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Time Soldiers (Sega Master System) artwork

Time Soldiers (Sega Master System) review

"Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey"

What's worse than being caught, turned into a red orb, and then tossed into a different time period? Having this be done by a giant space robot with a mophead arm. The humiliation! Charged with undoing the shame of their captured comrades, Yohan and Ben must travel through different periods in time and rescue the five trapped Earth Command Troopers. Only then will these two face off against the dreaded janitor ruler known as Gylend. As you take control of Yohan and, with the help of a second player, Ben in an overhead perspective, it becomes apparent that Time Soldiers takes clear inspiration from run 'n gun titles like Capcom's Commando or the Sega Master System's own Rambo: First Blood Part II.

These two soldiers run through several stages, each consisting of brief segments in different time periods, while holding bazookas containing infinite ammo, occasionally grabbing a secondary energy gun or rocket launcher with limited stock. As you blow away countless opponents, the game tries to use its time travel concept "cleverly," but this is based around performing one gimmick. At the beginning of each stage is a screen of text telling you which era concludes the stage, and when you defeat a mid-boss within a time period, you're given a choice to travel to a different period or continue on with the present one.

That's the gimmick: reading.

Though, the main premise also gives players the opportunity to fight a variety of enemies, unlike the usual infantrymen that are typical of its genre. Such opponents include cavemen and dinosaurs in the primitive age, dodging swordsmen in Rome, and tackling ninjas in medieval Japan. Thankfully, the game doesn't stick to "realism," so you'll have goofy encounters against floating Roman ghosts or Kappa; this extends to mid and main boss fights that feature Medusa, a fire-breathing T. rex, and a three-headed dragon. Though, despite the variation in enemies visually, there are basically three attack patterns across the whole rogues gallery: characters that are scripted to dash from one side of the screen to the other, characters that are programmed to slowly follow and attack you, and turrets.

But if used in the right capacity, these patterns can still pose a threat. In Time Soldiers' case, it does a decent job with enemy placement and how many characters occupy the screen; there's just enough opposition, but not too much that it becomes a glaring issue. For instance, a group of dinosaurs will dash from the top while you're also getting attacked by slow-moving cavemen from the right and bottom corners. It's a reasonable scenario to overcome if you've played similar shooters where you die in one hit, but this game doesn't exactly fall into the "challenging" realm when it comes to normal enemy encounters.

Interestingly, the hardest parts involve fighting the mid-bosses. This is due to their large bodies speedily moving around the screen in intervals, stopping only to rapidly fire five to six successive projectiles. If you have a secondary weapon like the energy gun, you can take them out within seconds at the expense of exhausting most of its ammo; in usual shooter fashion, the real trouble comes when you don't have a power-up. Your default bazooka projectile range is limited, so you have to get relatively close to cause damage, all while the boss is flinging their consecutive shots. Considering the speed of the boss and their projectiles, this easily becomes the roughest portions of the game.

Continuing with the odd difficulty balance, nearly every main boss fight is a joke when compared to mid-bosses. Despite the fact that they take up roughly 70% of screen real estate, they move in predictably slow patterns and unleash avoidable attack patterns. Unfortunately, this was likely the best possible compensation due to their large presence. The attention to detail put into some of these bosses are pretty cool, though: having a vibrant, decked-out robot or an angry blue-horned Minotaur come at you with a ball-and-chain flail is quite the sight for a Master System title. And all jokes aside, Gylend does look pretty cool if you ignore his right arm.

It's not until the second to last stage, which requires a conclusion in medieval Japan, where a genuine attempt at making the overall game harder occurs. Here, you're forced to run through thin corridors and up awkwardly-positioned, diagonal stairways while being shot at. When you reach the main boss, you're met with a ginormous kabuki with a faster version of the projectile attack patterns of a mid-boss. It's as annoying as it sounds. Hopefully, you haven't lost many lives before reaching this encounter, because the game has limited continues.

Logically speaking, the final stage should be much harder, yes? Keeping with its uneven balance, the finale is actually easier than the penultimate stage with its open level design, no mid-bosses, and an easy main boss. Bizarrely, despite the inconsistent difficulty curve, the game succeeds at neither being terrible or great, delivering a middling product that will amuse your run 'n gun needs for at least one or two sessions. Hilariously, even two-player co-op can be an irregular, buggy experience; if one player picks up the speed power-up and out runs the other player off screen, the slower player can become invisible and invulnerable for the duration of a time period.

If anything, Time Soldiers' inconsistencies are consistent.

dementedhut's avatar
Community review by dementedhut (February 25, 2024)

My earliest exposure to Dragon Ball Z was when the original Japanese broadcast was still airing, right in the middle of the Androids storyline. So you can imagine my surprise when I heard the English VAs and music for the first time.

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