By John Walker on January 28th, 2013 at 6:00 pm.
If I were a lesser being, I’d introduce this piece about No Time To Explain with some sort of joke about how I do indeed have time to explain, and I’ve done exactly that below. But I’m not. I’m the even worse sort of being who writes it anyway, but pretends he’s above it. Here’s wot I think:
When No Time To Explain is a micro-platformer, tiny levels requiring you to use precision skills/mad luck, it’s a real treat. When No Time To Explain forgets itself, and delivers one of its tedious insta-kill boss fights, it’s a miserable and stupid game that should be buried beneath a volcano. Fortunately it’s the treat most of the time. Sadly those tiresome bosses naturally stand in your path.
The entirely daft game sees you appear to yourself from the future, trying to warn you of something before being snatched away by a giant crab-thing. He drops a very powerful laser weapon thing, and off you pursue. It’s both a weapon, and a thrust-propelling rocketty-thingamy, and that’s the key here. It’s about negotiating extremely small levels using this gravity-rebuking doo-hicky, bouncing off walls, dodging spikes, clearing large gaps, and generally feeling like the coolest person alive when you get it right.
The real masterstroke here is the restarting. Almost all of the time, if you mess up anywhere in a level it instantly respawns you on the last safe surface on which you’d stood. None of this whole-level-again crap that would make negotiating the trickiest of challenges a real chore, but instead a non-stop charging, perfectly in tune with the game’s own frantic nature.
Which is why the boss fights defy everything about the game. It’s as if it were a study in reductio ad absurdum, a pastiche of why boss fights are so often incongruous to the game they’re in, how they remove the flow, change the rules, and spike the difficulty. A game that’s primarily about micro-challenges, repeating a section again and again in split-second gaps, suddenly grinds to a halt and makes you fight something with unclear guidelines, and forcing you to start over from scratch if you fail at any point.
And it’s not just because I’m crap at them. I definitely am, but most of them don’t present too impossible a challenge – they just serve to break the game’s rhythm. Then when I do meet something that I struggle with, it’s frustration cubed. I want to be enjoying the super-tricky levels themselves, not having to start the same dull routine yet again, because farther into it there’s a moment of brutal unfairness.
Mad, brutal persistence eventually got me past a fight with some beaver thing, that was not only brutally unfair, but also glitchy and really poorly designed. With sore hands from thumping the desk, and a headache from getting just so wound by it, I’m past it. And thank goodness, because on the other side the game changes itself once more, swapping the propelling gun for a sucking one. At this point you click on the screen to draw the character in that direction, creating yet another set of tiny, super-tough challenges to thoroughly enjoy. Then in the next set of levels you’re consuming giant slices of cake in order to become fat enough to roll through walls.
It’s this up-beat level of silliness that gives the game its charm, especially in the sequences in which an increasing number of yous from the future start muddling up what on Earth is going on.
So that’s the deal. A mixture of really fun, nice and challenging mini-levels driven forward by the instant restarting, and the either dreary boredom or abject misery of boss fights. At a fiver, I think I’d still call this one well worthwhile, despite my aching hands and head.