No Time To Explain boasts what might just be the greatest introductory sequence to a 2D indie platformer ever. Whilst happily getting down with your bad self, a handsome chap toting shades and a laser rifle – you, from the future – tears your house in half. Why? There’s no time to explain, mainly because he’s immediately abducted by a gargantuan crab claw and dragged bloodied and screaming off-screen. Before you can make any futile attempts at making sense of all this, Future-You (still in the claw’s deathgrip) pops back into frame with a message: “USE THE ARROW KEYS TO MOVE! ARRGH!”
Like Super Meat Boy, NTTE began life in Flash, and that charming, doodled Newgrounds aesthetic survives the switch to a full-fat game. And, like Super Meat Boy, it’s set in one of those horrible places where some scowling asshole has left deadly spikes on every other surface. To navigate these treacherous tunnels, hills and caves, you inherit your doppleganger’s hefty laser. In addition to frying bosses, it’s a convenient propulsion system – aiming down while jumping will give you a huge boost, and shifting it sideways lets you soar over obstacles like an angry shuttlecock. As far as USPs go, a primary weapon that acts like something between a pogo stick and a jetpack is one of the more entertaining ones, especially with its awesome roar and powerful screen-shaking visual effects.
Admirably, NTTE is determined to be fun – every line of dialogue is played for laughs, and the time-travelling hook takes us to some delightfully bizarre places. It’s always nice to see games be so gleefully honest with their silliness, but here it occasionally comes at the expense of challenge. Death is swift and brutal, but checkpoints are placed nearly every couple of jumps, and only one boss fight – the final one – seriously penalises failure. Some of the others don’t even reset the damage you’ve dealt, turning them into speedier versions of Bioshock’s Big Daddy fights – with cartoon sharks. In a way, that’s fine; these easy duels are the reward for besting a series of tricky platforming sections, as well as a chance for vengeance on whatever’s been chewing on Future-You once the crab’s been dealt with. In another, more important way, it’s a huge flaw. Devoid of any kind of challenge besides holding down Fire, these boss fights are disappointingly at odds with both the stellar but tough run-and-jumping and the game’s genuinely strenuous climax.
Bugs are another big problem. To the developers’ credit, they’re actively hunting for these via the game’s forums, but a couple of ugly game-breakers reared their heads during my playthrough. One caused a wall I’d burnt down (by setting my skin alight and bodyslamming into it) to leave an invisible but impassable spectre, blocking off access to the dousing pool of water beyond and leaving me to melt each time. Another, admittedly amusing, glitch left a set of laser-sapping magnets from a completed boss fight floating unassumedly in mid-air during the following chase sequence, not getting the point that their section was done with. Also, magnets can attract lasers now? What?
If it weren’t for the technical issues, I’d recommend an instant purchase – ten of America’s dollarbucks is a bit steep for a couple of hours of loosely-defined ‘story’, but some bonus user-made maps and a copy of No Time To Explain Season 2 (due in December) are included in the price. Instead, it’s probably best to wait a few days while some of the bigger bugs get stamped out. Even as I was writing this review a patch full o’ fixes was released, though I personally wouldn’t class “Pressing Esc sensibly pauses the game rather than completely shutting it down, destroying all progress in the World it was pressed” a bug. A Steam version is in the works, too. Either way, this is too good to pass up: a funny and colourful indie game with pop sensibilities, one that creates a world where nothing is truly at stake and manages to make it feel urgent, exciting and full of character. Make time for it.