Time loops are everywhere this year, be they Deathloops or being trapped inside Twelve Minutes. Yet none are quite like Flazm‘s Time Loader, the journey of a time traveling Wall-E like robot sent back to the 90’s to save his creator, Adam. The science wiz creates true AI and time travel in the effort to send his bot back in time to save his child self from being paralyzed. It’s up to the little Time Loader to try and survive a time loop without making things worse.
The journey is worthwhile but fraught with odd wrinkles.
Leaping Into the Past!
Time Loader’s best parts are ones you discover on your own. The puzzles are all super intuitive, rewarding experimentation. It’s very easy to picture a kid playing this game without much trouble outside of the timing in the more precise moments.
Exploring the environment rewards you with valuable collectibles and secrets aplenty. You’ll rarely not find something if you go digging off the beaten path. The emphasis on physics and a 2.5D landscape is brilliant in motion while remaining accessible.
Time Loader wraps this up in a soft, warm visual aesthetic straight out of Nintendo’s playbook. A synth soundtrack wafts in the air like a gentle breeze. The best part of the art direction is how well it captures being the size of a toy car in a whole house, making brilliant use of scale to establish some fresh level scenarios. Physics adds to this beautiful presentation as the world flows, clatters, and bobs around you.
Another laudable choice was basing so many of the Time Loader’s parts on Tonka Truck-like bits and pieces. Paired with just the right sound effects, the little robot feels tangible. You get a feel for how it twists and turns, whether you can pull off a jump or not, how much time you need to wind up before leaping. There’s an automatic but limited HUD, with visual prompts to keep you going without being intrusive. When you’re just breathing it all in, Time Loader is fantastic for the majority of its brief runtime.
Time Loader’s Story Has More Holes Than Plot
It’s not just the moment-to-moment gameplay that leaves its mark either. The story has some interesting consequences based on how you impact the timeline – there are genuine branching threads with unique conclusions to Adam’s story. A few unlock additional side objectives worth pursuing, learning more about Adam’s family drama. An early mistake is by far the most gut-wrenching, yet Time Loader stays optimistic throughout it all.
That said, some choices are definitely better than others, both in terms of how happy they are and in how illogical they might be. That’s the real trick to the story – the dialogue is typically quite good. There’s solid voice acting from the whole cast and cute comments from your robot. Though it’s hard to tell if the robot is breaking the fourth wall or not by speaking to you, it’s instantly endearing. However, the story itself has several rather glaring leaps in story logic.
For example, if Adam’s such a genius, why doesn’t he just give himself exo legs? Why risk creating Skynet instead of using something that already exists? Sometimes Time Loader addresses these problems, but Flazm plays too fast and loose with the central conflict. Despite aims for an impactful message, Time Loader muddles itself with unnecessary additional story elements.
Also, as someone who was alive in the ’90s? Time Loader leans heavily on 80s flavoring for its 90’s nostalgia. There are still several references I appreciated, particularly a PlayStation with a worn-down disc tray. Yet for all that, I can’t deny there’s room to better harness these fond recollections. Some DOS-era computer browsing is one thing, but a lot of the challenges you face would work in any time period.
Time Loader Is Better off When It Isn’t Chasing You With a Cat
Time Loader is also undeniably better at puzzles than it is platforming. When it comes to leaping or swinging about, the biggest flaws come into play. Time Loader is a great physics-heavy experience whenever timing isn’t a factor. Yet for some reason, the further in you progress, the more Time Loader expects greater precision than it can manage.
These are brief difficulty spikes, but they grind your progress to a halt for several minutes at a time. Worse still, the checkpoints send you right back to the start in these sections. The platforming simply isn’t smooth enough to allow for sequences like this. It’s a strange inclusion since slow exploration is infinitely more exciting. A midpoint even leans into non-linear exploration and it’s easily the strongest portion of Time Loader.
Perhaps the unpolished platforming comes down to how briefly it’s featured. At longest, you’re looking at four to six hours to find everything and unlock the various endings. In my initial run, it only took two and a half hours to find over 80% of the collectibles. Now, there is a bigger secret to track down if you find them all. However, the payoff felt like a jarringly ill-fitting twist on the rest of the game. I won’t spoil it, but just be ready for an odd reveal if you hit 100%.
Despite this, Time Loader does plenty more right than wrong; it’s just got a lot of room for improvement. This is more a matter of needing extra time in the oven than inescapable issues. With the majority of its focus set on puzzles and adorable dialogue, Time Loader pulls out a charming win worth it for those who want a nice, relaxing puzzle game about time travel.