This handheld title uses a first-person perspective to tell the story of Ethan Kairos, a young student finding himself in extraordinary circumstances. Strong animation, design and voice talent support the strong story, which follows Ethan’s parental plight and impending ability to visit the present and past simultaneously with his newfound Hollow Pen.
This point and click game plays like an interactive novel as players test their investigation skills. Players also get a few puzzles as the clock-collecting Ethan interacts with appealing characters and various local settings throughout the chaptered game play.
The themes skew older players with family themes, relationships and time travel elements where Ethan is “searching for stolen past.” Ethan has a trio of friends; the athletic, yet sensitive Vin, cowardly Ben and studious Morris. Ashley, Vin’s sister, and Emily also factor in along with Ethan’s parents, Uncle Derek and several others, plus some adversaries. Ethan’s cat, Sox, not only provides companionship, but can replenish health, which has a meter at top showing status. However, it doesn’t really matter until the time travel actions begin.
The game begins with a nice background prologue video featuring a strong theme song. There’s a great use of console as most visuals expand into the top screen and touching capabilities let players survey the background as objects shift with movement, bringing more impact to the first-person perspective.
High quality cut scenes include flashbacks and chapter beginnings summarize the new flashbacks. Dialogue is spoken mostly during cutscenes, with a few expressions and short lines throughout regular gameplay in English or French audio languages.
The simple game format thankfully utilizes automatic item use instead of taking the extra step of choosing the correct item from your inventory. Players can use the travel icon (upper right) to navigate through the simple map, which begins with the library, school, park, Chronos (local restaurant), Ethan’s house, Vin’s house and the station, and expands as players progress.
Once the time travel elements begin, players draw a hole over a present setting (a.k.a. “digging” into the past), which then opens into the past where Ethan can take items and even interact. The hole size, drawn with the stylus, is limited, so players must exercise some strategy or have their energy depleted. Once players finish their access session of the hole, timeline changes can be experienced right away based on how Ethan changed the past.
The system information menu (lower left) has all current information on the flashbacks, items, characters, save/ load (one slot only). Here, player information constantly is accessed and updated, especially when players are stuck in their progression. Progression is achieved as players verify the time travel information they receive. Clicking on an unverified flashback, also shown in various cutscenes, is also a good practice when progression grinds to a halt. Players may not even realize they have found the last detail to make the flashback verified. The only hint is an exclamation icon, representing new information, when accessing parts of the system information menu.
Most activities (item interaction, etc.) are automatic; it’s just a matter of clicking the item or prompting the interaction. Advanced players will likely be one step ahead of Ethan at times, which can create some minor frustration when following the largely linear story (when you get to the end, try traveling around instead of heading to your room). Players can often choose character dialogue responses, but choices usually prompt more questions instead of splitting into multiple branches.
Exhaust any item/action possibility before giving up on your progress. Usually taking a break helps a lot with a fresh perspective and clear mind. Look in the manual for help, as well (it has a picture of the first area I was stuck on).
This game has some nice revelations and satisfying closure to Ethan’s adventurous plight. Great production design functions well with quick touch controls. Maybe more in-depth mental activity/problem solving from players (instead of simply exhausting all possible avenues) would enhance the next possible version. This game succeeds at putting the players right there with Ethan and the other characters, thanks to a strong story written by Takehiko Hata and Junko Kawano (creator of Suikoden IV), which explains similarities to the 2001 Playstation 2/PC title Shadow of Destiny.
Time Hollow is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Alcohol Reference, Mild Blood, and Mild Violence.