At its core, Super Time Force Ultra is a heavily addictive side-scrolling shooter, and a great one at that - even without the intuitive Time Out feature. The game is beautifully smooth to play from start to finish; members of the Super Time Force feel responsive and effortless to control, which is somewhat essential given the title's fast pacing. Each one has their own set of abilities, and a special move that can be activated by holding down the square button for a short period of time. Furthermore, they're all refreshingly unique, and while you're sure to end up finding a handful of members that you're most comfortable playing as, none of them come across as being useless or redundant.
The cast of characters that you'll recruit and interact with during your adventures are instantly likeable, and this is only improved upon with the inclusion of PlayStation-exclusive names such as Shuhei Yoshida and The Order: 1886's moustachioed Sir Galahad. Practically all of the game's dialogue is brought about by the squad's doubly-eyepatched Commander Repeatski and his dastardly nemesis Dr. Infinity, and is thoroughly seasoned with light-hearted comedy and pop culture references. While some of these teeter dangerously on the edge of cringe-worthy internet humour, the release manages to remain confident in its playful tone, and this ultimately pays off – especially in the various visual gags and goofs that are there to be enjoyed.
While we're on the topic of the game's visuals, it should be mentioned that the title is delightfully sprited, and animated rather well. Its eye-catching colour palette maintains an appropriate and tasteful energy almost constantly, and the environments that you'll be exploring are all lovingly hand-crafted and detailed. The simplicity of the art style in these areas, however, can sometimes lead to the odd mishap or misjudgement in more heated situations - but this isn't a huge concern.
There are multiple eras in history to travel to, and each one typically comes equipped with four different acts to conquer. Even in earlier sequences, there's never a dull moment to be had with these, as the level design keeps gameplay fresh and unfamiliar. One minute, you'll be flying upwards through heaven with a jetpack strapped to your back, and the next, you'll be escorting an atomic battering ram safely to its destination.
There are also a few collectibles scattered throughout each area, and many of them require some forward thinking to obtain, such as Glorbs – golden treasures that shoot out of enemies and objects when they take enough damage. It's unlikely that you'll find it necessary to try and nab all of these, but they do offer quite a large amount of replay value for anyone looking to attain 100 per cent completion on each stage.
In addition to this, Super Time Force Ultra also presents a selection of puzzle-like side missions for you to test your mettle against. In these simulations, you're tasked with getting all of the available Glorbs before time runs out, or before they hit the ground and smash. It's a simple concept, but can prove to be particularly engaging as the maps get more complex. There are a lot of these missions to get through, too, with more being unlocked as you pick up new crewmates.
Speaking of crewmates, you'll be directed to these activities through a sort of 'hub', or rather, your spaceship. It's from here that you can also review your progress, such as the amount of Glorbs that you've collected, and how many Shards you've gathered. You can even check up on the 'Force as they relax around various sections of the ship, and all of this really helps to make the title just that little bit more immersive - and your achievements all the more genuine.
That being said, a side-scrolling shooter akin to the likes of Contra just wouldn't be complete without an ensemble of baddies to blast your way through, and there certainly isn't a lack of those here. Lesser enemies are varied, and good fun to fight in their own right, but it's the bosses that you'll come up against which really steal the show. They're all very, very imaginative, and the joy of discovering them is matched only by figuring out how on Earth you're going to dispatch a poop monster the size of a building within the next ten seconds.
This compelling blend of non-stop action and a desire to know what's coming next is only enhanced by the release's charismatic soundtrack – a head-bobbing, upbeat assortment of chiptune-esque tracks – and its comical, blunt, often slapstick sound design. Oh, and the Time Out mechanic too, of course – which ties in splendidly to all of the aspects of gameplay on offer. It's easy to learn, and even easier to master, assuming that you're prepared to get a little experimental with it.
Upon dying - or with a tap of the circle button - you can stop the mission dead in its tracks, rewind back to an earlier moment, and then spawn another 'you' at that point in time. This opens up an array of possibilities to make use of when clearing stages efficiently, from adding more firepower to a single assault, veering off the main path to accomplish side objectives, or just making up for a couple of squandered seconds. What's more, any past death that you've managed to prevent from happening will transform the 'you' that should have died into a procurable power-up – one that combines their special ability with your own, as well as granting you an extra hit point. No avoidable death feels especially pointless because of this, and in many cases, can actually be more beneficial than staying alive in the first place.
Those looking for a bombastic, light-hearted game to sink some time into – no pun intended – will surely find just that in Super Time Force Ultra. It's a fantastic side-scrolling shooter in itself, but its stellar level design, personality, and time-travelling capabilities make it into something very special. STFU is one of the best indie releases on PS4.