Imagine you're at home, alone, enthusiastically dancing to your favourite song when suddenly -
"I'm you from the future, there's no time to ex - OH CHRIST!"
Your future self busts through one of your walls, breaking up your one-man party and then gets kidnapped by a giant crab. If you're having trouble grasping that concept, try adding in jetpacks, alternate universes, giant sharks, rib cages in eyes, dinosaurs and time paradoxes. Good - you've just brushed the surface of a new comical side-scrolling platformer, No Time To Explain.
The game leads you on a chase to save yourself from the past, the present and the future all at once by navigating unforgiving levels (and a lot of deathly wall-spikes) with some perfectly timed jumping between floating platforms. Aside from your usual side-to-side keys, every platforming puzzle in No Time To Explain involves a water-fueled jetpack which is aimed and shot with the mouse. At least, I assume it’s a water jetpack. It could be some kind of laser rocket, I really have no idea, and that kind of ridiculousness sums up what this game is really about.
Just as you begin to grasp how the jetpack works and how it propels you between obscurely placed platforms, things very rapidly get more and more complicated. Controlling the jetpack or moving it around when you've already activated it is a little awkward - and would be horrendous on a trackpad – because you’re only actually controlling where the stream of water goes and it’s never be immediately obvious where that will push your character.
That kind of uncertainty means there is a lot of trial and error in store while you’re hammering away at the game’s thousands of micro-challenges. There are some levels where you’ll have to change the direction of your jetpack stream mid-air or pre-emptively, which adds a huge amount of addictive complexity. Regardless of repeatedly dying, this game almost never feels tedious and completing even the smallest task is hugely rewarding.
Each level looks so enormously different that aside from a very distinctive 2D style, it very rarely seems like the same game at all. One moment you're navigating underwater passages, the next you're in a steam punk style warehouse with light bridges, pipes and vents all around you. Your character changes his appearance often and seemingly randomly, too.
In one of the first levels of the game, he's unexpectedly dressed up as Mister Monopoly the minute you're flung out of a portal. His bag of gold spurts coins constantly and aside from comical value, there seems to be no reason for this whatsoever. The same could be said for most of the ‘characters’ in this game, actually – it was so ridiculous that I pretty quickly stopped questioning it, but I couldn’t help but marvel at it all the same. The characters and level design are quirky without being distasteful in their humour, and finishing a level will only leave you excited to see what the next looks like.
Your jetpack has an array of different and hugely creative uses that work wonderfully with each setting, too. For example, it won’t run out as it normally would if you’re under water. This comes in handy for the few levels where blocks of water are suspended in the air - you'll need to time and aim your jetpack perfectly to shoot you to the next chunk of water which will ‘recharge’ it, so you can be shot to the next one.
Entirely new environmental devices and items get added in fairly often, which allows the game to progressively get more complex. These range from the aforementioned water levels to buttons that will automatically launch you certain places with great speed if you touch them to things far, far too ridiculous to me to justify spoiling. You’ll never know what certain devices do or how to save yourself from the spikes they’ll likely push you into until you fiddle around with your jetpack (and die a few times in the process) to find your solution. On the other hand, some levels implement new weapons and items – one level will have you eating slices of cake to roll through walls to get to a boss or a portal. In this respect, No Time To Explain is probably the least predictable game I have ever played.
Unfortunately there’s almost always a downside, and this game has an enormous one. Boss fights in No Time To Explain not only completely pull you out of the immersive nature of the rest of the game, but they’re overly long, tedious, and entirely lack substance. Bosses each have 2 or 3 fairly simple attacks they’ll repeat, and you only have one – shoot streams of water at them. It can take a fair while for a boss to die, and really, it’s just a whole lot of sitting there and waiting for their weakness to open up.
One fight has you sitting on one of three boats with a giant shark occasionally jumping up from the water below you. You shoot at the shark when it emerges and, after he’s jumped maybe 10-15 times, he’ll finally die – assuming you don’t die first and be forced to start over. It’s a huge shame that these (often glitchy) ‘combat’ sequences are so horribly dreary and unfitting because they really strip character from the game.
It’s such a significant flaw because this game really is about making you constantly feel like you have an option and repeatedly encouraging you to try again, and again, and again. Things evolve around you and new concepts and obstacles are constantly introduced – the boss fight lulls carelessly discredit that. For the most part, however, No Time To Explain is a hugely unpredictable and delightfully comical game. Its ridiculous premise, huge variety in levels and environmental interactions make it an incredibly complex platformer with so much to offer. Without the bland, repetitive and all too common boss fights, this would easily be one of the most light-heartedly ‘fun’ games out there.