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Time Hollow

Time Hollow


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Release Date:September 23, 2008

These days lots of PC adventures are being ported to the Nintendo DS, generally with shaky results. The screen of the handheld really isn’t appropriate for images designed to fit on a large PC screen, and the game mechanics can be awkward as well.Time Hollow is a game which has virtues that eclipse its flaws and makes it easy to recommend. If you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to read every word of my fascinating review, here’s the bottom line: If you like graphic adventures, you should pick up this game.

A much better idea is an adventure designed specifically for the DS. There has already been at least one first-rate such an adventure: Professor Layton and the Curious VillageTime Hollow is the first DS adventure I’ve played since that’s anything like as good as that one.

Time Hollow tells the story of teenager Ethan Kairos, a would-be normal kid with an anything-but-normal destiny. As the story starts he realizes two remarkable things: He’s been living in shifting timelines, and he has a mysterious pen which seems to give him powers over temporal reality.

His overarching goal is to somehow rescue his parents, who seem to have been “erased” from this timeline by some nefarious time-tinkering. As Ethan, you have to learn to use the magical pen to fix the past and clean up the present.

The way this works is that Ethan has flashbacks that are stored in the inventory. When you discover enough information about a particular flashback, you gain the ability to use the pen to open a portal into the past. With that portal open, you and Ethan can attempt to “fix” whatever bad thing happened, thus changing the present. This time editing can have unpredictable results, and sometimes by fixing one thing Ethan will screw something else up. Through the course of the story he attempts to correct his own mistakes as well as other problems to try to get to a happy ending.

The game is published by Konami, and benefits from the kind of high production values such a major company can provide. The town Ethan lives in is extremely attractive and pleasant to explore, and the musical score is frequently superb.

So, the game has a terrific story, visuals, and audio. What’s wrong with it, then?

Well, the designers didn’t quite trust the game’s excellent premise enough to make the gameplay as meaty as it could have been. The story is largely on rails, and the demands on the player are not significant. Certainly the controls work well, and the game handles in an intuitive and logical manner. But some players might be frustrated by the fact that gameplay mostly consists of playing connect-the-dots.

Similar criticism was leveled against FunCom’s Dreamfall when it came out. I championed that game, however, making the point that the other aspects of the game were so strong that despite shallow gameplay, it was a worthwhile experience. I feel the same way about Time Hollow.

The game also suffers a bit from some repetition. A certain event happens with Ethan’s cat that is necessary but plays out in the exact same way so many times that it becomes tiresome.

The best way to think of Time Hollow is to enjoy it as interactive storytelling. If you’re comfortable with that, you’ll probably have a great time with the game, as I did. If you need lots of chewy puzzles and tough challenges, you might find the game a little too mild.

My hope is that Tenky (the game’s development studio) will build on the strengths of this game and produce a sequel with just as good a story but with stronger gameplay.


Ray Ivey

Ray Ivey

A gaming freakazoid, Ray enjoys games on all platforms. Also loves board games, mind games, and all puzzles. Co-wrote the Entertainment Tonight trivia game and designed puzzles for two Law & Order PC games. Also a movie freak, bookworm, and travel bug. Thinks games of all kinds are a highly underappreciated force for social good, not to mention mental and psychological health.   Ray's favorite adventures include the "Broken Sword" and "Journeyman Project" franchises, "The Dark Eye," "The Feeble Files," "Sanitarium," "Limbo," "Machinarium," "Riven," "The Neverhood," and "Azrael's Tear." His favorite non-adventures include the "Thief," "Uncharted," and "Ratchet & Clank" franchises, all of the Bioware RPGs, Skyrim, and Final Fantasy XII.   Ray writes about the movies for the Bryan/College Station Daily Eagle, which is the old-fashioned thing called a "newspaper." He's been on eight game shows. He's taught in seven countries and has visited twenty-one. His favorite classic movie star is Barbara Stanwyck and his favorite novel is "The Hotel New Hampshire" by John Irving.

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