Robots! Aliens! Mammoths! Turtles! [Time] Gals!

If we continue with the last blog post’s ‘adorable anime ladies with laser guns’ theme we end up bumping into Taito’s 1985 arcade game Time Gal, or more specifically it’s all-new (and currently Japan only) iOS/Android port.

Time Gal iOS (1)

Before you run off screaming at the thought of reading any more than you have to about one of those dreaded FMV games let’s squeeze in a little context that’ll hopefully help Time Gal out. We’ll start with the timeframe: This game came out in 1985 – that’s the same year Yie-Ar Kung Fu, Gradius, and Gauntlet hit arcades; and at home Super Mario Bros was a hot new game for that fancy ‘Nintendo Entertainment System’ all the (US) kids were talking about. It’s easy to forget how primitive games looked back then, and by extension just how much of a show-stopper a ‘playable anime’ would have been sitting in an arcade next to Marble Madness and Pac-Land.

There’s also the thorny issue of first times – for most of us our initial experience of this game and titles like it would have been a sub-par home remake, superficially close enough to pass as the arcade experience in your living room yet still lacking that je ne sais quoi that made us long to play these games in the first place, and always released years after the arcade buzz had worn off. It’s fair to say that while a run through ‘real’ Time Gal (i.e. ‘Anything but the Mega CD port’) doesn’t reveal any hidden depths or lost content when compared to its most well-known home release it does at least highlight how much of a difference polish and presentation can make to game: Imagine playing Doom on the SNES and then declaring you couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, or watching this clip of the port of Resident Evil 2 and wondering why people say the game’s scary – Time Gal may not be affected to quite the same degree as those examples, but in a game that’s all about the graphics it’s fair to say the better Time Gal looks, the better Time Gal feels.

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Which was something of a problem as until just the other week your options for proper Time Gal were the ‘It’s OK, I like eating nothing but packet ramen for the rest of my life’ priced X1, MSX, and Mega LD versions of the game or alternatively the Saturn/PlayStation port that’s falls within the cheaper ‘I wouldn’t pay that much for an FMV game if you put a gun to my head’ price range, which is why this new phone port as part of the ‘Taito Classics’ range has caused such a stir amongst ga… OK, just me and the people I’ve forced my stirrings upon. At just ¥840 and in theoretically infinite supply on two of the most popular and easily accessible formats around the game suddenly has a lot going for it, and it’s short length and simplistic controls go from the issue they were when sitting in front of an expensive console add-on or a Japanese computer to working in its favour on ‘casual’ portable devices. It’s a shame it’s taken thirty-two years for the game to find a comfortable home, but at least we got there in the end.

The good news is it was worth the wait: The video quality is good even if it’s not as crisp as the original laserdisc footage (it’s worth pointing out that it’s close enough I had to go double check video of the arcade version to be certain) and on a device with a 5 inch-ish screen you’d have to be pretty picky to notice the difference. Which you probably are if you’re the sort of person who goes through all the fuss of setting up a Japanese iTunes account just to buy region-locked games and music and then writes a blog post about the game. OK, OK… I mean me. [cough] If you’re not me, and I don’t think you are, you shouldn’t have any bones to pick with the quality of the video here, and Taito were sensible enough to simply have it fill a 4:3 hole in the center of your device and not try to crop or stretch the image to fill the screen.

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Useful extras come in the form of a practise mode that lets you play any stage you’ve already seen in isolation, and if that sounds like too much you work can watch either a perfect run through any stage completed or view all the comedy death scenes you’ve encountered on the way. There’s an options menu too - it isn’t anything exciting but it does have everything you’d expect it to, allowing you to alter number of lives, difficulty, and even switch all in-game text to English.

Sadly even with these added features Time Gal can’t quite escape mobile gaming’s worst feature – the dreaded in-app purchase. Time Gal has two optional extras, a gallery of pre-production artwork (¥480) and a navigation box (¥120) that allows you to see the next input before it comes up, and both fall into an awkward place where they’re nice enough features that you’d like to have them yet unimportant enough that you feel aggrieved at having to cough up the extra cash, and their omission from the base package feels more like content that has been deliberately held back rather than an optional layer of bonus material.

Another minor irritant is the lack of a quick save feature meaning that if you get a call, need to check your email, or just want to take a break from chasing laughing villains across time and space to have a cup of tea all you can do is minimize the app and hope your phone’s kept the game suspended while you do whatever it was that needed doing. A complete play through may only take fifteen to twenty minutes even with mistakes it’s objectively not a huge loss if you do have to start over from the beginning… but the ability to properly suspend/quick save is also not an unusual for a modern mobile game to have and one that’s conspicuous by its absence here.

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If you can tolerate those missteps Time Gal, AKA: ‘The World’s Most Anime QTE Sequence’ is an impressive game stuffed to the gills with character thanks to Toei Animation's excellent work on both Time Gal Reika herself as well as the dinosaurs, planes, skeletons and giant meteors she meets along the way; and Reika’s enthusiasm is enough to jolly the player along even when she’s being repeatedly squished underfoot, electrocuted, or bit on the bottom by something with more teeth than a sack full of hamsters. In an ideal world the game would have received a clean up along the lines of Dragon's Lair HD, but all things considered this is a competent port of an otherwise expensive and hard to get game on a format that compliments the game’s pick-up-and-play style perfectly, and if you have the means to do so I’d recommend picking it up.