If ever there was a game that deserved a solid modern remake its 1996’s Time Commando by Adeline software, the French studio responsible for bringing us the much loved Little Big Adventure series. What is best summed up as a crash course in historical killing methods; this game had everything that drove my 8 year old self giddy with excitement. Ninjas, cowboys, pirates, knights, guns, swords, and bows. Even historically questionable magic, a demon and a goddam dragon made it into the mix. What’s not to love?
The story begins in what was in 1996 probably a rather ambitious view of the year 2020, in which the military (non-country specific) has developed a computer program that can simulate combat from any era of time, because why not? Of course as narratology has taught us something must go wrong for a narrative to exist. This something comes in the form of a computer virus that is uploaded to the computer in an act of corporate subterfuge. The virus results in the creation of time distortion vortex that threatens to engulf the world, obviously.
As an agent of S.A.V.E (Special Action for Virus Elimination), it’s up to the Time Commando himself, Stanley Opar, to enter the virus and fight his way through the various time eras using the weapons and tools of each time period to defeat the virus and save the world bla bla bla. To be brutally honest the story is virtually non-existent and not altogether clear as there is no dialogue or text clues in any of the cinematics and not much can be gleaned from the character’s rather dumb facial expressions. The only reason I know this much is because I did the research.
Each time epoch has 2 sections in which Stanley must turn the weapons of that time against the aggressive natives who throw themselves at him with reckless abandon. Right off the bat both Stanley and his foes launch at each other in a shoot-first-ask-questions-never approach without stopping to ask exactly what the hell is going on. Each new level brings new weapons and new ways of killing that keep the game fresh throughout and serve as the main appeal of each level. The big turning point in terms of awesomeness comes once you reach the Wild West level and guns become the order of the day.
Each level must be completed before time meter fills up or Stanley will fail his mission and be forced to reload from the last save position. The time meter can be turned back by collecting microchips dotted around each level and feeding them into orb pools which also serve as checkpoints.
The graphics make use of polygonal sprites on prerendered backdrops that may have been impressive in 1996 but are sadly pretty horrendous by today’s standards, but hey this is retro gaming, we’re used to this kind of stuff. Also why the hell does Stanley have such tiny feet in relation to his body? Was there not enough memory to render bigger feet in 1996? However the game makes up for this cool vibey music throughout each time era.
The controls are also pretty rudimentary. Using only the keyboard, the up key moves Stanley forward while the left and right keys turn him, the down button obviously moving him backwards. Attacks are made by holding the control key and then again utilizing the D-pad for different attacks. I also noted that the game had a weird learning curve and playing on easy it started out pretty difficult and somehow got easier as I progressed. There are however four difficulty levels to try your hand at which I can only image must get pretty insane, gotta love that old school longevity.
Why is this man mercilessly killing everyone throughout history? Why does no one speak? Why is the final boss, a virus represented as a fish? Why are Stanley’s feet so damn small? Furthermore, why is he dressed like a banana? And finally, why can’t I stop playing this game? Despite these questions I will never get answers to, Time Commando is an amazing game and any flaws I pick out are only because I love its weird presentation so much. As a kid I finished it more times than I can count and would squeal like a schoolgirl if ever there was a remake to grace our screens in the future. I consider it a must play for any gaming freak and one of my favourite games of all time in spite of its relative obscurity.