Time Machine: Rogue Pilot – with a name like that, you would expect to find some kind of time travel based flight combat game, right? Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth. TMRP is a match-3 game (honest), with some hidden object sections thrown in for good measure.
You play Ilona, whose professor friend has invented a time machine. However, before they can crack open the bubbly and backslap each other over how brilliant they are, the time machine is stolen by bad boy Jack! Luckily, the professor happens to have a spare time machine handy and it’s up to Ilona to chase Jack through time, repairing the damage he has caused. That is really all there is to the story. There is no real explanation of who Jack is, or the relationship he has with Ilona and the professor.
The game revolves around the basic match-3 premise, but introduces some new elements to the formula that makes it more than just your standard Bejeweled clone. The grid is filled with tiles of different shapes and colours. You control a laser at the bottom of the screen that gives you a choice of three colours. These can be swapped around using L1 and R1. You move a cursor around the screen to try and find two tiles of the same colour that need one more tile to match. Then, you replace the non-matching tile with the colour in the laser, causing them to vanish. There are some obstructions, though. Blocker tiles cannot be replaced and you cannot alter a tile that either has a gem in it or a perk (more on these in a bit).
It sounds harder than it is, but there is help at hand. On the right hand side of the screen you will find Ilona’s (rather creepy) face. Her mood will change depending on how well you are doing. The more quickly you can match tiles and the more combos you pull off, the happier she becomes. This, in turn will fill up a meter above her head. When full, it obliterates nearly ever gem in the grid. This is handy because, in order to complete each stage, you need to destroy a certain number of tiles or, alternatively, a lower number of tiles with gems in them. The earlier levels can be completed either way with little difficulty, but as you progress the stages become more difficult and the time limit shorter. It’s at this point where you need to think more carefully about how to approach the game.
As with most match-3 games, there are perks you can use to aid you in your quest. These include bombs that will destroy the surrounding tiles, timers that will add precious seconds to the clock, dynamite that destroys a row of tiles and balloons that increase Ilona’s mood meter. These perks are random and you only need to match a tile that includes one to activate the bonus. Additionally, these are upgraded with enhanced effects the further you get through the game, meaning that just one perk will greatly improve your chances of completing the stage.
There are four levels in the game (represented by four different eras), each with twelve stages plus four hidden object levels. In these levels all you need to do is search the background, looking for objects that seem out of place for that time period (for example, an airplane in the prehistoric level). Each hidden object level has between eight and thirteen different objects to find and most of the time they are pretty easy. However, if it all becomes too much for you, a quick press of the circle button will move you on to the next match-3 level. The hidden object levels are a nice way to break up the meat and potatoes of the game and aren’t enough to become too frustrating. And once you have completed the game with Ilona, you can then step in to Jack’s shoes to find out a bit more about his motivations.
The gameplay is well thought out and very rewarding, especially as you see the effects of the upgraded perks in action. If there is anything that lets the game down, it’s the fact that the later stages feel artificially more difficult. The AI makes it almost impossible for you to complete the stage the first time around by rigging the tile drops and only giving one or two match options at a time. This usually ends up in the timer running out. The music is also repetitive and I soon found myself turning it off.
Along with the main story there is a multitude of bonus game modes: Time Rush, Score Rush, Blockers Rush, Puzzle, Tiles Rush and Crystal Rush. You can probably get the gist of what these are about. Puzzle mode offers six puzzles in which you have only a limited number of moves to clear the grid completely. They start off simple but become more and more difficult as you go. The other modes see you trying to score/destroy as much as possible in either three or eight minutes. It doesn’t sound like much, but these extras are addictive and really give the game lasting appeal.
The game also has local and online co-op multiplayer, with each player controlling a laser. Again, this adds a little bit extra to the whole package when playing with a friend. However, I have been unable to test how this works online as there isn’t anyone playing it.
I have to admit that I was really surprised by this game. Something that, on the surface, looks low budget and boring turned out to be packed with quality gameplay and top notch features. For such a cheap price, Time Machine Rogue Pilot is a game not to be underestimated.
Review copy provided by publisher.