The Nintendo Switch game Timelie challenges players to manipulate time. We’ve seen that formula before. But this new entry throws in just enough danger, creative environmental puzzles and a desperate need for stealth to give its recipe a singular and appealing flavor.
And there’s a kitten, too.
One place where Timelie skimps a bit is in its rather ho-hum storyline. All we know for sure is that a young girl wakes to find herself on a suspended deck in what looks to be a huge maze-like factory of some sort. It’s filled with platforms, rooms and walkways, all held up on massive support pillars.
Who is this girl? Why is she there? Is this some kind of science experiment? We never really find out. But we can definitely tell that the young girl wants to find a way out of this mysterious and visually striking place that’s guarded by hundreds of security robots.
We also discover that our young heroine can mentally manipulate small segments of time in this bizarre place. And if she picks up special energy orbs that are scattered here and there, she can directly influence and reconstruct certain structures or pathways that have been damaged or destroyed in the past.
Those abilities allow gamers to pause and rewind movements and objects in the world around the girl by scrubbing through a timeline at the bottom of the screen. That lets her fine-tune her movements, restore crumbled walkways, avoid the bot guards’ collective gaze and find ways to narrowly evade their grasp. And once gamers piece those escape routes and movements to completion, time rewinds and then plays back a real-time video of the finished plan in action.
Of course, as the girl continues to make her way from room to room and level to level, the intricacies of the obstacles and patterns of the vigilant guards elevate the puzzling challenges to ever new heights.
On top of that, players pick up a new character to control. The girl finds a small kitten friend who can slip through little holes in the walls and meow to draw the guard bots’ attentions. And then that furry friend can be directed to quickly slip away or hit pressure panels which open or close doors, offering a new exit or potentially trapping a pursuing guard.
This game’s story is communicated through dialogue-free action. Although that limits the scope somewhat, it also limits the game’s negative content. Timelie offers up increasingly difficult bite-sized puzzle-solving, which makes the game both challenging and rewarding. And since each brain-twist scene only takes a handful of minutes to work through, it allows gamers the flexibility of playing for as long or as short a period as they desire.
There is a constant sense of threat or peril in each new area. When robots catch sight of the girl or her feline friend, their eye lights turn red and they move—with club in metal hand—to cause bodily harm. But before that potential blow lands, time stops and the girl can rewind to try another approach.
In some scenes the environment itself begins to deteriorate or crumble, and that can cause the girl to fall. And anything caught in an occasional disintegrating wave—whether metal or flesh—dissolves away, too. But again, there’s nothing bloody and the timeline reverses for another movement tack with each failed choice.
The true story behind the girl’s situation is fairly nebulous and therefore might lend itself to the idea that she’s being held against her will.
Timelie is a critically acclaimed indie title that’s both challenging and fun. It may not sweep you up in a captivating story, but the task of freeing a captive girl makes for a series of rewarding conundrums.
And who doesn’t love a helpful kitten?
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.