Time Master is a puzzle and strategy game from the independent studio MorpheusZ Games. We play as Zeno, a cute magician with his little face of Bibi Ornitier, who has to solve puzzles in about sixty scenes to save his accidentally banished sister. Don’t be fooled by its cute graphics, Time Master is a real trap in which all those who like to have a good time while racking their brains will enjoy.
In order to find his sister, Zeno is forced to recover crystal fragments. If the story is used as a pretext, it has the merit of not imposing itself in the progression and is even useful at the end of the title. The fragments of time are distributed over 60 tables that are as many puzzles of skill and logic to solve. The specificity here is that it is possible to go back in time. If on paper, we quickly draw a parallel with the excellent Braid, which allowed us to rewind the world, the idea of temporal control is treated in reverse this time – it is not the world that moves forward or backward, but the player who creates two timelines of his character that take place in parallel.
In practice, we first build and record a path, that of our ghost, which then unfolds by itself while the player realizes another complementary path live. We can – and should – synchronize the actions of our avatar and his double so that together they can perform those tasks that they could not do alone.
Let’s illustrate with a slightly advanced example: the crystal is behind a door that is after a bridge – so the player must cross the bridge and then open the door to reach the precious one. The only problem is that both are controlled by the same switch, so if I open the door, I collapse the bridge. So you have to record a path in which the ghost presses the button and play in parallel to cross the bridge before it collapses. I might as well tell you that after a certain point, you have to seriously rack your brains, because the solutions are far from obvious.
I mentioned a slightly advanced example because the game is very didactic in the first tables, which are simpler than the example above, but allow you to understand the basic possibilities. However, you are soon let loose in the wild which is a bit disorienting, but also probably intended. The first two thirds of the game are quite spontaneous, you generally understand what you have to do and once or twice you fall into the traps and think “Oh, that’s clever”. The level design is well arranged and if the mechanics of the levels are not very numerous, they renew and complete each other well to avoid any weariness without falling into the gimmick.
Just my luck
However, it is in the last third that the game becomes much more difficult. According to the developers, Time Master tries to make us solve paradoxes and beyond the synchronization of our two characters, we have to ask ourselves questions like “how to send the ghost to a place he can’t reach” or “when to cross a collapsed bridge”. We play with the “how” as well as the “when” and we see ourselves reconsidering some obvious impossibilities as total evidences that leave us speechless in front of the ingenuity of the level.
Some resolutions may require intense thinking or situational efforts and require creativity in finding mechanics that we have never been told about before. Faced with a stalemate that I couldn’t figure out, I spoiled a painting for myself – which I later immediately regretted – even though the solution was a bit treacherous. If I have one piece of advice to give, it’s not to be stubborn, but rather to take a break and come back a few hours later, calmly listing your possibilities, your tools, your objectives to find the right approach.
The experience will be much more satisfying this way, especially since the game is also very generous: you can skip several scenes and continue to do others, then come back to them later, and you can finish the main story without finishing all the scenes. All the mechanics around the gameplay are made so that trying is never penalizing or frustrating: you can restart a level at any time and keep or not the path already recorded with the ghost. You can also pause the level to give yourself time to explore or simply to avoid having to count the time between several actions. Let’s note in passing that the music is very calm, very soothing without getting into our brains, which proves that it is well suited for the game. The visuals are also simple, but cute and functional – at the most, we’ll reproach a bit of a wobbly ergonomics when selecting levels.
Up like a cuckoo
It’s after about 5 hours of gameplay and the confrontation with an end boss that requires you to put into practice everything you’ve learned during your progression that the story finally reaches its goal: to make you want to play the game again in “Time Attack” mode. Indeed, at the end of each picture, a score is given according to the time spent to solve the puzzle. Well, to see the real end, you must have the best time on each level and in time attack mode the game takes a new turn in difficulty and seriously renews its challenge. The solutions that you have been struggling to find must now be optimized and executed with mastery, if not completely rethought. It’s a brilliant hard mode that you wouldn’t want to miss – even if the rush passages will unfortunately be the occasion to note that the controls would have benefited from being more precise.
The main criticism – far from being prohibitive – to make of Time Master is that it lacks an observation mode accessible before moving our character – or once he has died. We are faced with puzzles and there are two components to their resolution: observation and experimentation. However, some levels are too big to fit on the screen and therefore to be observed. There is a dezoom mode, but it loses detail and it would have been nice to be able to use the right stick to explore the level without having to move the character – a move that can be tedious if you first have to register a ghost to unlock one or more accesses.
In the same vein, the ability to switch the camera from 3/4 to an overhead view to analyze areas is missing. This map mode would have made some of the deadly slide-based passages much more readable without making them any less complex, and would have allowed us to think about a solution rather than having to tediously memorize attempts at a route until we find the right one – only to forget it in a second. Well, a paper, a pencil and it’s done and even fun to do!
Time Master is an excellent 3D puzzle game, which relies on paradoxes to solve by moving our character in parallel on two different timelines. If summarized so abruptly, it may seem as simplistic as it is complex, the title is very progressive in its increase in difficulty, which will allow all players to get used to it… before tearing their hair out on levels that are more and more Machiavellian until the moment to get up from their chair and shout a triumphant Eureka!
The level design, at the heart of the experience, is very well thought out, the mechanics are renewed and complement each other to avoid weariness without falling into gimmick or profusion and the player can afford to leave aside the levels that resist him too much. The rest of the game is globally well thought out, the atmosphere is fortunately calm as well as very soothing and it is therefore a pleasure to accompany Zeno, the time magician, through the 5H of this adventure – which then takes another dimension if you tackle the time trial mode.