A machine back in time to change the future for his creator, Time Loader is a short and mostly sweet time. The Finger Guns review.
Ah, time travel. From Terminator to Looper, Life is Strange to Majora’s Mask, time travel has provided all kinds of narrative boons. The idea of heading into the past, fixing mistakes and altering reality for the better is an easy one to get on board with, to be sure. There’s always the inherent problem of the predestination paradox and issues with plot holes, but we can usually find a way to look to past this for the benefit of a fun time.
Time Loader is the latest iteration to loop us through a time travel tale and its short journey is a fun, if occasionally frustrating one. It’s a nice way to spend an afternoon if you’re looking for something light to jump into, but equally it isn’t something spectacular or reality-bending.
Toys Through Time
The setup for Time Loader is succinct and surprisingly effective. Adam, our creator, is a science whiz who suffered a fall as a child, leaving him paralysed from the waist down. Restricted in his movement and abilities, he was unable to pursue his dreams, so after some decades of failing to adjust, he decides to build the perfect time machine – a child’s JCB truck complete with AI companion.
Adam’s hopes are for us to change the course of history, preventing his injury from ever occurring to live out the life he dreamed of. As you progress through the 90s version of Adam’s home, you’ll gather snippets of dialogue providing context for Adam’s youth, as well as indicators of how your actions are altering his fate. There’s a handful of small, nicely animated cutscenes that punctuate the story, while your on-board AI buddy directs you helpfully.
It’s nothing especially original nor particularly emotive, but there’s a certain empathy to Adam’s plight that’s easy to grab on to. The ideas of butterfly effect and Chaos Theory are gently touched on, as an intended action always has an unintended reaction when it comes to all things past meddling. It’s a serviceable hook with interesting, if uninspired, bait to keep you moving forward.
How comprehensively you explore and interact with items of Adam’s younger self will also determine what ending you receive. There’s a handful of different outcomes you’ll be graded on come the conclusion, which provides some nice replayability value and a touch of autonomy.
Time Loader’s story certainly won’t be winning any awards and it’s kept quite intentionally light, but it does enough to provide some motivation while not blowing your mind.
Loads To Do?
Once you’re back into Adam’s 90s past, you’ll need to traverse his tragically untidy, messy and frankly unsafe housing situation. Your progress is separated by various rooms which you’ll need to navigate to find items necessary for progression to rewrite the future (or the present… who knows). Across Time Loader’s 3 acts you’ll return to these same rooms, only with different environmental puzzles to solve and new abilities you’ll acquire naturally as you move forward.
The gameplay therefore consists of moving left to right on the 2D environments, working with various physics based systems and interacting with different objects to create new means of traversal. Shifting the weight of wooden boards, jumping between precariously placed books, smashing a hammer onto a sawblade, simple stuff. The vast majority of puzzles are straightforward and easy to clear, rarely taking more than a moment’s thought to execute.
With the exceptions of one or two outliers, most of the gameplay is pretty intuitive and rewards you for just exploring and working through trial and error to hit switches, move platforms and make a path for yourself. Occasionally, the environmental design will have you scratching your JCB cockpit as to where you can and can’t roll your yellow 4-wheeler up a certain wall. While few and far between, the instances where this happened were irritating and let down what’s otherwise pretty intuitive stuff.
So, gameplay is largely simplistic, yet enjoyably intuitive and easy to navigate. Like a short Sunday walk, it’s a peaceful and easy-going experience, a nice breath of fresh air from something like Elden Ring that’s for sure. The lack of challenge and depth may pose a danger of some tedium, but luckily Time Loader isn’t long enough for this to really impact on you.
Some Mad Wheels You Got There
Moving through Adam’s home will have you collecting upgrades, some creative and others… well, just a bouncier jump. You’ll gain the chance to mess with computers, solder metalwork and towards the end even grapple yourself around with a retractable pincer. They don’t do much to change up the core formula, but they’re fine little iterations to try and keep some freshness. By the end, you’re one punked up JCB that would be the envy of all kids.
Level environments are relatively small and compact, but still hold some secrets to uncover. Find a magazine with a password on it? May come in handy later. Save a robot toy from certain termination and you may boost your chances of a better ending. Additionally, there are 10 hidden collectible objects scattered about the house to uncover.
I discovered 6 of these secret objects and 85% of the story related items and I wasn’t especially going out of my way to dig them out. Most are pretty straightforward to stumble across, but I suspect a couple are pretty well hidden. So for completionists, you’ll have a reason to come back for another short run through.
Again, nothing here is especially fresh, special or invigorating, but it all works for the most part and is a decent little romp as you bounce around and fling yourself about the place.
Time Loader has a clean look, even if it is lacking in texture and detail. Each room of Adam’s abode has a distinct style and the puzzles you’ll face in turn fit in pleasingly with the objects you would actually find in those places. Books and computers in the bedroom, oil cans and model railway in the garage, it all gels effectively.
Your miniature JCB beast animates fluidly and movement works similar to something akin to the Trials games, should you have played them before. Despite these positives however, everything just looks a little muted and dull. Environments may switch up over the acts, but you’re still fundamentally replaying the same areas with some slight differences, which becomes repetitive by the end.
There were some glitches too – a wooden board glitching out of existence (maybe through a wormhole in time?) and clipping into geometry where I couldn’t escape without a restart. They were minor issues but in enough frequency to be a little agitating. Like a fly buzzing around your head that won’t get lost even when you swat at it.
I will give unadulterated praise to the soundtrack though. There are a handful of melancholic and calming ambient tracks that gently ring out in the background as you play. A couple of tracks really pricked up my attention and had me humming along after a bit of listening. My most appreciated moments in Time Loader where when I was in harmony with the puzzles, easing through it at a good pace while having the time to savor the soundtrack.
A Truck’in Time
I didn’t especially love Time Loader, but I certainly didn’t dislike it either. On the contrary, it’s a laid back platformer with a nice soundtrack and unchallenging gameplay. I always appreciate when a game has the self-awareness to know it isn’t especially deep, so keeps itself to a brisk length. In the time it takes to watch a football match you can truck through time loader, so no need for time travel to have the chance to finish it off.
This will be a welcoming entry for newcomers to video games and those who are just looking for a pleasant afternoon of relaxing play. There’s little stakes, opportunity for failure or any real adrenaline, which may make it slightly boring for those who hope for a bit more head-smacking-wall challenge. But, it all works (most of the time) and I’ll fondly look back on Time Loader. It ain’t especially memorable, but it’s a decent enough time.
A cosy, relaxed afternoon kind of game, Time Loader is a short, unchallenging but easy going little game. The soundtrack is lush and the gameplay, graphics and story are all decent enough to keep you engaged. While not memorable or worth screwing up the space-time continuum for, Time Loader is a dependable little earth JCB.
Time Loader is available now on PC. It is launching on the PS4 (review platform), Nintendo Switch and Xbox One on March 10th.
Publisher: META Publishing
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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