiming with the same stick is an absolute nightmare.
Enemies come in about two or three types. You have enemies that will charge at you while shooting, enemies that will stand in place while shooting, and enemies that will charge at you with a melee weapon. They come in various colors and sizes, but it boils down to those three options. Some will be harder to take down, some have faster rates of fire, but the strategy is always the same. You point, and you shoot. It’s old school through and through.
There are special weapons that can be earned by killing red enemies. These include rockets, spread bullets, and lasers. These have a meter which is drained when you fire, so using them sparingly is key. If you die, the power up disappears and you’re left with your puny regular gun. Another special is a transformation of sorts. Your character gets bigger, fires automatically, and can actually take more than one hit before dying. It’s a godsend whenever it shows up.
Perhaps my biggest problem with the game is that you can’t simply hold down the X button to fire. You have to tap it for each shot. This means the entire game is spent with you tapping the button like a madman. It’s tiring, and certain to cause hand cramps eventually. This is the kind of game where you never want to stop shooting. So, mash your thumb in place for an hour and see how you feel. That alone will likely deter you from this game.
Subsequent playthroughs are all about topping your high score. The enemies, stages, and bosses will all be the same each time you play. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because you can memorize where everything is and thus rack up a nice score. It’s bad because it will get old before long.
Switching up the difficulty is certainly one way to mix things up for a second run. If you thought things were bad on regular, just wait until you try hard. You’ve got unlimited continues, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be hearing the death scream a LOT.
For a three dollar game, the amount of replayability here is fine. It is completely rooted in old school arcade mentality, but it still works here. If you’re the kind of person who likes to work at a game until you master it, a thirty minute playthrough is nothing to sneeze at. I did the same kind of thing with Starfox 64 back in the day.
I beat this dead horse with my Frogger review. Arcade games are meant to be difficult. They’re meant to suck quarters out you like a vacuum. As such, you can only take one hit before you die, enemies swarm you from all sides, and levels often restrict your movement. Unless you’re one of those freak players that can memorize every level, you’re going to die a lot.
However, things get worse for this port. The pathetic firing controls make it all but impossible to survive most encounters. Sure, you have endless continues, but that doesn’t keep frustration from setting in. If I had spent actual money on my playthrough, it’d be about enough money to buy a full retail game.
About those full continues… there’s a catch. You cannot use a continue on the final level. This is downright evil. It means if you ended the previous level with no lives left, you’re screwed. I get that they wanted only the best players to beat the game, but switching gears like that so abruptly is frankly unfair.
The game was unbalanced enough before, but this port takes it to the next level. Playing Time Soldiers is an exercise of utter frustration.
This is a port of a twenty-five year old game. It’s not going to win any points here.
It does get a tad bit of credit for trying to get the game to work on the PSP. However, that proved so disastrous that I really don’t want to reward them for it. It’s not like the game offers any extras to make things worth your while.
I’m sure the original game had some serious pull. These games killed in the arcade. However, compile the lack of co-op with the awful controls, and this game will easily disgust anyone that attempts to play it. I played it for long sessions only because I was reviewing it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have touched it with a ten foot pole.
I will say this for the game: it allows you to save your game. This means you can play for short bursts, save, and then come back for more when you’re ready. This is a freaking life saver. If you had to sit and play through the whole thing at once, I’m sure there isn’t a person on the planet who could stomach it.
The key to this game’s success is how well it appeals to the nostalgic crowd. It’s not like it’s terribly easy to go out and find a hard copy of this game anymore. A cheap downloadable version could be just the ticket. Of course, that’s assuming the port doesn’t suck. Since this game gimps the controls and nixes the co-op, I can’t imagine any fan dropping any money on it.
For potential new players, this game offers nothing. There are all kinds of better shooters out there, even in Mini form. I’ve reviewed several. In fact, the shooter genre seems to be thriving in the format. This game simply doesn’t have anything to bring in players.
I can’t overemphasize how bad a decision it would be to buy this game. No matter how much you like shooters, or how much you want to relive childhood memories, this game is simply not worth it. It does everything wrong.
This is a cheap, quick, and dirty port. Nothing more.
Modes: Very Bad
Graphics: Very Poor
Addictiveness: Very Bad
Appeal Factor: Worthless
Final Score: Very Bad Game!
Short Attention Span Summary:
The controls simply don’t work, the marquee feature has been left on the cutting room floor, and all of the nostalgia in the world couldn’t save this port. It’s bad enough to excise co-op, but to leave all of the co-op related graphics in is downright cruel. This game was made with only the PSP in mind, and that was a huge mistake. If the proper game were playable on the PS3, I would have been much more lenient. As it is, I suggest you stay far away from Time Soldiers.
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