Super T.I.M.E. Force from Capybara Games would be easy to overlook. In both visual style and a glance at the action, it seems by all appearances to be a simple throwback to classic shooters like Contra. Its one defining factor, the time-looping mechanic, turns that on its head and made it one of the most unique and clever games on display at PAX East this year.
I began my demo with one of the three stock characters -- a red-clad man with a standard gun, which could spew out many more projectiles when charged. The game has the tough-as-nails style of old Contra games, so it wasn't long before I died. I was given the option choose a character again, so this time I opted for the woman with a laser. The flickering image of my red-clad man started running alongside me, echoing his actions from the last life. When I died again, I had two ghostly accomplices. When I died again, three, and so on.
The result is a frenetic game that mixes elements of puzzle and strategy into the classic shooter arch-type. You could certainly brute force your way through a stage with enough skill, but it's more fun to play it as intended. Maybe you didn't pack enough firepower to take out that enemy quickly before his shot hit you, but can he stand up to five of you? One character has a shield, and even his ghostly image will protect against enemy fire. Choosing him first to act as a barrier for the next life is sound strategy. These kinds of decisions make for a more thoughtful action shooter; it's like playing co-op with yourself. Or your past selves.
The demo granted 30 lives, so when fully stocked with dead characters it becomes fairly frantic. Preventing the death of a past self by taking out an enemy faster can create new checkpoints. The stages sometimes resemble a bullet hell game as much as military shooter, so the stages are mercifully short enough that the 30 lives should be enough.
Even in my short time with Super T.I.M.E. Force, the implications of its core mechanic showed great potential. I look forward to seeing more of the game and how additional characters and enemy threats iterate on the genre-blending concept.