Born from a successful Kickstarter campaign, No Time To Explain has taken its sweet time coming to home consoles. Originally released as a Flash game, the title eventually saw a full release in 2011 for Windows PC, and now, after four years of tweaking and improving, tiny Build GAMES has decided to bring the title to the Xbox One in remastered form. Featuring improved graphics, a new soundtrack and full controller support, this release represents the best version of a former Flash game.
True to its title, you’re thrust right into action in No Time To Explain.
After being confronted by your future-self, who is then captured by a giant mutant crab, you must head out to save yourself. Doing battle with an over-sized crab seems preposterous at first, but thankfully, you’re armed with a laser rifle dropped by future you. While the combat purposes of the laser are important, you’ll really be using it as a make-shift jetpack. It’s the only way you’re going to be able to navigate the harsh and spike-filled world out there.
Borrowing elements from famous modern platformers such as Super Meat Boy, this is a brutally tough adventure that requires absolute precision. The rifle is easy enough to use, as it can either be controlled by the right analog stick, or right trigger. The trick is figuring out exactly when to use it, and what to use it on. Firing it off of a wall will push you in the opposite direction. So, you can shoot it into the ground in order to launch up in the air, or fire it at the wall opposite of where you need to go in order to get a quick boost of momentum.
The difference between this game and similar ones, though, is the fact that the mechanics aren’t nearly as precise as they need to be. Since you are wielding a quasi-jetpack, you don’t really have full control of where you are going. And not having complete control tends to be a bit of an issue when you’re trying to deftly navigate spike and hazard-filled levels. This made clearing the later levels in the game feel more like dumb luck than actual skill. There would be levels where I would try to draw out a plan, only to fail over and over again, and have to resort to randomly shooting myself in the appropriate direction and letting the gaming gods take over.
By forcing an imprecise mechanic into a game defined by precise movement, tiny Build GAMES’ adventure feels deliberately cheap and unfair. I’m all for challenging games, because when they are done right, they provide an exhilarating rush. Having to constantly repeat a level because you don’t have the proper control isn’t the fun type of challenging, though. Maybe I’m getting old, but there’s nothing fun about that to me. It just feels like more of a pain in the ass to play. This is the type of controller smashing unfairness I like to avoid, because those things aren’t cheap.
It’s annoying that tiny Build GAMES relies so much on the jetpack, because in the handful of sections where No Time To Explain experiments with different mechanics, it’s arguably a much better game. Since you are traveling through multiple realities and dimensions, you get the chance to control different versions of you that do not wield a laser rifle. With no jetpack to use, these versions get around in an assortment of different ways. One guy blasts himself with a shotgun in order to fly through the air, while another can slingshot his body off walls in order to propel himself in one direction. These brief sections are much better mostly because they don’t rely on the clunky and inconsistent controls of the majority of the game.
That’s not to say that every part with the jetpack is annoying, though, as there are a smattering of enjoyable sections. The boss battles, although a little too easy at times, are solid clashes. The designs of the bosses may be a little blah, but taking down a giant crab or a hamster with drills for hands is a refreshing change of pace from the norm. There’s also a weird side-scrolling segment, which sees present you riding along with two other versions of you.
In addition to a full single-player experience, the title also features four player local co-op. I didn’t get the chance to experience the complete chaos that four characters on screen would bring, but I did get the chance to blast through some levels with a friend. While not exactly different from playing by yourself, the screen clutter that comes from having another person working their jetpack does help make the levels a little more enjoyable. It reminded me of the co-op found in the New Super Mario Bros. franchise, although it’s certainly not as entertaining as Nintendo’s classics.
All of the fiendish difficulty of No Time To Explain is hidden under the title’s rather colorful visuals. Similar in style to the likes of Cloudberry Kingdom and Alien Hominid, the title looks like a glorified Newgrounds game, which makes sense considering its origins. That doesn’t excuse the fact that the character models for the assorted versions of the main character are overwhelmingly bland. This is especially disappointing considering that the alternate dimension angle could have led to some creative design decisions. The same criticism applies to the different levels you traverse through. All of the worlds lack defining details, and begin to feel very similar.
Although the visuals, despite their resolution upgrade from the original release, are a little too bland for my liking, I do have to give kudos to the game’s excellent soundtrack. Composed by MrFurby, the pulsating music fits perfectly with the relentlessly chaotic gameplay. Parts of the soundtrack reminded me of the best bits of classic OSTs such as Mega Man X, and that’s not a comparison I would use lightly, as the MMX soundtrack is one of the best out there. It’s a testament to how well the music accompanies the action.
There is a storyline in No Time To Explain, although it is barely worth talking about. As mentioned before, at the start of the game you are confronted by future you, who is then captured by a giant crab. You take off in pursuit, because you are understandably interested in what future you wants. This leads to a journey full of time and dimension hopping madness, ultimately culminating with a showdown with the man responsible for all of this chaos: Evil You.
The best thing I can say about the story is that it is wholly unremarkable. I didn’t really care to find out who was behind all of this chaos, or why I should continue on with the journey. It doesn’t help that the title is full of painfully random bits of humor. Like the stalest Family Guy cutaways you can imagine, the jokes here are often told with little set-up, and to few laughs. One section, which makes fun of the whole “Games are Art” movement, is particularly embarrassing.
During one particularly grueling section of No Time To Explain, I asked myself, “Why am I still playing this game?” Of course, I knew the literal answer (because I have to review it), but I still shouldn’t be asking myself that question mid-playthrough. With no story-based incentive, I was more or less subjecting myself to the brutally unfair and cheap gameplay of tiny Build GAMES’ adventure because I had to. Some folks out there may enjoy putting themselves through such pain, but I just don’t see how it could be enjoyable enough to stick with.
This review was based off the Xbox One version of the title, which we were provided with.
Lacking the personality and precision of its platforming contemporaries, No Time To Explain is a brutally unfair and embarrassingly humorless entry into the genre.