Originally published in The Daily Toreador.
Over the decades of video gaming, certain genres that used to be popular have fallen by the wayside. The shoot-‘em-up genre is one of these, and unfortunately for some, it doesn’t seem to be coming back in full force any time soon.
But occasionally hardcore fans of this old arcade-style of action are treated by downloadable releases such as “Zeit Squared,” which began its life as a German student project and has since been picked up by Ubisoft for release on Xbox Live Arcade and PC. It’s short, but it’s also cheap and is a nice throwback to a fading era of high scores in games. It’s also got its share of twists that help it be unique.
“Zeit Squared” (written with a superscript “2” if you’re hunting for it online) is a side-scrolling game that moves from left to right, a la the classic “Gradius.” Most of the similarities end there, however. While the crux of the game still involves shooting tons of enemies — occasionally with power-ups — and gunning for combos and extra points, “Zeit Squared” throws time manipulation into the mix in order to make things even crazier.
Your most trusted time power is the rewind ability. As you play, you build up a charge that allows you to travel back in time for a maximum of 4.2 seconds — which as far as I can tell is an arbitrary number. As you hold down the button to move backward in time, things revert to the way things were seconds before, similar to the trick popularized in the “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” game. The catch is that once you stop time traveling, a shadow version of yourself still repeats all of the actions you performed before you rewound time, essentially resulting in two of you on screen at once for that brief moment.
This is where most of the strategy comes in when you’re trying to earn enough points to put you at the top of the game’s leaderboards. There’s an art to knowing when you want to rewind time in order to maximize your scoring potential, rather than just rewind in order to correct a mistake or prevent an untimely death.
Things are further complicated by the fact that certain enemies cannot be attacked while you’re moving through time normally. They can only be hit after you move backward in time. Conversely, some enemies cannot be hit unless you haven’t moved through time, so it’s easy to find yourself screwed if you miss them the first time they come by, as you can’t just rewind time and try again.
And hitting enemies is pretty crucial due to how health works in the game. Your health meter goes down every time you fire a bullet or any time certain types of enemies (read: most of them) get past you and “escape” to the left side of the screen. So you really want to focus on making sure not too many enemies escape your wrath, or you might be paying for it with your life.
I understand that it might sound complex, and I haven’t even talked about the ability to fast-forward, or the special attacks you can perform by shooting your past-shadow-self. Thankfully, the game itself does a really good job of introducing the concepts to you in a steady and efficient manner, so you won’t be too bogged down with trying to understand the mechanics.
The game has a pretty cool art style to it, but unfortunately the environments don’t change much and you end up facing a lot of the same enemies throughout the entire experience. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it is a bummer for those who crave variety.
In addition to a pretty standard arcade mode, there are other gameplay types to experiment with, such as a puzzle mode and a wave mode which help add some replay value to this $10 package. However, you can easily experiment with each of these and get all of the game’s achievements within a few hours if you’re familiar with this type of game at all.
So the overall value you get out of the game will really come down to how much you like going for high scores. If you have friends playing the game, it can certainly be a lot of fun to try to top each other’s performances. However, that will probably only last so long, making “Zeit Squared” a pretty fun and original few hours, but maybe not something that you’ll stick with for a long time.