Every video game is someone's first. For people of an older generation, they started alongside the hobby with the first steps of Mario, Link, and Pikachu. While not every game can be an absolute banger, the right opening salvo can lead to a lifelong passion for exploring new worlds. Those looking to pick up video games nowadays have so many more options. In turn, many games take that into consideration when mapping out their puzzles. You can feel that in a game like Time Loader, a simplistic adventure that seems tailor-made to introduce players to puzzle platforming. Even so, the few poor souls who end up with Time Loader as their first video game may end up picking up model airplanes or Warhammer in the long run.
The latest from indie studio Flazm, Time Loader is a decades-spanning puzzle platformer starring a tiny robot. After blasting into the past via a microwave, he rolls around a house with a mission of altering the past. The story quickly reveals his goal, which is to save his creator from a tragic childhood accident. The clash of going from a cutscene of a small child losing the power of his legs to time traveling in a kitchen appliance is real. Ultimately, the story setup sets a somber tone on the proceedings that persists throughout the 90-120 minute runtime. Despite many misfired jokes and several light-hearted references, Time Loader feels like a slog right from the get-go.
This sluggish progression comes from a few areas, but none so prominent as the game's dour soundtrack. Time Loader's marketing promises "nostalgic music," but this collection of piano dirges is anything but. Instead of tunes that come from the same 80s/90s era as the game's logo and premise, the whole experience plays out to a loop of slow, plodding melodies. The musical ambiance brings to mind an overlong trip on an elevator to nowhere. It's a confusing misfire considering how the rest of the game leans so heavily on such specific iconography.
Of course, any game can survive a bad soundtrack with a trip to the settings menu (something that doesn't apply to Time Loader thanks to its lack of in-game settings), but few can prosper without gameplay that sucks players in and keeps them going. Time Loader's array of puzzles is very basic, to the point where anyone but a first-timer will see the answers almost immediately. This is before Time Loader's generous help systems point out exactly what to do in case there is any confusion. For anyone who has played any 2D game with puzzles in the past, there are long stretches where Time Loader plays itself.
There are a few sparks of creativity throughout Time Loader's campaign that deserve mention. One of the movement upgrades is a grappling hook, which is a fun addition to any game and works well here. There are also several clever uses of everyday objects for zooming across the house in unique ways. There wasn't a lot to do once our robotic protagonist assembled a boat from spare parts but jet forward, but it came together as a nice surprise.
I played the Xbox One version of Time Loader on Xbox Series X, but even that didn't help when it came to performance concerns. Load times are frustratingly long for a game this simplistic, especially when you first load into a level from the main menu. Also, there are some challenges with the physics system that can level objects and even the game's hero trapped in the environment. Those same physics fuel the game's puzzles, so you can imagine the frustration when everything doesn't line up as needed.
Outside of a few niceties, there isn't much to recommend about Time Loader. It's an experience that feels played out for veteran players and too simplistic for those new to puzzling and/or platforming. The story and gameplay clash on a basic level. The "nostalgic" presentation bleeds into false advertising. The campaign is over in a flash. On the whole, I wish I had a time machine so I could go back in time and choose to play anything else.
TechRaptor reviewed Time Loader on Xbox Series X via backward compatibility with Xbox One with a code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.
- A few novel uses of household items
- Grappling hooks are always fun
- Gameplay functions as intended 95% of the time
- Emotional story threads that clash with the rest of the experience
- Lamentable soundtrack that's anything but "nostalgic"
- Short campaign that will bore players more often than not