If today's game wasn't originally pitched as "Contra III but with time travel" then I will eat my hat. No, scratch that - I don't wear hats and the only one I have in the house is a plastic novelty bowler I once wore as part of a Halloween costume, and that would kill me if I ate it. Instead, let's just say I'd be very surprised. But what game is it? Why, it's The Sales Curve's 1993 SNES title Time Slip!
A man wearing a needlessly tight jumpsuit stares in disgust at the world's ugliest clock. "What an ugly clock," he thinks to himself, forgetting the old proverb about people wearing bright green onesies in glass houses.
The Lime Avenger here is our hero, ready to save the world for whatever's menacing it this week. Don't worry, the intro will fill us in.
This time it's aliens from the planet Tirmat. I thought they were from the planet Tiamat at first glance, but a closer examination of the font reveals that what I took to be the letter A is actually a capital R. Here's a tip: if people have to closely examine your font, you're using the wrong font.
Rather than the usual "conquest for conquest's sake" alien menace, the Tirmatians are invading Earth because their home planet is about to be destroyed by a rift in space-time and Earth is the nearest inhabitable planet. You can feel some sympathy for them, under the circumstances. You could feel a damn sight more sympathy for them if the Tirmatians didn't send soldiers back to various point in the Earth's history so they can take over the planet before we discover gunpowder or electricity rather than just asking if they can stay in Earth's spare room for a while until they find themselves a new place.
One other thing: the Tirmatians know enough about Earth to name their spaceship Torquemada, presumably after the 15th-century head of the Spanish Inquisition Tomas de Torquemada. Naming their vessels after someone whose name is a byword for cruelty and intolerance is a possible hint that the Tirmatians are not nice guys.
To counter the Tirmatian menace, the people of Earth assemble a crack team of highly-skilled soldiers who will be inserted into the past to repel the Tirmatian menace.
This crack team is then wiped out before they can even get buckled into the time machine. Oh well, on the plus side our new Tirmatian overlords' meddling with the time stream will probably mean that Mariah Carey's Glitter never gets made.
A slender hope for humanity remains as one man survives the attack, one man who will travel into the past to fight the alien hordes, one man named Dr. Vincent Gilgamesh. Really? That's the name you're going with? Dr. Vincent Gilgamesh. No, it's fine. Yes, of course I think "Vincent Gilgamesh" is a cool name, he looks like a cool guy who can do cool things. He definitely doesn't look like someone who's getting tired of carrying around this car exhaust he found laying by the kerb.
First up is the Medieval zone. Whoa, flashbacks to The Crystal Maze there, but sadly Time Slip features nothing as interesting as Richard O'Brien playing the harmonic and rambling on about his mother - instead Dr. Gilgamesh must use his rapid-fire machine gun to fend off the local peasants who attack with sharp sticks and smaller sharp stick launched from bendy bits of wood. Bows and arrows, I mean. You'll notice that description of the enemy forces doesn't include time-travelling space aliens, because the Tirmatians are nowhere to be seen, so Dr. Gilgamesh has so far taken the incredibly heroic action of travelling to the distant past and blowing away the local population with his highly advanced weaponry. I'm not entirely sure how that's going to save humanity, and if I was Dr.Gilgamesh I'd be constantly worrying about gunning down one of my ancestors and thus ceasing to exist.
Gameplay-wise, it really does just feel like Contra III. A half-baked, less interesting version of Contra III with reduced graphical appeal, but the basic comparison holds up. There are differences, though: you don't die in one hit, and instead you have a health bar with five whole segments! The trouble is, there's no knock-back when you take damage so it's easy to get stuck inside the enemy or obstacle that's hurting you and lose a ton of health. You also only have one main weapon, a machine gun that can be upgraded through collecting power-ups to fire faster and then to fire in a fairly narrow spread pattern. Other than that, you run around and jump over projectiles while shooting the poor unsuspecting inhabitants of this medieval forest.
There's a fight against a hoverbike at the end of the forest. That must be the Tirmatians' doing, then. It's Robin Hood and his Merry Men, not Robin Hood and his Anti-Gravity Gun Platform.
The boss swoops back and forth across the screen, which is shame because you have to jump over it each time and to do so successfully requires extremely accurate timing that I never managed to get quite right, partly because the boss likes to hover off the edge of the screen so you can't see when it's about to fly towards you. If Time Slip did have one-hit kills, it would be have become annoying already. It doesn't, but give it time.
Now I'm in a cavern decorated with a skull motif, being chased by muscular, headless dwarves. There are two possible explanations for this: either the Tirmatians' plan was informed by a grotesque misunderstanding of the content of Snow White, or by a happy coincidence they travelled to a time period that just so happened to be populated by murderous miniature bodybuilders with no heads, creatures that weren't recorded by human history because Dr. Gilgamesh was forced to destroy them all.
After a while, you have to fight a... I was going to say "wizard," but I think that's giving this guy more credit than he deserves. Proper wizards command the very forces of creation with a mere gesture, while this boss drifts around in his dressing gown dropping Christmas decorations on your head.
This dragon is a much more serious proposition, but again: dragons? Not aliens. I think the dragon is my favourite boss in the game, but only because his face reminds me of Mantenna from She-Ra. The actual fight is a bit of a chore, because it turns out that while dragons might be slain relatively easily by virtuous knights with keen blades and a well-developed sense of chivalry they're rather tougher to take down with bullets. When the fight does end, it feels like the dragon has become bored of the whole affair and has laid down for a nap rather than because you've done it irreparable physical damage.
We're still in the Medieval era, huh? This first stage sure is going on. I like the prisoners that feebly swat at you from being their cell doors, though. They just seem a bit lonely. Well, they ought to be, I've killed every living thing in a ten-mile radius.
At last, it's the final boss of stage one and at least he fits in nicely with the Medieval theme. Sure, he looks like a Ghouls 'n' Ghosts boss that was scrapped for not being interesting enough, but he's more imposing than that wizard. The boss has a huge shield, which probably explains why it takes more bullets than were fired during the D-Day landings to bring him down. Honestly, I don't know why Time Slip even bothers having a fire button. They could have just programmed the game so that your gun is always firing all the time: the end result would have been the same, and I'd save some wear on my Y button.
Alright, I'm headin' to the Cretaceous! There are gonna be dinosaurs and guns and space aliens, it's gonna be so totally rad that it's gonna make every other SNES game look like Barney's Hide and Seek!
Oh come on. A side-scrolling shooter section? Really? I don't even get to shoot any dinosaurs, just jumped-up trilobites. Ooh, suddenly snuffling around on the ocean floor isn't good enough for you and you've decided you want nothing more than to smear yourself across the front of the jetbike that I now suddenly have access to for some reason? Even by the low, low standards of side-scrolling shooter levels shoehorned into games of otherwise different genres this one is poor. This is mostly down to your weapon being able to fire in eight directions but only if you're moving in that direction, a system which the developers took as carte blanche to make waves of enemies appear willy-nilly all over the bloody screen. Either make it so I can lock my direction of fire or just have the ship shoot forwards and put some effort into coming up with some decent enemy patterns.
So, in summary: sudden shooter sections in run-n-gun games continue to blow goats.
After the dismal jet-bike section, there's a very brief on-foot area that consists of running up an enormous staircase that's launching out big chunks of red-hot lava. Hang on... this staircase is actually a volcano, isn't it? A volcano made entirely of right angles. Okay, whatever, I'm just glad that Time Slip has decided it's not Gradius after all.
Also in the screenshot above, you can see some crystal laying on the ground. You can pick those crystal up for points, and each one also increments the blue bar labelled "TGS"by a tiny amount. What happens when the TGS bar is filled? No, I'm asking you what happens. I never managed to fill it. I want to believe it's something to do with The Girlie Show from 30 Rock, but deep down I know the universe is too cruel for that to be true.
There's a dinosaur at the top of the volcano. Neat. The dinosaur looks more like a dragon than the dragon boss from the first stage did, but he's so cheerful that it doesn't really matter. I wanted to be his friend, but the foul Tirmatians must have brainwashed the volcanosaurus into to trying to kill me so I had to stand underneath it and fire a thousand tonnes of hot lead right into its scaly chin.
Ancient Egypt is next, and as I prepare to gun down this shirtless young man armed only with a spear, a young man no doubt terrified by the strange person who has just appeared from nowhere, I have to wonder about Dr. Gilgamesh's status as a "good guy."
Tremble before Anubis, God of Weight-Training! Judging the souls of the dead is a great upper-body workout, it seems. It's a shame for Anubis that he's the easiest boss in the entire game, then. He should have spent more time working on his legs, because that's where I shot him until he died.
You know, this is starting to remind me of the Pyramid stage from Metal Slug 3. My recommendation is that you play Metal Slug 3 - hell, any Metal Slug game - rather than this. Nice artwork on the sarcophagi, though.
There's a high-tech alien base at the heart of the pyramid. Erich von Daniken would shit a brick if he saw this.
When I write about a game for VGJunk, I generally play it through and then give it a day or so to percolate through my mind, allowing me to come to an unhurried conclusion. When I sat down to write about Time Slip, however, there was nothing there. I had forgotten almost everything about the game besides that it was fairly irritating, and so I had to play it again, making me possibly the only person in the world to have ever played all the way through Time Slip twice. It's a forgettable game, a hour or so of the usual run-n-gun action only with the annoying inability to lock your gunfire in one direction, enemies that are frustratingly difficult to avoid thanks to some loose jumping physics and boss battles that drag on and on and on, not because they're hugely difficult, but because every enemy in this game has ridiculously oversized health bars. I don;t think I needed the second playthrough to figure that out, but it's nice to have confirmation.
The boss of the Egyptian stage has lots of health and a shield of rotating orbs to protect it from harm, so as you can probably guess it's my favourite boss ever. There isn't even anything interesting to say about it unless you count the observation that the orbs look kinda like a face-on view of a robot dolphin. I really hope you find that interesting. That's the level I operate on here at VGJunk.
It's Ancient Rome for stage four, and the developers have really capitalised on the Roman Empire famously being nothing but a series of brick towers with ladders bolted to the outside to create an explosively exciting shooting-things-while-hanging-off-ladder experience. Dr. Gilgamesh is fighting the Tirmatians themselves now. They're scrawny little things with big guns. No wonder your home planet is being destroyed by a space-time anomaly, you bunch of skinny nerds.
Look at this Tirmatian. His broodmates or clone-family or whatever they have on his planet are out risking their lives to ensure the survival of their species, and this guy is just sitting there playing the saxophone. Good job, Glarxxon - while you're busting out the riff from Careless Whisper over and over again, Dr. Gilgamesh is putting an end to your fiendish scheme!
Then I had to fight a twelve-foot-tall David Copperfield. Why? Who the hell knows. He doesn't seem very interested in the fight, either. You could at least look at me when we're supposed to be duelling to the death, you jumped-up party entertainer.
There's another boss fight at the end of this stage, but it's just the floating orbs again in a slightly different configuration and how can I say anything interesting about that when I've just been shooting the world's wealthiest illusionist, owner of several Caribbean islands and, apparently, a literal giant? I can't, I just can't. On to the next stage, then!
What fun, it's another one of these. The background looks good, but that's about as much praise as I'm willing to extend here. By this point, Time Slip's difficulty level has overtaken the generic gameplay as the main reason why the game isn't much fun. There are so many enemies populating the screen - enemies that are difficult to defeat without taking damage thanks to the awkward shooting controls and the bulky sprites - that you might as well have a health bar that constantly ticks downwards. There's very little you can do to avoid any of this on-screen junk, and best of all there are no passwords or even continues, so if you lose all your lives it's right back to the start of the game.
So, the Containment Unit from Ghostbusters was behind everything! The bosses in this game are really uneven in tone, aren't they? Giant suits of armour, dragons and David Copperfield on the one hand, metal spheres and metal cubes on the other. Am I implying that there was kind of Odd Couple dynamic between two of Time Slip's development staff, one a stiff and staid fan of various metallic shapes, the other a wild and zany character who plays a lot of Dungeons and Dragons? They bicker and get into scrapes, but deep down they love each other and, to keep the peace between them, they compromised on what bosses would be included in the game. That's the only reason I can come up with to explain why, in what is ostensibly a fast-paced action game, you have to fight an immobile metal square. All the kids were clamouring to do battle against an office safe, were they?
Dr. Gilgamesh decides that the only way to stop the invaders once and for all is to travel to the planet Tirmat and destroy the heart of their empire. Nice to know that the time machine also works as a teleporter. There's even a little tool that flips out of the side for getting stones out of horse's hooves.
You might notice that this stage has one distinguishing feature: the complete inability to see what the bloody hell you're doing. The game was hard enough before the graphics started looking like an extreme close-up of a flu sufferer's sinuses, and I have to admit it's at this point that I knocked up a GameGenie code to give myself infinite health. The frustration of taking damage from projectiles and enemies that could have been invisible for all the warning I had was getting too much, so I decided to take it easy for the good of my mental health.
That's a bit better - visually, I mean, the game hasn't suddenly become good or anything. No, it started off as an unrewarding chore and it has evolved an unrewarding chore with the addition of a difficulty curve that swooped past "challenging" a long way back and is now hovering around "masochistic".
I haven't even mentioned the sub-weapon system, mostly because it's not very good. You can see that I have a couple of options at the top of the screen - the sub-weapons are one-shot deals that can be replenished by collecting power-ups. One of them is a screen-covering smart bomb, and that's fairly useful, but the others are just variations of the forward-firing rocket-launcher. The problem is that you can only fire them straight forwards, and because the enemies come from all angles then approximately 12.5% of the time your sub-weapons are useless because your target isn't sitting right in front of you.
The penultimate boss is a wall of robotic nipples. Each nipple blossoms in turn to reveal a small gun that shoots at Dr. Gilgamesh. Destroy that nipple-cannon and the next one appears, and so on and so forth. Repeat this until you've destroyed al the cyber-nipples, and then do it a bit more because the developers assumed we'd be having so much fun fighting this boss that they made some of the nipples regenerate.
The final boss of Time Slip is an arcade crane game that tries to pick you up as though you were nothing but a poorly-made Hello Kitty cuddly toy. Can you feel the raw excitement!? This is what I mean about the sub-weapons being mostly useless. The boss is up there, where I can't aim my weapons. I suppose I could jump and fire horizontally, but after playing through Time Slip I've decided I want as little to do with its jumping mechanics as possible. No, I'm going to stand directly underneath it and fire straight upwards, thus saving the Earth.
Oh man, Moist are playing a gig tonight! They're totally my favourite Wet Wet Wet cover band ever, let's go and see the show. Yeah, it's at The Club. It's a small town, we only have one club.
So, Dr. Gilgamesh saves the day by condemning a race of sentient, saxophone-loving aliens to complete annihilation. It all just seems a bit unnecessary. We could have worked something out, surely? The Tirmatians could have gone back in time and warned themselves of the impending catastrophe. We humans could have let them borrow Mars for a bit. Next time, let's try opening a dialogue before resorting to interstellar invasions, hmm? No one had a fun time here today, least of all me.
That's Moist for you, always inciting riots amongst the impressionable youth with their music and their antics and their shallow anti-establishment posturing. The word "Gilgamesh" is written four times on this newspaper page, which seems a bit excessive but then I suppose he did save the whole of humanity from extinction.
If you've been paying attention - and I wouldn't blame you if you hadn't - then you'll have realised that Time Slip is one you should avoid. It's a relatively competent Contra clone that's smeared with just enough poor design choices - the shooter stages, the HUD that covers most of the top of the screen, the useless special weapons - to become an unpleasant experience. Play Contra III instead, play a Metal Slug game instead, hell, even go outside and talk to another human instead. Well, maybe not that last one. Let's not go crazy.