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Time Killers

Genre: Fighting Developer: Incredible Technologies Publisher: Black Pearl Software Players: 1-2 Released: 1996

I didn’t know it at the outset, but this game actually has something of a reputation. A Johnny-come-lately home port of the original arcade version, Time Killers for Genesis pulls surprisingly high prices on eBay and there’s no shortage of references to it on the web. After I did a little research, I discovered the odd history behind the game.

It was first developed in 1992 by Incredible Technologies (you might remember their Golden Tee games) and published by Strata for the arcades. That was back when Mortal Kombat was shaking things up, and pixel bloodshed was a sought-after feature. Incredible Technologies apparently set up their equations and decided that human plasma is directly related to profit, because Time Killers took the gore to a whole new level. The game was a decent success but was quickly relegated to dusty memories.

Leap forward four years. By this time, 3D fighters were solidly entrenched and 2D fighters were quickly fading to background detail. Strangely, however, Black Pearl software saw fit to port the aging Time Killers to the dying Genesis. And so in 1996, Time Killers – the moderately popular Kombat ripoff of the early ’90s – comes home to an all-but-defunct home console.
If a game gets released into a market and there’s no one around to buy it, does it make a sound? Only if it sucks, my friends. Hard.

Having never played the arcade version, I can’t really say if it’s just a slipshod port or crappy source material to blame, but if ever there was a worse 2D fighter I’ve played, I can’t remember it. Everything about it, from the music to the graphics to the controls to the gameplay, is atrocious, and while I’ll go into detail shortly, I just want you to remember one thing – this game sells for upwards of $30. If that’s not enough to make you want to blow up the universe, I don’t know what is.

But wow, where to begin? At first impressions, I suppose. You stick the cartridge in, hit the switch, put the headphone slider to the max, and stare at two developer splash screens. All well and good. I see “Black Pearl” and think to myself, “ Heh, wouldn’t it be funny if this game was bad, sort of like the Curse of the Black Pearl, haha.” Then comes the title screen, and two things happen: I turn into a prophet, and the bottom drops out of my hopes for any good to come of my decision to review this game.

A tortured voice springs from my TV, begging me to release it from its pain by pleading “Kill me.” By some trick of audio, this sounds remarkably like the words “Time Killers.” I shrug it off and try to find the menu options, but they’re lost somewhere against a dizzying display of sliding green circles with little men inside. I close my eyes and hit the start button to escape, only to be rewarded by a semi-orgasmic ‘UHH!’ and the character select screen. I take a moment to survey the choices. Let’s see, we’ve got a delinquent Crude Dude named ‘Rancid,’ an uptight black man called ‘Orion,’ a caveman called ‘Thugg’ (clever), ‘Leif’ the viking, ‘Mantass’ – sorry, ‘Mantazz’ – the purple bug thing, and a few other ones that bored me even more. I cross my fingers and pick Leif.

“Life!” The dying voice wheezes. Next, “Time Killers, engage!”

The next ten seconds are a blur in my memory, but I’ll try my best to summarize: frantic, mindless button mashing followed by confusion as I’m suddenly dizzied by my enemy and promptly diced into a million pieces. Round Two: frantic, mindless button mashing followed by confusion as I’m suddenly dizzied by my enemy and promptly diced into a million pieces. Exactly thirty seconds after starting, I’m back at the character select screen without a clue as to what just happened or what I could have done to stop it. I attacked randomly; the computer did the same. Somehow I ended up with my arms flying offscreen and my head bouncing away like a tennis ball. I paused and considered my options. Either I stick around, play the game, and write a review…or hock the thing on eBay and pretend I never bought it. But I hadn’t submitted much to the site recently and was feeling guilty, so I reached for the Wheat Thins and settled in.

Over the next two hours, I played match after match, each ending the same way – dizzied, then diced. Periodically I’d mash the buttons hard enough that I killed the opponent, but otherwise I just got obliterated over and over again. And that’s really the trick. In Time Killers you can hit all the buttons at once to execute an attack that instantly slays the opponent, even if he’s at full health. The only way to win is to pull off that attack before the computer does, and since I think it’s pretty much a random occurrence I had plenty of time to take in the sights and sounds while I “played.”

Not like there’s much to see. Time Killers has that gaudy, cheap cartoon look so typical of Flying Edge, Wisdom Tree, and other low-budget American game makers of the era. The characters are poorly proportioned and the backgrounds are a mess of undefined color. It’s not a matter of taste – the art direction is simply unprofessional and undeserving on a technical level. Animations are similarly unappealing, with wildly varying fluidity and clarity. Was he attacking with his elbow or the handle of his axe? Was that a roll or a jump? An attack or hurt animation? It doesn’t really matter, because no attention was paid to the most basic of 2D fighter principles – complex relationships between attacks. All the moves are the same, so there’s no reason to distinguish them. Recovery times, priorities, categories: all those laws were seemingly thrown out the window in favor of some crappy dismembering gimmick and…

“OOOOOH-DIIIINNNN!”

“What? Did he just say ‘Odin’? He’s a viking, so I guess it’s possible. Zebbe might like this game; I should’ve let him review it…”

Jolted out of my dismal assessments of the combat system, I turn my ear to the sound for a second. Exactly like the gameplay – random, insufferable crap. Is it a five second loop or just an ambience? Is the sound engine lagging or is it part of the music? What instrument is that supposed to be? It’s pointless to ask any of these questions, because there are no answers. The voices are ridiculously downsampled, scratchy, and weakly delivered; the music is pathetically composed, with not a single redeeming track. The graphics, the gameplay, the sound – it’s all the same. Slipshod and undesirable.

At this point I’m tiring of my work and itching for something professional, something slick, something tolerable – geez, something Japanese. I get decapitated one more time and turn off the Genesis in disgust. What were they thinking, releasing this sort of game? And what was I thinking when I bought it? A few minutes later I’m back on eBay, relisting it for five bucks more than I spent on it. Hopefully I’ll make a little back, maybe buy a pizza for my troubles. And in short, that’s all Time Killer is. It’s a stupid, meaningless pain in the neck while you have it, and when the cartridge flips you off with its little plastic finger on the way out the door, all you can think about is the time you lost.

I feel bad for the guy who bought my copy, but hey. Live and learn.

SCORE: 1 out of 10

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