Time Lord (NES) review
"Suppose that you play through the Castle Marman level one time. You find one orb after picking mushrooms, one hanging on a tower high above a wide space, and a flying monkey (dragon?) drops another. Then there’s the one you randomly find when you jump down a set of stone columns. The last thing you really want to do the next time you play through is guess the location of that fourth orb. It’s just… not fun."
In the year 2999, aliens have come to the planet Earth with one objective: they want to go back in time and ruin everything. No one ever really explains why the aliens have this in mind, but they are aliens and it’s best not to question such things. Instead, you should do what humans always do in the face of alien invasion: fight back. That’s precisely the point of Time Lord, one of many Rare-developed NES titles with Milton Bradley serving as the publisher. And how is it that you fight back? Why, you travel throughout different periods of Earth’s history gathering orbs and fighting monsters, of course!
Hollywood, eat your heart out.
The epic story begins in the MB lab, somewhere in the game’s present. You appear at the lower right edge of the screen, a swarthy gentleman clad in a red jumpsuit with fake boobs. I’m fairly certain this is not how the people at Rare intended for you to look, but it’s the overall impression just the same. It’s hard to tell if the silent protagonist truly means to stop evil, or if he’s just headed to the night club to pick up some hot guys. We never know, and we never care.
That’s because we’re too busy getting our asses handed to us, of course. It starts right away, in that lab I mentioned. As you head left past gray-colored security robots that fire bullets your way if you get in their path (you have no projectiles, by the way, just your fists and feet), you will find yourself collecting the first of those orbs I mentioned.
Each stage you visit contains five of them. In the case of the first zone, they’re always located in the same place and you don’t have to beat any bosses to find them. The first stage serves as your simple introductory area, and also as a way for the developers to start chipping away at your life meter. Since you move rather slowly, it’s pretty difficult to avoid taking damage. Not only that, but aliens have a way of sneaking up on you and hitting you before you can damage them, even when you know where they’ll come from. Not good.
Once you’re past the quite boring (but thankfully brief) first area, you’ll find yourself jumping back in time around 1750 years. The new locale is Castle Marman, located somewhere in England. Things immediately improve at this point, though only briefly. This first ‘true’ level is hands down the best in the game. It finds you working your way right past some pool tables with stone bases (or maybe they’re something else?) as arrow-firing dwarves bum rush you. Press toward the right, gathering power-ups while you beat on them with your hands and feet, and you’ll soon find a wrapped parcel containing a sword.
This sword is useful because for whatever reason, you’re impervious to all enemy attacks if you hold down the ‘B’ button and stand there, posing like a buffoon. No, you can’t hit anyone in this fashion. You can’t even move until you let go of the button. But no one can hit you. It’s a brief moment of glory before you go back to the old grind. Unfortunately, ‘grind’ would be the key word. You see, collecting the orbs is not all that thrilling. In fact, it’s downright tedious.
Part of this is due to an attempted innovation on the part of the developers. In each stage but the first, you must find four orbs placed throughout a stage before you can head to the boss location to fight for the fifth. Rare, mindful of the fact that this game is astonishingly short, decided to mix things up by varying the location of the orbs within a stage each time you play. Sounds great on paper, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the execution leaves much to be desired. Suppose that you play through the Castle Marman level one time. You find one orb after picking mushrooms, one hanging on a tower high above a wide space, and a flying monkey (dragon?) drops another. Then there’s the one you randomly find when you jump down a set of stone columns. The last thing you really want to do the next time you play through is guess the location of that fourth orb. It’s just… not fun.
Another thing that isn’t fun is the occasional boss battle. The reason for this is a simple word: cheapness. It’s not so bad in the case of the first boss, a hopping dragon that just bounces about sending a few shots your way. But trouble begins when you reach the boss of Dead Man’s Gulch. This mean hombre walks back and forth like a giant bottle of tobasco sauce with a moustache and sombrero, firing pellets your way until you’re deader than a horse in a glue factory. It’s difficult to avoid these enemies because you move slowly, but also because they’re capable of taking so much abuse. You can fire twenty or thirty bullets into the afore-mentioned hombre, and still he just keeps moving about as if nothing has happened. The boss of the third stage, a giant clam that (like his dragon cohort) bounces around the screen) is guiltier still of testing a gamer’s patience. Even worse, you don’t have any idea how close you are to winning. A boss gauge at the bottom of the screen doesn’t consider damage to your current nemesis. Instead, it considers how dissatisfied those aliens are with your progress.
Speaking of progress against aliens, it should be noted that this game possesses a rather unique timer. As you work through stages, a calendar ticks down the dates. You have one year to fly through the whole game. As a day in this game lasts approximately 5 seconds, you have a game that by its very design cannot last longer than a half-hour.
The thing is, that’s just fine. You very likely won’t want to play this game more than that half-hour. You may not even care to give it more than a few minutes. This is because about the only thing it has going for it is its music. Each selection is perfectly suited for the setting you’re exploring. Perhaps best of all is the music for the third stage, which is Western-themed. There are moments where you can look away from the screen, just listening to the music, and you’ll swear a tumbleweed just rolled by.
Unfortunately, music is not enough to save a game, not when it has to hold up cheap boss encounters, short and uninspired levels, poor play control and visuals that barely did the job even when the game was new. Time Lord is one of those games I used to play for hours on end, not because I had much choice, but because it was better in some ways than staring at a blank television screen. In some ways.
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Staff review by Jason Venter (January 17, 2005)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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