Time retro gentlemen, please.
If Xbox Live included time travel as part of its subscription fee, then we could enjoy ancient relics like Konami's Time Pilot as nature intended. In this case, we could nip back 24 years to 1982, enjoy the arrival of Wham, Culture Club, nip down the local roller disco on our Grifter, buy ten No.6 ciggies and stuff 10 pence pieces into whatever arcade cabinets were stuffed in the corner. If we're lucky, we might be able to grab a few quick goes on Donkey Kong in the chippie on the way home.
Fortunately, it's not 1982. Maggie Thatcher is definitely no longer in power, Renee and Renate are no longer No.1 in the charts, and we don't have to wait for our weekly arcade visit to get our fix of the latest and greatest games. But such are the ways of misguided nostalgia that people willingly part with surprising amounts of cash to play the games of their youth. That's fine to a degree, but Time Pilot never was and never will be regarded as one of the all-time greats. Needless to say, the appearance of an immensely simple five level multi-directional shooter on the 360's Live Arcade is a puzzling one.
Your 15 minutes of fun
Firing it up on the 360 after all these years merely confirmed our darkest suspicions that we'd eke precisely, ooh, 15 minutes of fun out of it before getting thoroughly bored with it. After half an hour you'll have romped through most of the achievements, glanced at the worldwide leaderboard to see whether your friends have bettered your score, tried and failed to get a Live multiplayer game going and wondered to yourself why you spent 400 points on it. Microsoft desperately needs to address the pricing of these throwaway games.
As is always the case with the really ancient retro offerings such as this, you can't really blame the game for being somewhat beyond its sell-by date. Time Pilot is charming enough as a representation of where shoot-'em-ups were going in 1982. At the time it was fun, and sold a lot of cabinets. But trying to drag it out alongside infinitely better offerings on Live Arcade is stretching the goodwill of even the most ardent retrophile.
The premise is that you're a pilot of an experimental craft on a mission to rescue other pilots in various time zones: 1910 (where you battle biplanes), 1940 (WWII monoplanes), 1970 (choppers), 1982 (jets), and (gasp) 2001 (UFOs). As became common at the time, you remained at the centre of the screen while the background scrolled past you, and enemies swooped down at you to try and take you down with bombs, bullets and guided missiles. Once you had chipped away at the enemy count with your trusty cannon (indicated by a meter at the bottom of the screen) an end 'boss' appeared, and about seven shots later you warped to the next stage. Game on.
The colours and enemy types varied a smidgen, but it was essentially the same deal. Twisting and turning in eight directions, firing wildly, picking up the parachuting pilots and trying to stay alive for as long as possible to clock up that all-important high score. Typical for the era, Time Pilot quickly ramps up the difficulty level to finish you off as quickly as possible, hungry for more coins. If you did happen to get beyond level five (the era of UFOs, let's not forget), the game simply warped back to 1910 and challenged the player to survive a bit longer against the same procession of enemies. Surprisingly for this uber-hardcore era, the game's relatively forgiving, with slow-ish bullets and easy-to-dodge enemies making it for one of the more accessible games of the period.
Somewhat wisely, Digital Eclipse and Konami give you the option of playing in old school block-o-vision or a slightly updated style, but barely any effort has been made to brush them up to an acceptable standard (woo, parallax scrolling! Be still my beating heart). Likewise, Konami hasn't bothered with the possibilities of widescreen for the 'enhanced' version, leaving gigantic borders on either side of the playing field. Another oddity, is you can't change to the original sound during the game. So, unless you've set it up beforehand, you have to put up with the crap little ditty and glossy sound effects accompanying play whether you plump for retro visuals or not.
For the determined player, there is the chance to play two-player co-op and versus play online. The only problem being that nobody's playing it, so it seems the only chance you'll get to try it out is if you can persuade a mate to part with the cash - or sit and wait for hours in the lobby. We'd like to report that it was worth the wait, but it's really not.
Sadly, Time Pilot goes down as one of a long list of games to avoid on Live Arcade. It's the sort of bland shooter that if you tried it on MAME you'd barely give it a second look - so why does anyone think that gamers will part with 400 points for it? Sometimes the past is better off left alone, and someone badly needs to look up the word 'classic' in the dictionary.