After having ruined some comics' licenses, Simulmondo tried again, this time with completely own storyline and characters. The project was quite ambitious: Fabbri is one of Italy's biggest magazine publishers, and the games were even advertised on television (of course, the ads showed little of the actual game :P). But, if more money was used for the development, rather than for the marketing, the results would have been much better.
Episode 1 starts the adventure: we are introduced to the hero, Max, his girlfriend Jessica and his friend, super-genius Lucas. At the same time, in a distant future, the Skunks, intelligent robots who enslaved the humans (mmmhhh... sounds original), lead by their king who calls himself the Chronodemon, are going to invade various epochs using a time travel device. Trouble starts when a similar machine made by Lucas creates an interference, and a Gate opens in Jessica's house - the stone in the ring that Max gave to her as a present, is of the same type used by Skunks for time Travel. The robots kidnap Jessica. Lucas puts a time travel device on a scooter, and Max uses it to start the risky rescue of his beloved one, ending up in the prehistory, where he will find some allies...
Like many other Simulmondo products, Time Runners is a series of action/adventure games that are lackluster in both aspects, although a little better than their predecessors - but you must consider that the predecessors were absolutely terrible ^_^;. First of all, the engine used is the same of the Spider-Man game. No, don't panic. At least, Max's animations are way better, and more fluid. The backgrounds are detailed, and always adequate. The cutscenes are nice too, but they often suffer for blurry colors and poor 3D-rendered objects. Sound is almost non-existent, and set at a so low volume that I had to put my speakers to the maximum. Otherwise, you won't even notice it.
Basically, Max has to explore locations, avoid pits and traps, fight some enemies (after the cavemen of the first episode, I don't remember anything different from Skunks until episode 9) and searching for objects to use or take (press U to see the "hot spots" of each location). There are few of these objects, though, so you'll have to search carefully. Some screens are almost identical to each other, and it's easy to get lost. Probably for this reason, you can see a map by pressing M. Sometimes, the action will change to an adventure-style screen, where you use or take objects. You can see your inventory by pressing I, but you can't combine objects, or decide when to use them - Max does the action automatically if he has the object. So, it's a totally useless screen, even because it's a miracle to have more than two objects at the same time. Calling the tasks of each episodes "puzzles" is too much, considering how few they are too. Sometimes, "hot spots" are activated only when you did some actions, so you have to search for them again :/
So, the adventure element is extremely thin, but the action? Let's face it: slow-paced and boring. When you fight with a Skunk, you seem to exchange slaps with him, like some old B&W slapstick movies. When I had a gun, I rarely bothered to use it, considering how stupid the enemies are. Sometimes, they even turn around pointlessly, allowing you to whack them. And now, the worst thing, the control system. Using the keyboard, it has some similarities to Prince of Persia and Flashback, but it's often unresponsive. You can perform a running jump before or after you really intended, and then fall in a large pit. When I tried to cross small pits with a standing jump, Max often did and additonal step before, falling miserably. Instead of making a better keyboard control, programmers found a shortcut: mouse control. Right-click on a spot of the screen, and Max will reach it, doing all the jumps automatically. I often tried to resist to this temptation, but I eventually gave up.
This makes the games TOO easy, like they were already difficult: once you know what to do (and there's little to do), you can finish every episode in about 25 minutes. All that "empty" exploration is only an excuse to make the things a little longer. They are often unforgiving: step on a certain platform, push the wrong button, and it's game over. Saving often is the only remedy. There isn't that great story within the game, the dialogues are so-so, even if there's the curiosity to see what will happen in the next episode. The characters are nothing special IMO, except for the Skunks: idiotic (even the King himself) and funny (see the one who captures Max, at the end of the first episode). Too bad they are defeated at the end of episode 9 - I hope for a return later in the series.
Overall, despite all the ambitions and financial efforts behind, the Time Runners games are only little above the amateurish. Nothing can save them from the Real Dog tag, but, at least, they have a little more value if taken all together, playing them one after another. If you have the courage to do it :P
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