Half-Minute Hero veteran Opus Studios has returned to time-based adventure gaming with Jikandia: The Timeless Land, tasking the player to save a world unfamiliar with time from time itself. The premise builds upon countdown mechanics Opus had previously established in Half-Minute Hero, and as 16-bit games go Jikandia holds true to an early 90’s arcade feel, when a quick round with cartoon sprites, silly banter ("We sell weapons here, and we'll buy your unwanted crap, too!"), and a chiptune-like soundtrack was enough to satisfy before your parents came to pick you up.
Developed by Opus Studios and Idea Factory and published by Aksys Games, the time-based adventure/RPG/platformer begins with a group of kids on a train to school who are suddenly pulled through a portal and into another world. They wake up scattered across the land of Jikandia, a timeless place that has been cursed with that which it did not have: the flow of time. Monsters have appeared as well, and the main character (choice of male or female) must find their friends and face the King of Time in order to get back to their own world under the guidance of a flying squirrel fairy thing that gives you tips and inside information.
The game has the obligatory RPG town hub, complete with weapon and item salesmen and people who know your stats - all of whom exist solely for your journey and admit it. Levels are selected through a menu system. And while each stage may look like simple platforming and attacking of enemies, the game hinges on a countdown clock; you must defeat the boss of the level before the timer runs out, the twist being you control how much time you’re given. The default is 3 minutes, and I ran through the first level like a breeze, though admittedly cut it a little close.
After failing the second level twice, though, I realized I wasn’t exactly sure how to play this game. There tutorial is brief, but it seemed simple enough: start the timer, run through a level with your three-person party jumping from platform to platform, collecting treasure and slashing monsters as you go, enter various doors, and end up at the boss fight. But the boss had more HP than I could take down before his spiraling music notes and falling spiky stars did me in. Dying restarts the fight infinitely until the timer runs out, ending the level. By my fourth try (after I bumped the timer up to 5 minutes) I realized I had no idea how to succeed at this game.
Each time I played the level it was different. I found different paths, different items, and it took a different amount of time to reach the boss. The stages are randomized, and on top of that each area of a level also has a “floor goal” and completing that goal earns you “floor stars” which grant access to better treasure and more rooms full of monsters, scoring you more points. In avoiding the correct goal and merely running through doors you actually hurt your winning chances as you won’t have an adequate number of stat boosts and or a high powered weapon to help you destroy the boss. The key is to collect as much as you can before the 1:30 minute mark, at which the next door leads you to “thine true enemy”. Extending the time limit only gives you access to more treasure - you will always have the same amount of time to beat the boss. Once I realized this I was able to finally beat the second level.
Time-based bonuses and penalties happen throughout each stage as well. A message will appear on the screen that says, “In 15 sec enjoy the smell of napalm” and the area will explode with multiple flames, or “In 10 sec nom nom nom” and HP-refilling herbs will rain down. Different boosts and obstacles will arise depending on the level.
When you complete a level, the number of monsters you defeated, treasure you collected, and other bonuses and penalties are tallied up to give you your final score in the form of tym, the currency used in Jikandia. And by talking to people in town you’ll find out what your next level will be and get closer to discovering why the King of Time is so disgruntled and what it is he wants with the kids and the town.
With quirky character dialogue that mirrors the way teens and young adults might speak to each other in real life, humorous references (like one to the HBO series Dead Like Me), and a slew of varying party members to choose from (each with a different weapon) the game will give you enough reason to continue playing even if both the levels and music begin to feel repetitive.
With ten stages to complete, the game can be finished in 2 hours or less, but with the ability to extend each stage up to 30 minutes in length, four-player ad hoc multiplayer, and a variety of challenges to complete, Jikandia: The Timeless Land is a game you can come back to often to enjoy in small bursts on your own train ride to school or work, pulling you through its own portal into a world that’s captivating for 20 minutes at a time but a bit much for any longer.