Time Loader is a new puzzle-platformer by Flazm Games about a small, time-travelling robot. It’s a game that proudly wears the label of “arty” and endeavors to use every component to tell a story. Unfortunately, while the story is by no means poorly written, it never goes anywhere. Arty games have been the hot thing in indie circles for a while now and when a craze goes on long enough, the cracks begin to show. Good art is meant to have a message. Some kind of moral or deeper theme that only becomes apparent at the end. However, it’s incredibly easy to get lost in that message.
While Time Loader is fun, and some of its story beats are well executed, its message gets very muddled. I was convinced that the moral was going to be “you can’t change the past, so move on.” That sort of happens, but not in a satisfying way. With a lack of failure for messing up puzzles, a truly gorgeous look, wonderful soundtrack and a story that meanders to a close without engaging, Time Loader is a very difficult game to pin down. I have no idea what it’s trying to be, and it ends up being mediocre at the end of it all.
Time Loader is available for purchase on Steam for your regional pricing.
STORY – DO NOT ENGAGE THRUSTERS
The story of Time Loader is about Adam Wright, a young man that was crippled by falling off his treehouse as a boy. Haunted by the memory of that fateful day, he constructs a small robot, A.I., as the robot is called by the subtitles, out of various toy parts to go back in time and stop the event that ruins his life. After returning to the past, A.I. must solve puzzles, navigate the boyhood home of his creator and try to alter the future for the better.
I can’t go into too much detail about the story, simply because of how integral it is to the game. This is a story-heavy experience, and everything has been designed around that. But for all the work the audio and visuals do to create a tone, for all the work the gameplay does to make you feel like a small toy in a big house, everything falls flat. It lacks engagement. Time Loader is very good at stoking curiosity, but curiosity is not the same as engagement.
That isn’t to say there aren’t good story beats. A couple of moments in the game are framed really well, but the problem is one of focus. The story revolves around Adam, the terrible accident that happened to him, and how it affected his family, but I felt no connection to him by the end of it. That’s the case because throughout the story, you only actually interact with him in the tutorial. Everything else you learn about Adam is done through audio logs, random diary entries, and A.I. commenting on things. Saving Adam is meant to be our big motivation to finish the game and get the best ending. It’s just tough to care about that when I don’t know him at all.
If Adam had checked in every now and then, revealing his personality a bit more organically through dialogue, I would have connected to him. Had some cutscenes showed why A.I. cares for Adam beyond being his creation, the story would have had more weight. Unfortunately, there isn’t, and Adam himself fades into the background of his own story. He becomes a plot device, a motivation for A.I., who should have been the focal point for the story in the first place. The character I’m controlling already has my investment, because I’m controlling them. With Adam as the focus, however, the story feels insubstantial.
GAMEPLAY – BIG JUMPS FOR A LITTLE TOY
Time Loader‘s gameplay is best categorized as a puzzle platformer, and for the most part, that’s true. You solve environment puzzles by jumping over and onto household appliances, throwing small objects, and collecting tools. The problem, however, is that a good deal of the puzzles are solved with contextual button presses. That’s fine when you’re electrifying a magnet to pull a toy car you have to jump on, or using a car jack to tilt a shelf so you can reach a higher ledge. It’s not so fine when the puzzle becomes “drive to a spot and press E.” That isn’t a puzzle, that’s opening a door.
The gameplay is by far the most engaging part of Time Loader. Contextual button presses aside, the platforming is fun and the puzzles are interesting. It certainly gets less fun when the robot tries to tell you how to do something after you’ve demonstrated you can do it. Or just gives you the solution to a puzzle. However, this is a symptom of a much larger problem.
It becomes very clear that the gameplay is just a vehicle for the story, and as I’ve mentioned, the story isn’t nearly as engaging. A moment quite early on comes to mind, where we have to lock Adam’s cat in the shed. After solving a variety of puzzles and platforming challenges, we are rewarded with a short video showing exactly how we locked it in. A cut-scene should never replace gameplay, and that happens in Time Loader far too often.
The biggest, and most damming problem with TL is threats. There is no fail state in the game, no game over screen, no environmental hazards. Generally, that would be fine in a puzzle game. The puzzles are meant to be the challenge. However, while the game has good puzzles that make use of the movement controls and throw mechanics, very few of them are challenging. The second you learn nothing in this game can hurt you, the solution to every puzzle becomes “Go left until you can’t, try some stuff, then go right.” Platforming is at its most fun when there’s tension, and puzzles are at their most fun when you feel like you outsmarted something. A simple environmental hazard, like electrified water, would have gone a long way.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO – CLAYMATION BEAUTY
The visuals of Time Loader put me in mind of an animated movie. It has a cell-shaded aesthetic, making everything look a bit claylike, which just works. It fits very well into the context of a small toy going on a big adventure. Even the cutscenes work well, going for more of a painted children’s book style. Both blend together to really pull you into the experience.
It also transitions well from the brighter, more hopeful colors of Act 1 to a slightly darker pallet for Act 2, while retaining that almost childlike wonder. There is something enormously cool about being a toy or the size of a toy, and navigating a family home. I honestly couldn’t imagine a better visual design for the game.
Soundwise, the design doesn’t miss a beat. The music in TL is perfectly crafted to fit the tone of the story. It’s calm, which works perfectly with a puzzle-focused game, and gives all the story moments a lot more weight. Special mention has to be given to the sound effects though. Driving over a keyboard and hearing the clickity-clack of the keys is incredibly satisfying. Finding a ping pong ball that actually sounds like a hollow plastic ball when you throw it is wonderful! These all feel like small things, but in a game like this, they are an essential part of drawing you in. Flazm Games nailed it!
Time Loader was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by HomeRun PR.