Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Tiny Build Games
Thanks to Tiny Build Games for supplying a copy of this game for review.
Despite my love of the Indie scene I don’t usually review many Indie games, for the simple reason that there’s freaking loads of them, and to find any that are worth taking a look at you’ve got to sift through a lot of stuff that simply isn’t. Occasionally, though, an Indie game captures my slightly hyperactive imagination, pins it to the ground, beats the snot out of it and demands that I take a few moments to stop, clutch my now broken nose and talk about it, as it was with No Time To Explain, a bonkers 2D platformer that’s both utterly genius and downright infuriating at the same time. It’s good but….damn! NO TIME TO EXPLAIN!
You know, I honestly considered ending the review there, claiming that it was “artistically brilliant” to do so and use the time it would have taken to write up review to instead create a small crossbow with an electronic winch that’s powered by a lemon. And then I remembered I did that last week. So, yeah…..
No Time To Explain most certainly wastes no time in grabbing your attention by the scruff of the neck. As the game opens your little character of no name is happily dancing away in his home when all of a sudden the wall gets blasted inwards and a man emerges from the wreckage claiming to be you from the future, before exclaiming, “There’s no time to explain! OH CHRIST” And then a giant crab claw grabs him in an excessive splash of blood and drags his screaming form away. All of this happens in about the first 10-seconds of the game. So, like any sensible person you pick up the laser/blaster thing that your future self dropped as he was dragged away by whatever the hell that was and set off to figure out what’s going on. And I’m honestly not sure because there was never any time for any of it to be explained, instead the story just gets progressively more mental with more versions of yourself from the future turning up, along with evil clones and strange monsters. It’s a nice step back to gaming’s past where developers didn’t feel the urge to explain every little thing and plots could be simple and fun without needing lashings of grit. At first you just chase yourself across the different 2D worlds, with future you often appearing on the side of the screen being clutched by whatever foul beast has hold of him this time and screaming at the top of his lungs. At which point I’m going to have to mention the superb voice acting in this game. Never have I heard such utterly brilliant terrified babbling and screaming before, and it’s made all the more entertaining by some of the great lines he screams as he pops into view on the right hand side of the screen, being held by a giant crab claw or a shark, such as “Oh god, my ribs are in my eyes!.” And then later on you just run through the various levels because that’s just what you do, simple as that.
Simply said, No Time To Explain’s storyline is utterly nuts, completely nonsensical and brilliantly funny. Sure, even by the end I still wasn’t entirely certain as to why anything was happening, but who cares when it’s so much fun?
The central mechanic in the game is laser weapon you pick up just after your future-self was dragged away. It acts as both a weapon and as a powerful thruster that can be used in conjunction with good old-fashioned jumping to propel you skywards, allowing you to traverse the many hazards you’ll face along the way, by which I mean gaps and spikes, mostly. The gameplay is a mixture of skill, trial and error, frustration and joy as you leap over simple gaps, hover down staircases and desperately try to change direction in mid-air. It all usually begins with you carefully working out the angle of the ground you’re on, the distance you need to traverse, the obstacles in your way and numerous other little bits of mental math before you hit the button to activate your laser, hurl yourself into the air and cock it all up gloriously by rocketing straight in to the ceiling or barely managing to get 5ft before impaling yourself on some spikes that health and safety shall definitely be having some words with someone about. After that subsequent attempts tend to degenerate into just randomly flinging yourself around until you finally manage to succeed. You see, actually judging the physics of No Time To Explain, the force required, the angles and the distances, is bloody tricky stuff. Even after playing the game for many hours I still found it nearly impossible to judge anything but the simplest leaps correctly on the first go, instead usually finding myself embedded on the nearest row of spikes, and that surprises me a little because I’m usually fairly good at judging such things in games. It all comes down to the simple but loose controls: you use your mouse to move the on-screen cursor, and then hold down the button to activate your laser. It’s simple, but hard to actually be very precise with, especially in heated moments where you’re desperately trying to judge the force and angle required to stay between two rows of spikes. In fact, No Time To Explain feels like a game perfectly suited to an Xbox 360 controller, which is why it’s a bit disappointing there’s no support for one. Due to these control issues later levels can become rather annoying. This style of trial and error gameplay is liable to get itself as many haters as lovers, but at least it’s forgiving about it, setting you back where you left off should you plummet to your death and impale yourself on spikes, ensuring that things never get too frustrating unless you’re literally on your hundredth attempt at getting through a section, by which point not even the most generous respawn system in the world than handed you free Pepsi and plate of bacon with every death would be enough to stop you from throwing your computer through a wall. Yes, through a wall, ladies and gentlemen.
However, I did encounter two distinct problems: the first is that death by fire or acid seemingly negates the usually generous spawn system and sends you back to the beginning of the level, which really makes no sense, and the second problem is that sometimes the spawn system gets confused and sends you back further than it should.
Not content to stick with just one gameplay mechanic Tiny Build Games steadily introduce new things as you progress through the game to keep things fresh and fun, although these new features usually only pop in briefly before they return to the good ‘ol laser. For example there’s a section where you use a shotgun that blows you backwards when you pull the trigger, something which amused me greatly the first time I used it and promptly fired myself into the nearest row of spikes. Later on you’ll end up using a suction device which rapidly pulls you toward where your mouse cursor is, a weird shield which acts like a catapult when you hold down the trigger and stretch it, and even find yourself chomping cake to make yourself fat so you can smash barriers! Like the laser these sections are plenty of fun and break up the pace nicely, but also like the laser suffer from the same problems: trial and error gameplay, and loose controls, which can often make things as frustrating as they are enjoyable.
Of course in a game like this level design can really make or break everything. In No Time To Explain there’s a few great levels, but for the most part they’re just okay, although thankfully they never slip into the realms of bad. Mostly they’re just pretty basic with each level being very, very small, a reminder of the game’s Flash origins. However, special mention does have to be made of a level late in the game where you find yourself in a pure white environment and have to “paint” the level with your laser so you can see where you’re going, all the while little NPC characters make various comments on how gaming equals art. It’s truly a moment of genius, and one I would have appreciated far more if I hadn’t almost immediately fallen off a cliff. Once I respawned, though, I found it hard not to giggle like a little child at No Time To Explain making fun of the Unfinished Swan.
Despite the potential frustrations that come from the trial and error nature of the game and its imprecise controls, No Time To Explain is quite a bit of fun. The cartoony graphical style and general insanity of it all help to take the edge off of the anger building up from having died for nth time. My time with the game sort of went something like this: “What the hell just happened? Oh cool, this is a jetpack/gun! Spikes are painful. Why am I fighting a giant crab? Holy shit, this shotgun thing is awesome! Wait, does that dinosaur have a rocket launcher!? KILL IT! Why am I fighting a mole thing? Eat the cake, eat the cake, eat the cake! Okay, I’m inside myself now, avoiding pools of stomach acid. This game is insane. The hell was that!? Hold on, I can stick to walls now? FUCKING SPIKES! I hate trying to control the laser in mid-air. How many versions of me are there!? Unlockable hats are ace! Oh cool, user-made levels! So why is there no level-editor? This game is fun, but bloody annoying.” Truth be told, it’s a hard game to put into words, which is why you’ll find the game’s trailer embedded in this review, so you can get an idea of how mental it often is.
Where the fun falls apart is the dreadful boss battles that the game insists on throwing at you every now and then, presumably because the developers felt that boss battles were a mandatory requirement of 2d platformers or something. The first battle is you versus a giant crab/robot thingy, and it looks it should be fun, except that you can’t die: the missiles the crab fires at you do absolutely nothing to you when they hit you, and so you just stand there and hold down the trigger until the boss dies. It’s just boring. This trend continues with the other boss battles. Most of all, though, they’re just poorly designed. Bosses have just a few attacks and can take a freaking age to kill, slowing the games otherwise frantic pace to a crawl as you simply hold down the mouse button until it falls over/blows up. It all comes to a head when you run into a fight with a giant underground mole with drills attached to it, where all of a sudden you can actually die, sending you back to the very start of the battle ever time, because the damn thing can set you on fire, which as we covered earlier seemingly negates the respawn system for no obvious reason other than to piss people off. This wouldn’t be so bad if the boss didn’t also have one-hit kills, something I thought we’d gotten rid of years ago and for bloody good reasons. Get through a chunk of the battle and suddenly lava appears at three locations, which you can be standing in at the time, leading to insta-death. Then there are attacks which can bounce you into the lava if you don’t dodge them, which would be okay if it wasn’t for the fact it’s hard to tell if it’s going to use the attack that you need to dodge, keeping in mind that actually getting enough height takes a few seconds, or hit you with the insta-kill eye lasers that you need to hit with your own laser. Topping it all of is the battle is so heavily glitched that it’s nearly unplayable. Numerous glitches in that single section brought the game to a grinding halt, almost forcing me to give up entirely, but I persevered and managed to battle through the terrible design and one-hit kills to get through that level. How it made it through testing without somebody, anybody, even the damn dog, realising that it was a buggy mess with daft design decisions is beyond me. Quite simply said, and I realise this is brutal, No Time To Explain features some of the worst boss battles I’ve played in a very long time: they’re boring, slow up the game and are poorly executed from numerous design choices that make no sense. And then strangely later boss battles went back to the no dying policy.
So, No Time To Explain is both a frustrating and fun experience, and I really hate games like that because they always leave me at somewhat of an impasse when it comes to scoring them. At the end of the day, though, I feel that despite all of its pitfalls and frustrations No Time To Explain is ultimately a fun little game that is worth picking up unless you’re the kind of person that finds trial and error gameplay too annoying. You’re not going to get heaps of play time from it, but at just £7 on Steam there’s enough here to make it feel like money well spent.
+ It’s nuts!
+ Great soundtrack!
+ Often hilarious.
– Imprecise controls.
– Trial and error gameplay style can annoy.
– Boss battles.
The Verdict: 3/5 – Good
No Time To Explain is hardly a flawless game: there’s a lot of areas that could do with tweaking and polishing, but those problems never quite manage to overshadow the fact that this is a fun little platformer brimming with humor. It’s a promising start for Tiny Build Games.