Version tested: iPad
The endless runner is surely the platformer of our age, if only in the way in which breakout successes have led to a huge field of champs and also-rans. The bar is always getting higher, in other words, and yet Time Surfer sails over it effortlessly. It may have obvious influences, but it makes something new from them.
The most obvious are Tiny Wings and Jetpack Joyride. Time Surfer's randomised 2D world is filled with deep curves to dive into and shoot out of, woven through with a challenge-based levelling system and a plethora of unlockables. The twist is in giving you the most potent tool possible in a high-score game: a way to fix mistakes.
Time Surfer grants you the ability to rewind the last few seconds of play and, far from being a gimmick, this defines the experience, allowing its layouts to be considerably more fiendish and packed than you might expect. Rewinding uses up energy (shown at the top of the screen), but this is easily refilled by picking up the crystals scattered around - so it's always an easy decision to push the button. Correcting a bad approach angle, diving down to snaffle a piece of cake, or erasing an ugly death from the record books; it's an all-purpose get-out-of-jail-free card.
It gets even better. The single best touch in Time Surfer, even though it's a small one, is the ability to pick up power-ups and then rewind with them in your grasp. This gives the game, and you, freedom to experiment with ridiculously perilous grabs, where you arc high into the air and grab a speed boost in front of a wall of spikes, rewind instantly, then slingshot forward in a new direction. Such tricks can be used to grab anything - including cake, of course - but it always feels best with the speed boost.
Cake's been mentioned a few times now, and it's the only thing that doesn't quite sit well with me in Time Surfer. Delectable-looking slices are scattered around on each run, and this is the currency for cosmetic unlocks and pets. Now, saving up for an Arnie costume is one thing, but the pets are a kind of perk system: the rubber ducky saves you from one pit fall, or the tiger rewards five perfect curves in a row with the speed boost. The game doesn't really let you earn enough cake to use these consistently, other than the bottom-ranked one. But it does let you make an in-app purchase to double the amount of cake you pick up in-game. This makes Time Surfer's economy much more palatable, but it's £1.49 (plus the 69p you've shelled out in the first place). Hmm. It's a crazy time when spending less on a game than a cup of coffee gives you pause, but that's iOS for you. I bought it, anyway.
Forget about the cake controversy and Time Surfer stands on its own, a high-octane take on high scores with an irresistible strategic hook. At first you'll rewind to correct mistakes; pretty soon, you'll be rewinding so you never make them. Chasing scores is always an exercise in masochism, and in giving you potentially infinite second chances, Time Surfer risked taking away the sense of achievement. Instead, it adds a whole other dimension.
8 / 10