Chances are you haven’t heard of Time Bandit. You’ve probably heard of Time Bandits, of course, because it’s the brilliant 1981 fantasy flick directed by “the American Python” Terry Gilliam, everyone’s heard of that except boring bastards. But Time Bandit is completely unrelated, sharing nothing but a similar name. And it’s a shame that you’ve probably not heard of it, because Time Bandit is in its own way just as brilliant.
If I’m being honest the reason that I’ve heard of it is because of the aforementioned link: I came across a game called Time Bandit on the Amiga, wondered if it had anything to do with the film, loaded it up and realised that it didn’t. But after a couple of hours worth of play I realised that that’s not important because Time Bandit is a brilliant mixture of videogame styles with an ingenious non-linear progression.
Originally appearing on the relatively obscure TRS-80 home computer in 1983, Time Bandit was later ported to the Amiga and Atari ST in ’88 and it is these versions which were most popular (and which I am concentrating on). The easiest way to describe Time Bandit is to say that it’s a Gauntlet-style top-down game which borrows elements from other games including Pac-Man and Bomberman as well as text adventures (yes, really!). The player travels through time visiting different worlds (and a signpost which gives information about progress so far and the option to save the game) via a main Mario/JRPG-style scrolling play area; these various worlds, all of which can be accessed from the start, are split into 16 stages and in each stage the basic goal is to open the exit and escape at which point the player is returned to the level selection area and has the choice of either re-entering the world just visited and attempting the next level which will be more difficult or of tackling a different world and returning to the next level of previous worlds later on. Whilst playing a level of a world, which uses the same top-down scrolling display as the main selection stage, the player can simply concentrate on reaching the exit, take time out to grab as much treasure as possible dotted around the world (score for treasure in a level increases for each treasure taken so the first will be 100 “cubits”, the second 200 etc) or even take a quest or solve puzzles that can be found in the level. The worlds themselves are very diverse covering various time zones (hence the game’s name) and include an Enterprise-style starship, medieval castles and even a Pac-Man-style maze. They’re also full of ‘orrible things which spawn from (apparently indestructable) points on the floor and patrol the rooms and corridors. Our hero can dispatch them with his laser/plasma/whateveritis gun earning cubits as he does so; and depending on skill and bravery in doing so, earnings for beastie-shooting increase, reducing again if the player shows a lapse in heroism.
If the above description confuses the hell out of you (and I don’t blame you) try watching this YooToob vid of someone playing the Atari ST version and you might get the idea.
Like many great videogames, it’s better to discover Time Bandit and its wealth of features and surprises (barely scratched in the above description) for yourself. It’s not perfect – a time limit on levels would have stopped score-scumming and the text-adventure aspect, whilst a nice touch, would have worked better as some kind of icon-based arcade-adventure instead. Nonetheless, this game is great fun, addictive, and pleasingly barmy and despite the mixture of game styles sounding utterly bloody absurd on paper it somehow works. They really don’t make them like this anymore, although to be honest they didn’t really make them like this back then either.
Oh, and there’s a two player simultaneous option as well…