For all the different genres of games that indies are releasing on the Switch eShop in the last few months, the rogue-like (or 'rogue-lite', on some occasions) has become particularly popular. Randomly-generated levels, upgradeable stats and permadeath are becoming staples of modern gaming, regardless of whether you're shooting, building or jumping.
With the upcoming release of DOOM and Morphite, along with Wolfenstein 2 next year, the Nintendo Switch is starting to establish a strong FPS library, but it has already been well represented with other types of shooters. Whatever art style they adopt, the influx of top-down, twin stick shooters are becoming as much about the controls and mechanics as they are about attempting to offer something that sets them apart from the competition.
Finnish developer 10tons has now brought its third top-down twin stick shooter - Time Recoil - to the Switch. While Neon Chrome is more of a straight up rogue-lite and JYDGE has more RPG elements, Time Recoil balances the formula by providing skill-based gameplay that doesn't rely as heavily on weapons and ability upgrades, and instead offers a decent attempt at narrative progression.
Taking place and flip-flopping between the 1970s and 80s, the fate of Paris and the whole of Europe is in doubt due to a weapon of mass destruction. The player takes up the role of female hero Alexa - recruited by an organisation known as the Recoilers. As a former employee of the mad and increasingly maniacal scientist who created it, the main objective is to take down 'Mr Time' with the help of allies, traveling through wormholes and using the ability to slow down time itself. Starting off with going back to steal documents and intel, the many short and sharp missions serve as the backbone for the game's increasingly confusing yet enjoyable (approximately 6 hour) campaign. Its 'Hotline Miami'-style gunplay is tight, fun and challenging, and the inclusion of a narrative thread is a welcome change of pace, both literally and figuratively.
The straightforward, intermittent exposition of walking through a generic research facility and talking to different people, along with the objectives for each mission, feel like they get into a groove after a while - steal certain documents, take out or capture this enemy and so on. Thankfully, there are variations, such as light puzzle elements and destructible objects within the environments that can be hazards as well as used to your advantage. Within the confines of the game's perspective and architecture (mentioned a bit later on), its moment to moment gameplay is competent and cohesive enough to keep players entertained, helped along by reasonable level design.
The overall presentation, however, is somewhat of a mixed bag. On the one hand the comic book-style text panel exposition and hand drawn characters in story segments add a bit of personality. However, the transition between the different years is basic and functional to put it politely, and - monochrome flashbacks notwithstanding - the game's aesthetic doesn't really pop or change depending on what time frame you are in. The bland architecture and a limited variety of character models fail to visually differentiate from one another, and with no props, signage or even limited popular culture references, the result leaves us a title that is visually functional and little more. There are good explosions along with an appropriately thumping retro electronic soundtrack, and brutal sounds of fallen enemies add to the atmosphere, but it often looks rather uninspired.
As for the nitty-gritty of gameplay, a typical level in Time Recoil will place you in a tight office or laboratory space, and you'll navigate corridors and rooms with a narrow field of view. This can be annoying due to the potential for insta-kill deaths, but killing an enemy will slow down time, resulting in an easier opportunity to find and dispatch your next target. While it might be initially frustrating, establishing an efficient route and memorising the enemy positions in order to perform these kill streaks gives the player a real sense of accomplishment. The more kills in a combo, the more chance of earning strong dash abilities, allowing you to plough through walls and obliterate clusters of soldiers, reminiscent of fellow Switch title Mr. Shifty. These powers are found and utilised within levels rather than static upgrade screens, and there's also an element of stealth that requires a sense of strategy and planning - that's a nice touch in this genre.
Beyond the main mode there's also a Time Attack option along with achievements to collect. The time attack mode in particular enables proficient players to show off their skills, demonstrating uninterrupted runs through a level by using a balance of defensive dodging, precision kills and devastating rush attacks. These are really impressive to both perform and witness.
Time Recoil feels like the most refined of 10tons' three top-down shooter titles on Switch, and while initial frustration and slightly unspectacular visuals are drawbacks, it is the crux of the game that makes it both more enjoyable and immediately more satisfying. Having a more fleshed out story - as well as quick missions, the time manipulation mechanic and twin stick arcade thrills - sets this game up to be a more layered take on the now familiar genre. While there are some technical drawbacks still present, progressing through Time Recoil and achieving high combos of slow motion kills makes for an enjoyable experience.