Time Surfer review

Psychedelic endless runner with strong influences

Inspiration, iteration and influence. These are all words we often link to games that remind us of something we have played before. If a concept works, why not build on it? Just make sure you add something of your own so it's clear this is an original.

This must have been the line of thought of Kumobius, the Melbourne-based developer of Bean's Quest fame. In their debut title they tackled platforming with a character constantly jumping. It didn't feel anything like Super Mario and it worked. Now they go for an endless runner that screenshots pretty close to Tiny Wings. But this is nothing like Andreas Illiger's original.

Time Surfer is an endless runner where you escape from the end of the universe with any means available. Having a landscape of soft rounded hills and a futuristic surfing plank, the most obvious thing to do is to slide down through the slopes to gain momentum. Of course, this is what a Tiny Wings bird would do too.

With a bit of practice you begin to master the dipping technique, making perfect curves and reaching the sky at speeds no bird has seen before. Only then you realise that even if the premise is the same, this is a very different game. In a strong arcade vein, the environment is plagued with enemies and obstacles that you can crash or stomp on. These will be an annoyance until the game challenges you to use them to your advantage. Thanks to the clever three-mission window for every run, similar to the one in Jetpack Joyride, there's a sense of completion other than reaching the furthest world. Another strong influence in Time Surfer.

When everything else gets way too fast to control there's a way out. The rewind mechanic allows our character to go back in time a couple of seconds or as long as your pearl juice lasts. Even if you have it in front of you, it takes a while to remember to use it. Then, a little more to remember this is a great assistant to complete the mini missions. When you get to this stage you realise the creators are messing your different parts of your brain at the same time: keep enough momentum to avoid falling into pits, collect pearls, use obstacles to your advantage and remember to correct your trajectory rewinding. The combination of parts makes Time Surfer and extraordinarily complex and challenging endless runner like nothing you have seen in iOS.

Layers of galactic psychedelic goodness

Presentation plays a huge part, carrying the atmosphere of the 80s to an exquisite Retina Display standard. The colour scheme chosen, mainly bright cyans and magentas over a dark background help to convey this tone. The soundtrack does the same, wrapping all the cute pixelated things in a lovely retro chiptune-ish layer.

There are many modern elements as well, such as the option to equip pets. These power ups are unlockable collecting cake slices, which are the soft currency in the game. Gamers will be pleased to see extra characters like a Delorean type car and the popular indie game character Mikey from Mikey Shorts. I've personally saved enough cake to go for the pink unicorn, who slides on it's belly when you tap the button.

If this wasn't enough for some quick and dirty mobile gaming, there's a secondary game mode that guarantees even more intense bursts of fun. The 'Hell Mode' is a harder version with a lot more of those deadly spikes. Definitely a good way to learn the rewinding technique even if you only get to advance 400 metres.

After a week playing and spending cake on additional costumes and pets I get a strong feeling this title owes more to Jetpack Joyride than anything else. And that's, of course, a good thing. Other than surviving and covering as much space as you can, I really enjoyed the exercise balancing the rewind fuel. Spending the fuel correcting your surfer's trajectory to grab all the power ups, for instance, can backfire in a big way.

Time Surfer picks and mixes a lot of elements that you're familiar with under a bright-coloured retro wrapper. There's nothing original per se, but the combination is what makes it a perfectly well-rounded game. And that's a lot to say about the humble endless runner genre.