There’s always something pleasurable about a group of like-minded people getting together, combining their imagination and craft and turning their vision into something to share with everyone. This ethos rings true for the guys at Bright Side Studios who took it upon themselves to enter the Independent Games Festival with their college project, Zeit², which has now turned into a fully fledged title for Xbox Live Arcade.
A horizontal scrolling shooter, Zeit² conforms to all the usual tropes found within the genre, except for the core mechanic. That pioneer of plastic surgery, purveyor of 80’s power ballads and all round chanteuse Cher wished she could do it, but in Zeit² you can actually turn back time. And forward again. In fact the entire game takes the theme of time manipulation as the core mechanic and runs with it across every single mode. With a flick of either the Left trigger to rewind time, or a push of the Right Trigger to fast-forward the action, everything the player does in Zeit² goes towards these actions. By rewinding time, a shadow is created which mimics the exact actions performed before the rewind was initiated, and can be used to either clear a section of the screen otherwise out of the players grasp or, if fired at, creating a super weapon which lasts for the duration of the rewind.
The second layer of mechanics concerns itself with a health meter that depletes with every shot fired. Constantly keeping track of their health and tempering the need to make sure that both it and rewind/fast forward energy are balanced, makes for a unique and interesting take on the genre. It might not reach bullet hell levels of difficulty, but there’s a nice level of challenge contained within.
Zeit² has a plethora of modes in addition to the main Arcade mode. Wave finds the player having to fend off distinct patterns of enemies and the further along to the right the player is positioned, the bigger the score (but naturally leaving themselves open to collision with oncoming enemies). Time Limit does exactly what you’d assume, but crucially rewinding and fast forwarding time has no penalty in regards to time management, so the player has to decide whether to zoom through the levels looking for time bonuses, or up the rewind meter to keep it at bay. Survival measures the players’ progress every minute and then adds to the difficulty level of each enemy, meaning instant death from an innocuous brush with an on-coming enemy. Tactics probably becomes the most interesting mode as the player has to figure out which order to down enemies in to gain the highest possible score, becoming incredibly addictive in the process. Score Attack and Challenge round off the comprehensive list of modes; a selection that would shame many titles out there for the breadth of quality on offer.
Graphically Zeit² can feel a bit bland, with a subdued blue-tinged palette that runs from the main menu right through to the stages and enemies. The only time there’s a break in the colour scheme is during boss encounters, but even then they barely stray too far and are merely mixing in a bit of red (or a variation on that theme) to distinguish them from the usual array of combatants. Space Giraffe this most assuredly isn’t.
There’s also a robust meta-achievement system which permeates throughout, in the form of the in-game challenges. These are a natural fit within the structure of the game, adding a nice extra layer of gameplay to proceedings. Hitting that perfect use of the rewind feature, or going through an entire level while using fast forward, brings about different ways to approach the action, with what seems to be a deliberate steering towards the more refined aspects of the systems at play within.
For all that Zeit² is a really interesting take on the genre, it feels as if Microsoft has let Bright Side down a tad in terms of pricing. Sure there’s a lot of content on offer, but there are Xbox Live Indie games that provide equal or more content for a fraction of the cost. Zeit² is a title that deserves to be played but, more importantly, begs to be enjoyed and it feels as if it will end up being hamstrung by an exorbitant price point which does nobody any favours, least of all the talent clearly on show here.
Like the more subtle things in life, Zeit² takes a while to show its true nature but when it does, it proves itself to be a diverse and interesting take on a much maligned genre.