Time Lord – NES
Release Date (NA): September 1990
Developer: Rare Ltd.
Publisher: Milton Bradley
Nerd Rating: 4 out of 10
I have a real soft spot for the whole time traveling gimmick, especially when presented in a progressive / episodic fashion. Once you’ve played enough original Nintendo games, you begin to glean a lot of information from the titles alone, and Time Lord is no different. I began coming up with all of the generic time periods I could, envisioning a dozen or at the least 10 different eras including the obligatory industrial future of steel, robots, and lasers. Pirates, dinosaurs, colonial times, medieval times, an appropriation of feudal times in the Orient, vague notions of a Hellenistic or Roman era, pharaohs and pyramids, all of this danced in my head as I readied myself to play.
Sadly, my expectations were far from met. NES games may not be known for vast complexity, but the system does boast more than a few excellent games making creative use of the limited technology. Time Lord is not one of them. Gameplay, level design, and the objectives are borderline inadequate and at times almost impossible. Nearly ever aspect of the game is heavily flawed (except for perhaps graphics and sound) and an inch or two in the wrong direction and it would fall into the “unplayable” category.
The premise of Time Lord is simple enough. A horrible alien race is attempting to take over Earth and to do so they are sending armies back to different points in time to make the takeover easier. The player, the eponymous “Time Lord” must journey back to these points in history. Strangely enough there’s a running clock, allowing the Time Lord only “one year” to complete the quest. Starting at January 1st, 2999, 365 days tick by quickly. If the game isn’t finished by the year 3000 the time machine self-destructs (along with the Time Lord), the aliens win, and the game is over. The levels are relatively small. The catch is that 5 orbs must be found in each level and they’re not always simple to find or acquire. Really, only 4 orbs are needed and then the stage’s boss can be found where, when defeated, it will yield the final orb and transport the Time Lord to the next area.
The running clock keeps Time Lord fairly brief as there’s essentially a finite amount of time to play the game each and every session. It may take a few tries to successfully find and procure each of the orbs, though there’s a generally sufficient amount of time to complete all of the levels. Lives and survival will be your main concern as there are (I believe) only 4 extra lives lurking around and chances to replenish health are few and far between.
Time Lord, despite the evocative title that I harped on earlier, contains only 6 stages, the first of which can hardly be counted as a proper level and serves only to show orbs could be found to the left, up, and down, and that the game is a little different than many of the conventional side-scrollers of the day. After this brief period punching aliens, the Time Lord moves through a castle in medieval England, followed by a stint in the Old West, then finds himself in the Caribbean mid-17th century (think pirates), moves on to a World War II battle on the Western Front, and finally boards the futuristic spaceship for the final confrontation. Each level contains different items for the Time Lord to use (instead of his fists) and many times these items are necessary for gathering orbs. The weapons are appropriate for the time period and add the sort of atmosphere one would expect, though our hero’s appearance remains the same. Although the stages are small and ill-designed, the graphics do a decent job of conveying the correct feel and mood for each era and the accompanying music does the same.
When the game gets underway it quickly alternates between dull and frustrating, but mostly dull. In some levels, hordes of endless enemies fly across the screen. Attacks can sometimes be tough to connect due to the mock-3D nature of the environment. Instead of walking left and right, the player can also move on and down (or rather in and out of the fore and background) so it’s necessary to be roughly on the same plane as an enemy to hit them. Orbs are hidden in very strange places, many not immediately visible. Several are out of sight altogether requiring the player to walk in the right place. Others are readily apparent but out of reach. Strange methods such as kicking off of random spots in the air (seriously), shooting at the orb, blowing up the orb, and simply waiting for the orb to fall out of the sky are utilized over and over with no real clues on how to do any of this shit.
I’ll give Time Lord a little bit of credit for its creative means of orb collection. The problem is it feels like the designers had a bunch of good ideas about how to make the damn things hard to collect and stopped there. Figuring out how to grab the orbs is damn near impossible. Most of the maneuvers are unorthodox and not at all intuitive, leaving me to wonder how the hell anyone ever figured it out. In a few cases, some of the orbs are even in different places during different play-throughs of the game!
Combat is woefully repetitive, bouncing between impossible and impossibly easy. One boss can take up to 3 months of game time to defeat (I don’t know either, he takes an insane number of hits to destroy) while another can be defeated by standing in a corner and throwing knives. Most of the time the boss will bounce around the edges of the screen without even touching our heroic Time Lord. The final three-headed alien plant thing is hard as hell, but one little feature makes Time Lord the identical candidate for the timeless “Infinite Lives” afforded by the Game Genie. When killed, the Time Lord respawns in exactly the same spot. No repeated boss fights, no pointless stretch of level being played over and over again. Still, time is always a concern and there isn’t much room to explore. Even if there was, there’s nothing much to find. Typical of many games in this era, the “you win” screen is little more than some text explaining what a great hero the player is. One single screen.
Another subpar NES platformer for the books. There’s a few good ideas being thrown around in Time Lord, and the controls are at least responsive, but there’s not enough here for me to recommend this. Worse games are out there, but this one teeters on the edge of being unplayable. The graphics and chiptunes are mildly impressive to the NES enthusiast and there are worse uses for $4, but Time Lord will be of interest only to the NES completist.
Reviewed by The Cubist
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