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Retro Treasures Time Crisis

Remembering Time Crisis, the ultimate light gun game

You remember light guns, right? You know, you’d point the gun at the screen and shoot until everything on the screen is dead? Or until your arms give out under the unbearable agony of cramp?

Light gun games are now commonly referred to as rail shooters, whereby the player is set on a predetermined course, only controlling the gun in their hand rather than their own trajectory. As boring as that sounds on paper, the genre has been a staple of arcades ever since Duck Hunt. They’ve fallen off with the arrival of the first-person shooter, but the genre enjoyed a great run, with arguably its golden age in the nineties with the arrival of Time Crisis.

What is Retro Treasures?
Penned by GameSpew contributor Danny Grabowski, Retro Treasures is an irregular column all about games from days gone by. Danny examines a particular retro game each time, reminding us what made them so good… and undoubtedly making us pine for a simpler time. You can read all Retro Treasures so far by clicking here.

A new kind of rail shooter

Time Crisis changed the rail shooter. Beforehand, players would face an onslaught of increasing numbers of enemies and have to constantly keep their finger on the trigger.

Time Crisis made things more tactical. Introducing the use of a pedal, players would step on it to pop out of cover and release it to drop back into safety and reload their guns. It brought a whole new emphasis to the genre as it played out in real-time, stressing the need for quick reflexes and shrewd aim as players were against the ticking clock to clear each area of enemies. If the timer hit zero, it was game over.

With different coloured enemies signifying the types of threat, certain ones would drop time extensions if players were quick enough to put them down.

Players assumed the role of Richard Miller, known as a ‘One Man Army’ despite having a name that’s more fitting to a geography teacher. Players had to fight their way through a castle controlled by a militia seeking to retake control of their former country, to rescue the former president’s daughter, Rachel Macpherson. In charge was the knife-wielding Conan O’Brien-lookalike, Sherudo Garo, assisted by bomb-fanatic and series-recurring antagonist Wild Dog.

Time Crisis cover art
Image: Bandai Namco

Story and dialogue-wise, it’s clear that Time Crisis drew inspiration from action movies like Die Hard of that era. It was everything you could expect from a videogame in the late nineties and it is nothing short of a hilarious B-movie cheese-fest to look back on now. — but that wasn’t what drew the attention of the gaming masses at the time.

With its cinematic style, revolutionary 3D graphics, in-engine cutscenes and innovative gameplay, Time Crisis was highly regarded by critics and players alike. It ushered in a bit of a golden age of arcade shooters alongside the similarly successful House of the Dead series.

Time runs out

In fact, Time Crisis was so successful in arcades it was later ported over to the PlayStation console along with a spin-off title specifically made for the platform, Time Crisis: Project Titan. It also came with its own light gun and pedal compatible with the console.

The series thrived for years, delivering four direct sequels as well as another spin-off for arcades, Crisis Zone, which handed players the use of a machine gun instead of a pistol.

But it could never last forever. With the shift in technology away from CRT and the lack of investment in finding ways to make light guns work on newer televisions, combined with the rapid rise of the FPS genre, the Time Crisis series was rapidly running out of ways to make things fresh. It even tried its hand at an FPS mode in Time Crisis 4 with middling results. It seemed with every iteration, the series’ quality would decline

Eventually, as it is with all good things, the timer hit zero on Namco’s quick-shooting franchise.

Still time for more Crisis?

While the series has been dormant since 2015’s Time Crisis 5, it doesn’t appear to be out for the count. In late 2022, Bandai Namco filed new trademark applications for Time Crisis and Steel Gunner, Namco’s very first light gun title. The trademark covers goods including arcade video game machines and computer game software.

Is there a new title on its way, or a remake of the original perhaps? Who knows, but it could make for a welcome surprise should Bandai Namco announce anything later this year.

Where can you play Time Crisis today?

The light gun may have died off largely due to the retiring of cathode ray televisions as LCD screens became the norm. The guns relied on CRTs for the light to register, they simply couldn’t work with modern screens.

But there are still ways to play Time Crisis and a whole host of other light gun classics. If you have a disposable income equivalent to the GDP of Kenya, you might want to invest in your very own arcade unit. It would be a great talking point for when you’re entertaining guests, and I’m sure the in-laws would love it.

For those on a more modest budget, a day out to any seaside town with an arcade will likely see you uncover an ageing Time Crisis tucked away in the corner, and for a few pence, you can see how long until your arms and calves give out. There are still fans out there, some even with the skill to beat Time Crisis II with one life — as Player 1 & 2 simultaneously!

Afterwards, you can treat yourself to ice cream or some fish and chips on the seafront, too. Time well spent if you ask me.

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