Arrow Time U Points In The Wrong Direction
Arrow Time U at times points up, but all too often points down. As an indie eShop title on the Wii U available for only a couple of bucks, I didn’t expect revolutionary graphics or a pioneer in the puzzle/maze genre, but I was disappointed to find unpolished gameplay that required more luck than skill. That’s not to say Arrow Time U is a complete wash. In fact, it has several redeeming elements including high replayability. However, those qualities are often marred by amateurish level design and broken gameplay.
In Arrow Time U, players control a neon arrow as it flies through space. Yes, an arrow. The goal in each of the game’s 40 levels is to locate an exit portal somewhere among a maze of obstacles and fly through it. Obstacles include explosive mines, rapid-firing turrets, walls, and warp portals.
Besides moving around, you have two other controls to help you get through a stage. You can activate a mode to phase through objects and walls. You can also slow down the movements of everything around you, giving you extra reaction time to avoid attacks. Both of these maneuvers require energy, and your green power bar quickly runs out. In fact, you get so little green juice in the game that you can really only use these powers when puzzles dictate it, not when it would be helpful to get out of a tough spot.
One of the game’s more clever features, however, was actually its most frustrating. Your health depletes not only when you take a hit, but steadily over time. In this way, your blue life bar is a timer, ticking down the seconds until you are forced to restart the level.
It is a fascinating idea, but in practice frequently made the game tedious and repetitive. Taking a small amount of damage would too often make it impossible to reach the end of the level in time. In addition, having only a few seconds to figure out how to get past an obstacle at the end of a maze feels like an unnecessary burden. However, there were levels in which the time limit added difficulty when there would otherwise be none. It’s an interesting mechanic that needs to be fleshed out and incorporated into more creative levels.
Arrow Time U‘s levels are a mixed bag, really. They often feel amateurish by recycling ideas from similar games. Some levels, however, were genuinely difficult and required determination and creative thinking.
Other levels have a great premise, but miss the mark. One early level is a teleportation maze. You begin in a small enclosure with no energy to escape through the walls. Portals lead to other enclosures with other portals, and only one path will take you to the exit. However, the short time limit meant taking a wrong turn would make it impossible to finish the level on that attempt. You can’t methodically test each portal to see where it takes you due to the time constraints. I was forced to randomly fly through the maze as fast as I could until — dozens of attempts later — I got lucky and ended up where I needed to be. Oh, and I also broke the game on this level multiple times, getting stuck in walls and outside the boundaries of the maze, which immediately gave me a really cheap impression of the game.
If your time through a level is short enough, you’ll be awarded with a coveted S ranking beside your high score, adding replayability to an otherwise short game. To that end, many levels can be completed in multiple ways, depending on what strategy you think to employ. Different methods tried on the same stage may get you to the goal faster. One example I found allowed me to take a non-obvious shortcut by activating my phase mode to avoid a speed boost that normally would force me to turn right. I didn’t think to try this at first, but now that I saw the option to skip it, I was able to cut my time in half.
There were a few areas which made the game feel cheap and unprofessional. The background — while beautifully depicting the cosmos as if captured from the Hubble Space Telescope — was obviously a repeated tiling of the same small image. Pausing and unpausing were done by different button presses, which was confusing and unnecessary. The game’s two powers (slow time and phase), were mapped awkwardly to the ZR and ZL triggers, leaving the easily-accessible face buttons unused. And the voice that announced each new level attempt with a “Ready? Go!” sounded like it was recorded on an old crackly gramophone.
Arrow Time U is a worthwhile diversion for a few minutes, but becomes a frustrating annoyance soon thereafter. There are some clever moments in a few of the levels, but the majority of the game is lazy design and requires trying the same thing again and again until you are lucky enough to succeed. Some of the better levels are fun to revisit to improve your time, but the lack of a professional polish makes the game feel cumbersome and cheap. You’d be better off avoiding this and point your money somewhere else.
Review copy provided by XenoHorizon.