Chronology Review: A Stitch In Time Saves The City

When I’m looking to play a computer game, one of the things I tend to like to do is to find games that have unusual protagonists.

I played through “Inherit the Earth” exactly because Rif was smart, not strong and I appreciated that about him. I loved Limbo because it wasn’t the usual happy-go-lucky platforming fare that you see – where if there /is/ a kid protagonist, he’s taking it easy. Most recently, I also played King’s Quest 5 and I appreciate the fact that Sierra weren’t afraid to let their star King age a handful of years.

So, when I saw that the protagonists for “Chronology” were a pair and that the pair was pretty unconventional, I was sold.

The problem is, I’m not always very good about playing the games I buy. Much like most people, I have a backlog of games that threatens to overwhelm me if I look at it wrong. Some of these games are very old, indeed. [Like “Dragonsphere”] but a small handful are new-ish because I can’t always help myself when I see an interesting idea for a game.

And certainly, the concept of “Chronology” was pretty novel: an inventor trapped in a dystopian future that he had a hand in creating finds a watch that allows him to travel back in time to the point before the event occurred.

Naturally, he sets off to make sure the event never happens so that the future can be less dystopian.

What follows is a short platform adventure that sees the old man use this rewinding and fast-forwarding skill to jump ledges, go in and out of buildings and generally solve puzzles. This would be convoluted enough if it wasn’t for the fact that he also meets a snail who can stop time.


A picture of Chronology showing off the time mechanic.  In this picture, we see the world as it was before.  Everything is lush and green and beautiful and whole.
The before time! Everything is happy.
A picture of Chronology showing off the time mechanic.  In this picture, we see the world as it exists in the future.  It's raining and foggy and the whole mood seems generally unahappy.  Crates are overrun by mildew and the plant life has taken over.
The After Time! Everything is sad.

A picture of chronology showing off the snail's freeze time power:  in this section, the inventor has to cross a pipe belching crud.  There's only a very small window of opportunity in which a gap exists that the protagonist can jump through.  Using the stop time feature, the player can line up the jump precisely.
S-n-a-i-l Power! Doesn’t quite have the same ring.

The platforming that exists in the game is really pretty mild – are there spinning saw blades on a level? No problem: summon the snail close to you and have him stop time at the appropriate moment. That way, you can hop around the meddlesome obstacle with no trouble at all.

Is a guard bothering you? Flip to the future where he doesn’t exist and shimmy right on by him to get to the switch that he’s keeping you from.

For the most part, the platforming is a joy because of these solutions, but it can be a tad bit frustrating, because the inventor has somewhat floaty controls. You’ll tap the jump button mid-air and expect to only go a little way, meanwhile, your avatar takes this for “hey, I’ll plunge myself into that pit over there!”

Likewise, most of the puzzles are fairly easy and some of them even have their solutions telegraphed – a welcome change from adventure games that don’t always know when to nudge you in the right direction, but occasionally, these puzzles can be a little obtuse.

In some part, this is because objects aren’t really ever identified. Did you pick up a green looking triangle? It might be a plant. And you may be able to plop it down in the past and have it be fully grown in the future. But it could also be banana peel. It’s difficult to say, because some of the sprites are small and not always detailed enough to intimate what it is you’re interacting with.

This particular problem could have been solved quite easily: Whenever the inventor encounters something he can use, the game will actually bring up a handy reminder that you can use the object with a specific key combination. Why this didn’t extend to saying something like “use spigot” or “use plant” I’m not sure.

But those are the two biggest sins the game commits.

Sure, it’s short. And certainly, some people are going to dock it points for that, but the fact is that the platforming serves a story and the story is told from beginning to end across all eight chapters with very little need for much elaboration.

A cut scene from chronology.  In this particular showcase, the inventor uses a hot air balloon to float to where he needs to be.
Every inventor needs a hot air balloon!

These story sections are brief, stylized drawings with the inventor talking us through what has gone before. They’re marvellous little paintings that bring the story to vivid life and while I thought the voice direction for the protagonist was a little…rough, the actor portraying the protagonist did a reasonable job with his lines.

The problem, for me, at least, was that the elderly gentleman protagonist seemed a little snippy. Without any real reason, for example, he tells the snail at one point that he “doesn’t need him” and that he can “stay there.” This despite the fact that his words basically came out of nowhere and were completely unwarranted – especially given the context: the snail had been helping him and serving his wishes fairly blindly.

That gripe aside, the sound is all reasonably decent and the voice actors do a fine job of portraying the handful of lines they all have. You’re not especially likely to remember any of the tunes, but they serve their purpose.

The visuals, on the other hand, are a little more memorable. Everything looks like it’s a sort of little painting, from empty city-scapes to natural surroundings overgrown with greenery – it’s a marvellously stylized game that uses its design sensibilities to capture the plight of the inventor and the snail rather well.

So, if you’re looking for a short-ish platform adventure and you can bear the somewhat floaty nature of the controls, then I would happily recommend “Chronology” to you. It’s fantastic to see a protagonist who isn’t the “young, perfect, fit” type and the puzzles – sometimes convoluted as they are – are a welcome addition to what might have been “just another indie platformer.”


This review is of the PC version that is available on GOG.com