"I stopped everything for Timespinner and in return I was rewarded with tight gameplay, a rich, beautiful world and all the queer representation I've ever wanted."
Out of all of the Metroidvanias that have graced us in recent years, Timespinner might just be the most faithful. It takes the best elements of the later 2D Castlevania games, especially Order of Ecclesia, and combines them with a few original touches to create a small and perfectly formed experience. As a big fan of the genre (Symphony of the Night is one of my all-time favourite games), Timespinner was always going to be an easy win for me, but I was surprised just how much, and how fast, I fell in love with it.
Timespinner follows Lunais, a Time Messenger who has the power to control the titular device. One night her tribe is attacked; her mother uses the Timespinner to save her, and is murdered in the process. Disparate and alone on another planet, Lunais swears vengeance again the people who ruined her life. To do this she has to travel between the past and present, and decide whether it's right to change the future for good. Even though the dialogue is more than a little clumsy, these games have never been about story for me. What does set Timespinner apart from the rest, however, is how inclusive the game is.
Early on, Lunais befriends group of survivors in the past from the planet Vilete. By completing a series of sidequests for them, she finds out more about them and their relationships. They discuss same-sex relationships, romance, bisexuality, transgender identity, and polyamory, as if it's no big deal. And that's exactly how they should be discussed.
For me in particular, having a bisexual character who is comfortable with her sexuality while also not making a huge deal about it is incredible. It's a huge relief to finally have someone I can personally relate to. These themes are only ever mentioned as part of the collectibles and sidequests, so they're easy to miss or ignore, but they bring so much to Timespinner's world and characters it'd be a shame to. It's so refreshing and exciting to see this kind of casual, nuanced portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community in a game.
Picking up Timespinner for the first time felt so comfortable. It takes the tried-and-tested genre formula and executes it to perfection. Things do take a little while to open up, but once they did I couldn't put the game down. Exploring new areas, seeing new enemies, and going back to break down walls to find those secret items never gets old, even if you've played every single one of these games. However, it's worth noting that Timespinner is incredibly short. It took me less than 15 hours to get the platinum trophy, and one playthrough won't take you any more than around 7 hours. That being said, there's so much polish and quality here that I found this easy to look past.
Combat is not unlike the Glyph system from Order of Ecclesia. Lunais can equip two melee orbs to attack enemies. These can be two of the same, or two different. I found experimenting with these an absolute blast, and while ones like the Blade orb stuck with me almost until the end, later additions such as the Wind orb and the Radiant orb proved to be worthy competitors. You can even swap between three different loadouts, so if you have more than one favourite orb combination, you don't need to worry about going into the menu and swapping them around all the time. Lunais can also equip two support orbs, in the form of a ring and a necklace, one of which allows you to use attack spells and the other contains passive ability that can increase recovery or provide you with a protective or offensive event, such as a shield. I loved trying out every single combination and collecting them all.
Being the Time Messenger, Lunais also has the ability to stop time. This is crucial for getting past a few of the game's platforming puzzles, but that's about it. More than once did I forget stopping time was an option I even had, and I managed to get through most of the game without even using it. For a game so focused on the element of time, this mechanic feels extremely underutilised. The same can be said about the game's familiars — think Symphony of the Night's own. These level up incredibly slowly, and do such pittance damage that they feel useless; simply more of a homage than anything worth playing around with.
The real joy of Timespinner's world is how it looks. I'd seen comparisons to Chrono Trigger's Zeal, and playing through each map, especially the present day one, I could absolutely see this. From the muted purples and greys of the laboratory to the old, dusty library, the visuals are beautiful. Walking into the Varndagray Metropolis for the first time is something I'll never forget, with ships flying in the backgrounds and dim lights sparkling everywhere. Even the past, with its brighter, more open environments and grassy plains, is a delight.
Perhaps even more praise is due for Jeff Ball's incredible soundtrack. At times the inspiration from Michuru Yamane's Castlevania scores is plain to see, but Ball's work does so much more than just replicate her style. Timespinner's music is imbued with melancholy, decadence and even joy at times, and each track is a perfect match for every location and situation. Boss music conveys the frantic nature of these encounters, with some heavy, fast paced guitar and piano to get you in the mood for a fight. I bought the soundtrack almost straight after buying the game, and I haven't stopped listening to it since.
It's plain to see I adored my time with Timespinner. Its little niggles couldn't prevent me from going back to New Game Plus, or even experimenting with the level cap mode or higher difficulties. I stopped everything for Timespinner and in return I was rewarded with tight gameplay, a rich, beautiful world and all the queer representation I've ever wanted. I want more games to be like this, to tell the stories of those marginalised, underrepresented people who deserve to have a voice. That's Timespinner's biggest success, and Lunar Ray Games can be proud of that.