IGN Review of Time Hollow
There are two subject matters that continually and reliably interest me: those dealing with outer space and those concerning time travel. The Tekny-developed Time Hollow, published by Konami, is a game based on the latter, which means that I was automatically drawn to it. The project cleverly utilizes the strengths of Nintendo's portable, enabling you to draw with the stylus on the touch-screen to open windows through time -- temporary portals that hold memories and objects that may help 17-year-old Ethan Kairos uncover clues about his seemingly split existence. One night, he's having dinner with his parents and the next morning, he discovers them missing -- for the past 12 years. As he desperately struggles to understand what is reality and what isn't, he stumbles upon the hollow pen, concludes that his parents were real all along, and sets out to revert the present and future.
It's a great concept that's certain to compel you forward as you embark on a series of investigations, some menial and some important, to figure out exactly what's going on. The tale has many threads -- obviously, there's the overarching theme with the character's missing parents, which may or may not have something to do with his seedy uncle, but also side-objectives with secondary characters, all of whom seem to have an impact on Ethan's life. It's not often that I find myself engaged by a storyline in a handheld game. Time Hollow is a rare exception. That being true, the story succeeds at times despite the writing and character development. Most of the side-players in the graphic adventure are cliches supported by dialog sometimes seems appropriate and other times forced, if not borderline nonsensical.
Time Hollow is not an action game so you won't be jumping off buildings or gunning down bad guys as you frantically leap through portals. It's a graphic adventure similar to projects such as Hotel Dusk, which means it moves at a slower pace. You travel between areas on a city map, investigate locations and question people for clues, and attempt to piece the fragments of your memories together. If you like slow-moving affairs like the aforementioned Hotel Dusk, you will undoubtedly enjoy Hollow, too, because it offers a more compelling storyline and also more interesting gameplay interactions, which I'll detail.
The game takes place from the first-person viewpoint via hand-drawn 2D characters and backgrounds. The backdrops are oftentimes layered so that when you move the screen left or right you will see foreground objects have depth, such as a desk in front of a wall. It's a pleasing effect that adds a small, but welcomed level of realism to what would otherwise be a static graphical style. Even so, the majority of the locales that Ethan visits lack animation of any sort, which is unfortunate. As you visit different areas, you simply tap on various spots on-screen to interact with them and most of the items will display text results of some kind, even if they represent dead-ends. Sometimes you'll trigger a key event that will in turn induce flashbacks -- snapshots of memories that you can evaluate in your menu system. The more clues you piece together, the more information about these memories will be accessible, and once you really know their place, you might be able to use the hollow pen in the present to correct something in the past.
The investigation process is sometimes engaging, sometimes tedious. Certain areas have multiple sub-rooms. For instance, the high school that Ethan goes to -- you can travel into the grounds, then the locker rooms, then a classroom. Supposing you get the clues you need and quickly want to access the city map, you'll have to first back out of all three sub-areas and then go to the map -- a slower and clumsier process than it should've been. Meanwhile, sometimes you will know exactly what needs to be done but because you haven't first triggered some kind of event by talking to a character, you will be unable to proceed, which is really quite frustrating. Thankfully, the game's relaxed difficulty will keep you from getting stuck much -- there's so much exposition and inner-monologuing from Ethan along the way that he practically tells you what to do and where to go, anyway.
The time puzzles at the center of the game are good fun. Having pieced together the puzzles surrounding Ethan's memory snapshots, you will inevitably be led to places in he present that have some direct connection to the character's past. When this happens, his hollow pen begins to glow and you're able to use the stylus to draw a portal on-screen to open a rift in time. You're supposed to draw these rifts as circles and the title very accurately translates your penmanship, revealing the past in exactly the area you've indicated. It's a great effect for sure. To solve these puzzles, you will oftentimes have to remove an object from the past and bring it to the present or vice-versa, for some very satisfying results. But that's really where the puzzles end -- you don't jump through time so much as you reach through it and therefore there's only so much you can do without repeating the same routine under different circumstances.
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