One of the most charming things about Timemelters, and about the new Timemelters demo that has just hit Steam, is how eager it is to apologise for itself. It apologizes for all the normal stuff you get in a pre-release demo - no key-binding yet, but it's coming, not everything is fully optimised. But then it keeps on apologising. Or explaining itself, in a distinctly apologetic manner, anyway. Listen: it's meant to be tough, you're meant to die a lot and iterate on a plan. You're meant to be a bit overwhelmed, and the final game will lead you in much more carefully. Promise.
None of these things should be apologised for - or even, as is probably the case, gently explained away. Timemelters, formerly called Wicca, is so exciting precisely because it's overwhelming - it gives you so much to think about! And it's so exciting because it's hard, not for the sake of being hard, but to push you to embrace all of its systems, to plan and plan and see a plan fail and come up with a new plan. Iteration!
This is perfect stuff for a real-time tactics and strategy game, which is, I guess, kind of what Timemelters is. It's the spiritual sequel to another tactics game that was wonderfully characterful, and wonderfully hard to pin down, Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves. That game is an all-timer for me. I have never found a game's atmosphere and mechanical mind more fascinating. And I think Timemelters is up there too. But I'm probably confusing you at this point. Apologies!
Timemelters casts you as a Scottish witch, back in the days, firmly, of yore. Monsters are invading the highlands, and you use your witchy powers to do them in when they attack en masse. Oh yes, and you're a glass canon. A single HP, so if a monster gets to you it's game over. But those witch powers, oh boy.
First off, you have a fairly weak attack that uses a pool of recharging mana. You can get a few baddies this way, but you back up and fire and eventually they catch you and eat you. So how about teleport? Pick a spot on the map, and then when the mob get you, you instantly teleport to that spot. Maybe - hopefully! - it's a long way away, and so you get more time to whittle down their numbers. Maybe you flank them, confuse them! Maybe it's enough.
If it's not enough, do not worry. How about a mass knock-back, on a separate cooldown? How about the ability to draw in energy from downed foes and use it to play really big spells? Bring live to a tree and have it attack any baddies nearby. Freeze baddies in place. Summon a monster that shoots fire and also draws aggro.
Reader, it keeps coming. My favourite aspect is rifts - standing stones on the map that allow you to chain together distant parts of the landscape in a sort of witchcraft subway system. But what about that cloning thing, Echos, where you attack the mob and then sort of rewind time and attack the mob again, alongside the deadly echo of your last attempt? After a while there's a mob of them, but there's also a pre-recorded mob of you!
All of this comes across beautifully in the current Steam demo. Yes it's a lot to take in, and yes you'll die a lot. But you'll think a lot, learn a lot, do an awful lot of plotting. Ultimately, Timemelters becomes a kind of ingenious, dynamic spin on tower defence. But even that isn't quite right, because it never stops with the ideas, never stops piling on a sense of character and weirdness and intricacy that has me seriously excited.
Play the demo! And die and plot and fume and enjoy it. Oh gosh and there's co-op too. I forgot to even mention that. My apologies.
Timemelters is currently on Kickstarter.