Did we seriously put off writing about Time Gal because the fan-made reconstruction wasn't 'authentic enough' for us? God, it's like we're a bunch of insufferable nerds. Oh, wait. We are. Ahem. Anyway, since we took these using the handy screenshot function of the iPhone, you can click them to make them large and impressive. Also, Time Gal (and the other Taito Classics games) are also available on Android, but the version we tested was on iOS, so while we can assume they're the same, we have no way of telling. Sorry. Anyway, here's Time Gal's page on the Google Play Store, so you can see for yours- hey, wait! The price is in Pounds! Could we have done it this way the whole time?! Bloody hellfire, that's way easier!
Oh, and thanks to Ultra Powerful Pal of Gaming Hell, Kimimi, for double-checking this and making sure we weren't talking out of our rear ends like we usually do.
We're not the most up-to-date when it comes to iOS games, but you know what genre works really well on mobiles?
Dragon's Lair-style FMV games!
Yes, one way to visualise the march of technological progress in the field of video games is to witness a game that originally played on a LaserDisc player, on a piece of media big enough to eat dinner off, condensed to play on that little screen you carry around in your pocket. Now, there's a whole debate to be had about virtual d-pads and buttons for action-heavy games on both iOS and Android, but the reaction-based nature of games like Space Ace and Road Blaster make them an ideal fit for smartphones, as does their brevity- they're usuallY quite short, ideal for a quick go on the train. Even beyond the '80s heyday of the FMV game, things like Double Switch and the location-tested The Act fit like a glove on these devices. Disappointingly, both Road Blaster and Cobra Command, Data East's entries in the genre, were on iOS but were delisted far too soon after their release, and so the Japanese side of this genre went unrepresented on mobile once more... Until 2017, when Taito began a series of iOS rereleases entitled Taito Classics, specifically including games that would be suited to the format. That series includes the Rayforce / Raystorm / Raycrisis series (shmups have, in a way, found a home on these devices), the bizarre and medium-defying Takeshi no Chousenjou... And the subject of today, Time Gal. None of these have made it outside Japan though (even though, as we'll find out, Time Gal is completely in English) so you have to jump through some hoops to get at it if you're not in Japan. Is it worth it? Well, that's what we're here for, right?
We'll start with evaluating the game itself, then move on to its pocket-sized port.
The original Time Gal was released in arcades in 1985, and stars Reika Kirishima, the eponymous Time Gal and a character design that very obviously takes a leaf from the Dirty Pair light novels, who's bouncing around different time zones in order to find the criminal Luda, who stole a newly-developed time machine from a laboratory right before Reika was due to give it a test drive. Apparently using her own form of time travel (it's never really explained), Reika gives chase! Across 16 different time periods, Reika has to contend with Not-Godzilla, cavemen, pirates, a dogfight in World War II, cyberpunks from the turbofuture and space monsters from beyond the stars, before eventually reaching the final showdown with Luda himself. This takes the form of animated sequences running off a vinyl-sized LaserDisc that demand you press the correct button- either one of the four cardinal directions or the Action button- to keep the action going, or see Reika cark it if you mess it up. That's pretty much it, so it'd be easy to dismiss it as another cut from the Dragon's Lair cloth, but let's look at things a little deeper, as there's a bit going on under the hood with this one.
As far as this style of game goes, Time Gal is definitely up there in terms of mechanics and fairness, and I'd put it as my second-favourite Dragon's Lair-style game overall, behind the Mega-CD port of Road Avenger. Even as the game gradually replaces input prompts with question marks the longer you survive (or, if you're playing on the hardest setting, there's no input prompts at all), the footage itself was animated in such a way to give you clues beyond even the input icons flashing up. The camera angles themselves usually clue you in to what's coming next, such as a shot panning out with Reika all the way to the left indicating you'll need to press right shortly, a zoom-in on Reika's pendant indicating you'll need to Time Stop shortly, and so on. The very segmented nature of the game- with each time period starting with Reika teleporting in, and ending with her entering the time stream again- also means that's a clear start and end point to each mini-adventure, which is a lot less jarring and disorienting than the abrupt cuts seen in games like Dragon's Lair, and it also gives you a second to breathe and prepare for the next segment.
It uses a few tricks common to the genre, but in ways that ensure the game remains fair- there are flipped versions of scenes, but not all of them get this treatment, and while the stage order is random, the segments are divided into three 'eras' (distant past, past/present and future) so you have a rough idea of what to expect from each era upon repeat playthroughs. These are little things, but in a genre where there's little wriggle-room for touching things up, it's appreciated, and help Time Gal stand at the top of the pile when it comes to this genre. About the only thing keeping it from toppling Road Avenger is the rather unfair Time Stop segments, where Time Gal freezes time, and you're given a choice of three possible actions. The problem is, it's less a case of figuring out the answer with your wits, but blind luck- the one in B.C. 30000 for example, where Reika must escape a caveman tribe's net while she's falling, has one option simply labelled 'Get away' (which, as it tunrs out, is the correct one), and the A.D. 1588 one has three equally plausible solutions, but arbitrarily decides one is better than the others. I wish more of them were like the one in A.D. 1941- as Reika heads towards a big ship on a flaming plane, you can rule the ship itself out as the plane will, most likely, crash into it and kill her. Obviously, they're no problem once you find the right answer, but for first-time players it feels they'll just steal a life, and they're the only real thing keeping Time Gal behind Road Avenger.
Of course, how the game looks is a very important part of this type of LaserDisc game, so we need to spend a bit of time talking about that footage! Visually, Time Gal fits in so well with the general '80s anime aesthetic that you'd think it was directly ripping off the Dirty Pair anime, and yet it came out a year before! The animation was done by Toei, known in video games for the Data East LaserDisc games too, as well as Taito's earlier Ninja Hayate, and it certainly does a fine job here, although if you've read this site for more than five minutes you'll know we're not an authority on animation. It does share some similarities to Dirty Pair in terms of presentation and tone, though, even if the anime wasn't an influence, and it's not just because it's about ladies in sci-fi bikini getting jobs done and blowing stuff up (Reika doesn't take down a planet though, score one for the Lovely Angels on that front). The tone is very light-hearted, with Reika being playful with some of her foes, telling the space monsters 'Kochi kochi~!" ('Over here~!') as she jumps about, calling the giant Mammoth 'Mammoth-chan' and even lightly flirting with the Roman gladiator (translated in the Mega-CD port as 'Hey, good looking! You're mine~!").
Her VA, Yuriko Yamamoto (known at that point for playing Yuria in Toei's Fist of the North Star anime, and later played Sally the Witch in the 1989 anime) does a great job with what little Reika has to say, even including some running gags in certain scenes (Reika calls out to different family members in her A.D. 1941 failure scenes, and her failure shouts in the A.D. 500 scene include HIDEBU and TAWABA, famous death cries from FotNS). The final part of the playful tone is Reika changing into a chibified form when hurt (a more pleasant thing to look at than her dissolving into bones like Dirk the Daring), and so Time Gal's footage comes across as something very light-hearted and a little goofy, with lots of charm. The part that could understandably put players off is that some of the failure reels show Reika's clothes getting torn off, but we personally felt this slightly more salacious side of Time Gal is offset by Reika outwitting most of the human foes in the game, especially Luda who she completely dunks on at the very end. A little from Column A, a little from Column B then.
As for how the game's made the transition from big screen to small screen, the answer is very admirably. The footage is probably the best quality you'll find in any port- even better than the Saturn and PS1 versions- and controls-wise, it works like a charm. Unlike other games that use virtual controls, the lack of tactile response is less important- you're never pressing multiple buttons at once, only the one. The one area of concern here is that the virtual d-pad is responsive but it's fairly small, and can't be moved, so it may be uncomfortable for players with larger hands (our precious, dainty little hands took a little time to adjust to it, so those of you with bigger hands than us may struggle a bit more). One of the bigger advantages of this version, however, is that since it's no longer scanning a physical piece of media for the footage, the experience is much tighter, with no awkward stutters when looking for the next clip to play, and absolutely no load times whatsoever. You're even able to skip the GET READY screen after you lose a life to speed things up (if only you could skip Luda laughing at poor Reika every time she snuffs it, but oh well, can't win 'em all).
The options available aren't quite as robust as the Saturn and Playstation ports that we'll see later, but they get the job done- difficulty and lives settings, the ability to continue and earn extra lives, and whether the game will decrease its difficulty when you lose lives. Critically for anyone jumping through hoops, you can set the language to English for the Time Stop sequences! What it does have that previous home ports don't are the Training and Movie Theatre modes, with Training allowing you to replay any scene you've already completed (including flipped versions), and the Movie Theatre letting you just watch the original footage as you see it (including the failure reels!), giving you an incentive to replay beyond going for that 1CC. Overall, it's missing a few options I would've liked (mostly the level order options from the 32-bit ports) but otherwise this is the best way to play Time Gal these days, and serves as an example to other LaserDisc ports for mobile. The main complaint in this area is the rather cheeky addition of in-app purchases for Navigation Mode (which adds a box in the corner of the screen letting you know the next command well in advance, which can be toggled on or off after you buy it) and, more annoyingly, the Gallery which has a lot of fascinating pre-production art but costs as much as the game itself! An unfortunate decision, but I guess this is what we get in this brutal mobile world.
Anyway! As you might've been able to tell, I've wanted to talk about Time Gal for bloody years. As I said, it's one of my all-time favourite Dragon's Lair-style games for its fairness (most of the time), charming main heroine and footage, and overall the little touches in the mechanics that elevate it above most entries in the genre. LaserDisc-centric games were perhaps not the future of video games that arcade developers thought they would be back in the early '80s, but there are games that use the format and its limitations to provide a fun and engaging little Quick Time Event-em-up, and Time Gal is one of our personal favourites. If nothing else, it's a far better use of the technology than the real bottom of the barrel stuff like Konami's Badlands or Data East's Bega's Battle, and it's heartening to see it available outside of the arcade cabinet or the increasingly-expensive home conversions, on a convenient format that suits it very well. As the game itself says, God Bless Time Gal!
For being ia LaserDisc crammed into your phone, Time Gal is awarded...
Skipping ahead to 1995 (!), the other one we can't really talk about is one for the real high rollers only- the LaserActive port. Another strange game console which you can read about on the Video Game Console Library, on its own it could play LaserDiscs and compact CDs, but with the right add-on modules called PACs, it could play games. The one we're interested in is the Mega LD PAC, which added support for Mega Drive carts, Mega-CD discs, and Mega LD LaserDiscs. Time Gal was released on Mega LD in 1995, and from the available footage, has pretty decent video quality as well as selectable difficulty and number of starting lives. That said, this review(watch out, there's really loud speech immediately with this one) explains that the game will pause briefly after each successful move because of the way it loads- it expects the player to fail so has the death scene ready to go, but has to seek for your successes. Additionally, it seems to have flipped versions of scenes that initially didn't have this feature, such as B.C. 44. Sadly, Time Gal was released when the LaserActive was about to die and as such has become a sought-after rarity, going for up to and including four-digit prices- one you can see in the shot above, in fact, taken from an article on expensive video games in Japanese retro stores. So while I grumble about the price of the Saturn one in a moment, it could be so much worse.
Oh, there's one more version we can't talk about- the Mac version. Released in 1994, we've got so little on this that we only found it existed because of The Cutting Room Floor's page on it. Some kind soul did upload the intro and a small sample of gameplay though, which we've embedded above, so we can offer a tiny bit of commentary- this port was done by HighTech Lab, Japan (a developer who also worked with Namco on the FMV-centric PS1 ports of Starblade and Galaxian3), plays in a small window, and has what's the equivalent of Navigation Mode from the iOS port, showing you the prompt that's going to come up next well in advance. There's more info in the link in the video, but if you have any more stuff on this port, please get in touch!
We'll need to step back now to 1992 in Japan, 1993 everywhere else, and if you've played any version of Time Gal, it's most likely the Mega-CD port, as aside from the arcade version it was the only one to see a release outside Japan. It's not a super-accurate port, but it is by far the most interesting! Like Road Blaster / Road Avenger, this Mega-CD port was developed by Wolf Team, and while their work for Data East's FMV arcade games was pretty standard, they took a very different approach to Time Gal. In order to make the game look as good as possible, Wolf Team cut a lot of the frames of animation from the original game, but essentially traced over the important frames to make them look as good as possible with the Mega-CD's colour palette. This makes the game look less grainy than other similar FMV games, and makes the characters and colours really stand out. It's a very impressive job, but it doesn't seem like it was worth it, as their later port of Ninja Hayate, released only in the US as Revenge of the Ninja, went back to their old straight transplant method. On the plus side, this version of Time Gal comes with a new vocal intro song, Jikuu wo Koete (sung by Yuriko Yamamoto herself, and a CD of it was available as a promo item), a cute screen border that uses jewels to tell you what buttons to press (except on Hard, where you get no help) and a Visual Mode that lets you use passwords to view completed scenes. One oddity is that some inputs have changed- as an example, in A.D. 44, when Reika's shadow is highlighted, the arcade version prompts you to press Down, while in the Mega-CD version it asks you to press Left. Some of these make things a bit more obvious, but not always. Generally, though, this is a servicable adaptation of the game.
There's quite a few differences between the Japanese and US/EU versions- some big, some small. To start with the big ones, the intro movie uses footage from the actual Mega-CD port and has a vocal song in the Japanese release, while the US/EU versions use grainy footage from the arcade release instead and the song has its vocals removed (replaced with a Casio keyboard-style instrumental that feels like it should be the intro of a very cheap sitcom), and they also have an English dub for Time Gal herself (many sound effects and music cues are changed/missing as a result though, presumably because they couldn't get the original music without the Japanese voiceover). There's a couple of other changes too- to list but a few, you can only pause in the English version, Luda no longer laughs at you after deaths outside Japan, in the A.D. 1941 section the English arcade release offered the choice of 'Pray God' in the time stop sequence, but this was replaced with 'Hope for Luck' in this version; 'God Bless Time Gal' in the ending is replaced with 'Bless the Time Gal', the A.D. 666 area was renamed A.D. 999 (probably only made possible by the game's retraced approach, it'd be far more difficult to edit the original footage), and beating the game on Hard without continuing then waiting on the ending image for 10 minutes (!) gets you a risque picture of Reika topless (explained by this blog- it has the picture, so watch out) but only in the Japanese version. So, for the most part, pretty standard localisation changes for this point in video game history.
Now, until this iOS release, the last time we saw Time Gal was on both the Playstation in 1996 and the Saturn in 1997, as part of a two-game set alongside the earlier Taito laserdisc arcade game, Ninja Hayate. Both were just called Time Gal & Ninja Hayate, but the Saturn version was presented as part of Ecseco's Interactive Movie Action series, the only other release in said series being similar ports of Data East's Thunder Storm and Road Blaster. Despite this difference in publisher (Ecseco apparently had nothing to do with the PS1 release), both games are intended to be the same otherwise (the Saturn manual even uses the same collage as the PS1 manual).both versions seem to have the same feature-set, but there's no info on who developed it- both credit Taito and Toei Video on the title screen, and the Saturn version adds one for Ecseco, but the in-game credits roll is just for the arcade version. Perhaps an in-house Taito job? In any case, these versions are quite thorough when it comes to options, if nothing else. They have a few features missing from the iOS release, including the 'subtitles' from the MSX / Sharp X1 versions, and BGM for the new interstitial loading screens, but most importantly, different level sets. You can play the stages as they are in the arcade game, in a totally random order, in the order they're in on the LaserDisc itself, chronologically from B.B. 70,000,000 to A.D. 4001, in the order you choose from a menu between periods, and.... The test version?! I guess this was based on an early version of the game, which lets you pick one of three 'sets' of time periods. So yes, a very thorough set of options here, the only thing really missing being a continue function, so you'd better work on your muscle memory to make it to the end.
What I've said so far applies to both the Playstation and Saturn versions equally- they have essentially the same feature set. Where the two versions differ is that the Playstation version has slightly better-quality video, which you'd think would give it the edge... However, the Playstation version is much harder to play, as the timing on the input cues is all wonky and off, which will throw you off and get you killed easily. The Saturn version doesn't have this problem, and the arrows are much closer in timing with the in-video flashing. Additionally, the Saturn version has a nice little feature in the form of option presets, letting you pick from default, Arcade (as it was in the arcade) and Full Arrange (with selectable stages and all the extra bells and whistles). All the Playstation has in its favour is a secret Movie Theater and Sound Test mode, alas. What both most certainly have in common is a high after-market price tag for either version. You're looking at £100, minimum, for either of them, so if you really need to drop that much on a home console version of Time Gal, go for the Saturn port.
Finally, we come to a fan-made simulation of Time Gal, one that reignited our interest in the game, but one we couldn't really use as the basis of a review, seeing as it's not really an emulation. Time Gal: SINGE Edition is essentially a reconstruction of the original arcade game made by RDG2011 using footage from the LaserAcrive version (which means it has the extra flipped scenes from there) created in SINGE, an add-on to the DAPHNE LaserDisc game emulator that allows you to basically make your own Dragon's Lair-style games. Since Time Gal isn't normally emulator in DAPHNE, this is your only way to get close to 'emulating' it at the moment. There's a few extras thrown in- you can play the game with completely randomised stages, closer to the arcade game, or in chronological order, and there's an alternate version of the intro that uses a more modern Taito logo and a fan-made MIDI version of Jikuu wo Koete instead of the normal music. However, this is a simulation and not 100% accurate, with the Continue, Game Over and High Score Table screens being fan-made (which means it's missing the slowed-down version of the Time Gal theme that plays when you're entering your name). Normally we don't include fan-made stuff, but this is a bit of an exceptional case, so it's out there if you want to give it a whirl.
The only downside of looking at Time Gal is it reminds me how much I want a good Dirty Pair game.