Get Me Off this Adventure Through Time

Timecop (1995 SNES)

It's fascinating to go back and experience games from blockbusters of yesteryear. Did we need a video game adaptation of The Last Action Hero, or Blues Brothers 2000, or Little Nicky? No, but we got those games anyway. Terrible games based on less-than-beloved films that were made simply to cash in on a name (that, in the end, wasn't worth the cash in effort). Among those same times we have another we can add to that list: Timecop, the SNES (and planed and developed, but never released, Sega CD) game based on the Jean-Claude Van Damme film of the same name.


I don't hate on Timecop the film. It's a perfectly digestible slice of 1990s cheese, and at times it's pretty clear in knows it. It doesn't try to be anything more than it is, and that makes it fun and enjoyable. It had no designs on starting a franchise, no effort was put in to make it more marketable (unlike, say, Street Fighter which, oh yeah, also had a video game tie-in after). It exists to do what it does and then exit quick, and that makes it fun. What it didn't need was a video game adaptation, but thanks developer Cryo Interactive Entertainment and publisher JVC we got one anyway.

We really could summarize all that you need to know about Timecop the game just from the fact that it's a featured favorite of Games Done Quick in their "Awful Games Done Quick" block. It's one of those games you go to watch because it's so bad it's enjoyable. It's never good, or fun, or something you want to play at all, but watching someone try to play through it, and play through quickly, provides it's own sick sort of entertainment. But once you see it, you absolutely are not going to go out to find your own copy of the game. There is no reason, and no point.

The game functionally acts as a sequel to the film. The game features motion captured performances for all the enemy sprites (like how they did the graphics for the first few Mortal Kombat games), but notably Van Damme didn't return for this title. His character did, and the game puts Max in an adventure to stop the evil inventor of time travel, Dr. Hans Kleindast, through seven different zones of time, from the present, to Wall Street in the 1920s, Germany during World War II, and even the future. You have to stop the evil scientist from taking over time and ruling it as a dictator, otherwise the world as you know it is over.

So here's the thing: as a sequel to the film, the game fails. Yes, it's not fun to play but we're not talking about that. What I mean is that everything that happens in the game makes no sense if you have watched the movie. The scientist, Dr. Hans Kleindast, is never mentioned in the film. The places in time that the hero (and villain) go to don't have any significance to the events of the movie. Hell, three whole sections of the game take place in the future, but the movie made it clear you couldn't travel to the future because it hasn't happened yet. The game really doesn't have anything to do with the movie and they would have been better off just doing their own thing with the concept, not bothering to try and tie it into the film at all.

Of course, that could be forgiven if we ignored the story and just focused on the game. "It's inspired by Timecop. It's not literally Timecop." Problem with that is that focuses on the game reveals all the flaws of the game. And, yeah, there are many. The game is an uninspired mess of concepts, none of which land with any grace or style. When someone says to describe shovelware of the SNES era, this is exactly the type of crappy game that would come to mind.

For starters, the game is ugly. It uses mo-cap performances for the sprites, but the creators only had a handful of actors playing a slim number of characters. Enemies are reused blatantly, over and over, and everyone looks the same. Beyond that, the mo-cap artists didn't know how to make smooth repetition, so there's a noticeable hitch for most animation loops. Or the characters simple launch into animations without any in between frames to make everything look smooth. This is coupled with boring background sprites that look fake, as well as obvious in their repetition, ruining any sense of reality that the mo-cap is supposed to convey.

Beyond that, the levels are uninspired. They come in two basic types: tower climb mazes or simple run in one direction scenarios. The tower mazes are awful, feeling like stages from the Super Star Wars games. They're confusing, looping messes that don't make any real sense... and then they just end. Meanwhile, the running stages are just that, running. You move from left to right (or right to left) and just survive, without any real rhyme or reason to why people are attacking you or why you're there. Oh, and there's vehicle shooting stages, which are so poorly implemented that they really should have just been removed from the game.

Special attention needs to be paid to the Germany stage. The lead in for this stage says that our hero, Max, has to stop the evil doctor from aiding the Germans in winning the war. Most of the stages in the game feature multiple zones to get through, acting like a collection of stages (even though the game calls the whole thing, confusingly, a "stage"). Germany, though, is just one simple, run-right stage. And then you fight a tank. That's it. Your effort to stop the doctor aid the Germans is kicking a tank until it dies. I don't even know why this stage is here because it adds nothing and then just ends.

As for the music, well, it's generically bad. The game has a few tunes, which it plays over and over again. They're generally inoffensive, but they have no personality to them either. They're all made with the default, overly-chunky SNES sound font, and there's no grace or style to the songs at all. You can ignore them, which is nice, but it would have been even better if they hadn't be ignorable and had actually been, you know, good. But that's, of course, too much to ask from this game.

This game is shovelware, through and through. It's not some forgotten masterpiece tied to a movie no one talks about anymore. No, it's something cast out and then ignored, faring even worse than the actual movie (which was at least a moderate success). If you remember the game Timecop it's just because of how awful it is. Better to let it remain forgotten.