Time Loader Review (PC): One Helluva Good Time
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that time travel is bad mojo. Those stories rarely end well. And yet, there’s always such a fascinating journey not in if they go south, but how they’ll go south. Time Loader sets off on four rubber wheels with hopes to change the past for the better, powered by a hardy physics engine and a straightforward puzzle system. But does it succeed in earning its place as a timeless classic, or has the clock stopped dead for this time trip? Let’s find out!
Starting off with the story, it’s kept simple at the start, and that’s ideal for a time travel adventure. You play as a little robot made by Adam Wright, a wheelchair-bound scientist crippled by a treehouse run-in with a toy car that left him and his dreams of being an athlete shattered. Later in life, he nails down quantum physics and robotics to make a time travel device out of a cell phone and a microwave. The voyager through time is a little robot with the tools it needs to save his younger self from the near-fatal fall that ruined his life. Unfortunately, the Butterfly Effect takes hold with no mercy as each attempt to save Adam only delays the inevitable. Players be warned: things will go wrong, and it’s not exactly a pretty picture. Nothing bloody or gory, but the native language of time travel is depression, so it’s best not to hop in here expecting a happy, zany tale of time travel shenanigans.
What makes this plot all the more interesting is the bits of story you’ll uncover while exploring off the beaten path. From digging up files from a trojan-infested computer to keeping up with letters sent back and forth between family members and the scientific community, the world is weaved in the finer details, and encourages the player to look around for more. You can absolutely get by on just the plot presented to you by progressing through the game, but it’s the details that are often altered from time travel that help define the world. Action and reaction make the world come alive, and the game provides plenty of opportunities to see that in action. Adding to this is a rather witty and charming little robot. The little guy has a full AI built-in, and the personality loaded in it, while nothing exemplary, is more than what I expected him to be, with little one-off comments and retorts that bring him to life. Admittedly, the robot’s simple design loan it to a kinda cute aesthetic, and definitely looks like a little RC car my parents would’ve bought for me when I was a kid. For something so simply designed, it somehow made it that much more memorable.
Ride on Time
Moving on to the gameplay, Hands down, Time Loader is quite possibly the best 2D puzzle platformer I’ve seen since I played Unravel. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a 2D layout pulled off with so many colorful flourishes while playing so smoothly. I rarely encountered a hiccup playing through the levels. That little robot was built to last and gets around darn near every obstacle you throw at it, and will often surprise you how well it can traverse stuff that it doesn’t seem like it should be able to get around. There were only a handful of times where my attempts to climb something resulted in me dry-humping the object in question, and I only managed to get it completely stuck once, but that was a quick and easy checkpoint reset that didn’t put me back all that far at all. If there’s one issue I have, the robotic arm sometimes has a bit of a fit trying to process grabbing stuff. I’ll try grappling a point midair and the arm will miss entirely, or I’ll try picking something up only for my arm to flail around a bit before grabbing the object – and that’s if it grabs it at all. This wasn’t always an issue, but more of a quirk that reared it’s head every once in a while. Other than that, though, that physics engine is one hardy little dynamo. You’d actually have to really try to break that thing, and that’s a big plus to me.
The puzzle aspect of the game was light and shouldn’t put up much of a challenge for most semi-experienced gamers. Most of the solutions are at the forefront with the only question being how to best navigate the terrain and make use of in-game objects. The collectables weren’t super obscure either, and most of them I just stumbled upon. Still, the amount of details you can tweak that are affected by time travel made me totally justify an extra playthrough. There was even a secret code you could put into a website by following a QR code that had a neat little surprise and, again, gave me justification to explore and interact.
Flashing Before My Eyes
A few other things to go over are the visuals and atmosphere. The game’s setting is in the ’90s, which the technology captures well. A SNES hangs out by the living room TV, and the PC Adam owns definitely reminds me of my mom’s old Hewlett Packard she bought in the late ’90s. Also, I found it interesting that Adam’s computer contracted the ILOVEYOU worm seeing that the notorious virus didn’t spread until 2000. That said, I’m more than willing to overlook a couple anachronisms since most of this game’s ’90s aesthetic was pretty much nailed down just right. All the different toys and games, combined with the soft, synthetic background music brought me back to when I was a kid and just starting to see things like RC cars and video games. A nostalgia well-earned, and an aesthetic you don’t see enough of.
As for the graphics, they’ve got a special charm to them. Most of the time, while nothing jaw-dropping, they’ve got enough color and detail to keep the eyes busy, and it’s a real sum-of-all-parts outlook that makes the graphics work the way they do. Little details like the D20 hanging out on the D&D table or a paper airplane stuck on the roof that help add flavor to the areas you explore. Even when revisiting some spots, you’ll find more details hiding around that you might not have noticed before. There’s a lot to see, and while it isn’t a ray-traced visual powerhouse, it doesn’t need to be as the shading’s just right, and the colors work more than well enough to feel full. The only real detriment is that the cutscenes aren’t fluent cutscenes but instead are like comic-book style images with a few moving parts. Sometimes the transition to these cutscenes can be jarring and it broke the fluidity of the gameplay progression a little.
Lastly, there’s the music and voiceovers, which the music tends to keep quiet and out of the way. This works to its advantage, since the later parts of the game are meant to be a bit more somber, but it does feel like there should’ve been a bit more in the way of music. The voiceover is solid for what it is, with the occasional line from Adam and his family or friends. The one that talks the most is actually the robot, with his fully operational AI providing some background dialogue. It’s mainly for exposition, but it lends enough emotion and quality voice work to become its own personality.
A Step Forward
All in all, would I recommend this robot-fueled time travel adventure? Absolutely! Even though the story serves as yet another example of why one shouldn’t trifle with time travel, the fun involved makes turning the clock back to 1995 seem pretty enticing. From solid physics to flawlessly detailed environments, Time Loader takes the player on a wild ride through the past, and launches the neglected 2D puzzle-platformer genre into the future like a speeding DeLorean leaving flame trails in its wake.
Final Verdict 4.5/5
Available on: PS4, Xbox One, Steam; Publisher: META Publishing; Developer: FLAZM; Number of players: single-player (campaign); Released: November 3rd, 2021; MSRP: TBA
Full disclosure: The developer provided a review copy.