The new PC game Tick Tock Bang Bang serves up some of the best slo-mo action out there. It’s a colorful thriller full of giant robots and insane stunts. In this critical look, I’ll show you how a very simple design choice leads to spectacular results!
I’m often blown away by how much games can radically change with little tweaks. This is Tick Tock Bang Bang, a slo-mo shoot ‘em, dodge ‘em game in the vein of SUPERHOT, made by Dejobaan. It’s very straightforward. You have to make it to a goal at the end of the level, avoiding exploding enemies and a gauntlet filled with a host of hazards. Tick Tock Bang Bang looks very similar to one of Dejobaan’s previous titles, the arcade arena shooter Drunken Robot Pornography. They share many common elements: giant robot titans, a funky looking gun, and bright, fresh colors. But even if they look incredibly similar side by side, DRP and Tick Tock Bang Bang are very different games.
This difference is predicated largely on movement. DRP is very empowering, with arenas full of weapon pick ups where you zip around from point to point, furiously blasting away at robots. Tick Tock Bang Bang keeps things far less bombastic. You can only be hit once and you’re often just dodging through levels. Bit by bit, you make fine movements and small adjustments to avoid failure. Much of this comes from changing how the player makes their way through the game space. In Tick Tock Bang Bang, much like SUPERHOT, time moves when you move.
Talking about the way a game makes you feel is always a tricky proposition; it varies a lot from person to person. For me, Tick Tock Bang Bang is pretty stressful even if it is very beautiful. When you move, you have a very clear idea if you’ve made a mistake or not. Jump too far and you have to slowly watch as your mistake plays out in front of you. Because you’re forced to restart after one hit, you become very self aware. There’s a type of performance anxiety that occurs.
Even the smallest alterations to movement have huge repercussions. In DRP, your momentum carries slightly before you stop. It feels a bit like you are on roller-skates. You’re always course correcting in DRP, always reacting to elements that slip out of your control. In Tick Tock Bang Bang, no such momentum exists. You land on a dime and move exactly when and where you aim to move. If DRP feels like you’re dancing furiously in a club, Tick Tock feels like you’re acting out choreography. It’s fitting because the game’s framing is that you’re a Hollywood stuntwoman. It’s distinctive and definitely a far cry from DRP’s gloriously sloppy gunfights.
Tick Tock Bang Bang’s ability to get the most out of everything it has extends beyond movement as well. It’s very good about remixing elements in many different ways. A wonderful example of this are the cars. You’ll spend a lot of time dodging cars in Tick Tock but the game goes to great lengths to alter your spatial relationship with them. Sometimes, it will hurl a mass of tumbling cars at you like an avalanche. Other times, you’ll have to play Frogger. That level is particularly great at showing off how new perspective and mechanics can take an old scenarios and imbue it with a new and exciting context. Like taking an old recipe but tossing in a few special ingredients.
Games build on each other and this building allows multiple developers to put their own affectations on certain mechanics or ideas. SUPERHOT’s approach to movement was honed into a razor sharp criticism about player power fantasies. Tick Tock Bang Bang takes what came before it and turns it into a joyful celebration of video game strangeness. You get to watch all the absurdity play out before you in silly detail. Plenty of this is also conveyed through the visuals. SUPERHOT manages to be very cold and sterile. Tick Tock has a similar harshness to level design but often opens up to give the player a bit more room. These differences color the way in which the slow motion conveys mood, with very different results.
It’s easy to look at Tick Tock Bang Bang and see something derivative. To see something that pulls heavily from other titles, both from the same studio and without. But closer look reveals a type of iteration, with subtle changes that help define a unique experience. It’s a sort of videogame science project, experiment with formulas and seeing what it can do to create a new reaction. In games, a little goes a long way and Tick Tock Bang Bang definitely goes the distance.