Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior review: try this one-of-a-kind action game

Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior key art shows a character facing off against a bearded enemy.

Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior

MSRP $25.00

“Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior’s time-bending combat hook is so smart, you’ll want to show it to everyone you know.”

Pros

  • Ingenious time-bending hook
  • Clever enemies
  • Just enough exploration
  • Time challenges are a blast

Cons

  • Dull story
  • Great idea stretched thin
  • Too few arena twists

As I slash my way through Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior, creating copies of myself to take down arenas full of enemies, I realize that the indie title might just be the ultimate power fantasy. Who hasn’t wished that they could clone themselves just to get more done in a day?

That question transforms into an ingenious gameplay loop in the debut title from Sand Door Studio. The mythological adventure fuses hack-and-slash combat with a unique cloning hook that turns an otherwise basic top-down action game into a tactical puzzler. Though that million-dollar idea is stretched thin over a long and dull story, Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior is the kind of innovative title that’s sure to remind you why the independent gaming scene is so exciting.

Army of me

Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior has players controlling the titular Lysfanga, who sets out on an adventure to save the kingdom of Antala from a vaguely nefarious villain. Storytelling isn’t exactly a strong suit here; it’s a lore-heavy story full of proper nouns that all blur together over a mythology-heavy, eight hours. I can feel the DNA of franchises like Prince of Persia here, but Sand Door spends a bit too much time meticulously establishing every detail of its time-bending fantasy world without saying much about it.

It’s the kind of system that’s sure to wow first-time players.

Its more substantial attraction lies in its one-of-a-kind combat twist. Every time Lysfanga enters an arena, she only has a short amount of time where she can try to kill every enemy (Raxes, as they’re called) in the room. It’s nearly impossible, but that’s where time shenanigans ingeniously come into play. Lysfanga can create clones of herself, dubbed Remnants. Every time the clock runs out, players control a new Remnant who moves through the room in tandem with all previous clones. With careful planning and execution, I can clear out a room full of 20 Raxes in a single loop.

Similar to jaw-dropping indies like Viewfinder, it’s the kind of system that’s sure to wow first-time players. Standard action encounters turn into full-on puzzles as I try to plan out the perfect route so I can defeat every enemy as fast as possible. Perhaps I’ll use one life clearing out every Raxes on the right, while using my next one to hit a beefy enemy in the middle with a chargeable ultimate attack. Each arena is its own little logic problem as I only have a limited amount of clones I can use in each.

Remnants attack a shielded enemy in Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior.
Quantic Dream

Sand Door has a lot of fun thinking about how that idea can alter combat. One common enemy carries a giant shield that’s hard to get around. To defeat it, I need to distract it from the front on one run and then use a second Remnant to slash it from behind while it’s focused on my clone. To take down another enemy type, I need to kill two linked Raxes at the same moment. That requires careful planning as I work in tandem with my previous runs. Ideas like that give Lysfanga the kind of wildly creative action hook that’s worth checking out.

What I especially love about it is how it functions within an otherwise bland story. Lysfanga is a lone hero taking the weight of a kingdom on her back. It’s another impossible task that one person simply can’t do alone. The Remnant system smartly reinforces that idea by turning her into a temporally gifted army of one. It’s only when I see a dozen Remnants running around the screen, efficiently wiping out a horde of monsters with dance-like synchronization, that I really understand how much games ask of their heroes. How can someone like Zagreus possibly be expected to take out hundreds of demons in one go? Lysfanga almost acts as a clever deconstruction of that idea.

Stretched thin

Though the combat hook is exceptional, it is stretched thin over a surprisingly robust adventure. Lysfanga takes players through three acts over its eight-hour run, while exploring several collectible-filled biomes. Sand Door hits the right balance of action and exploration here, peppering in just enough hidden treasures without ever distracting too long from the combat arenas. Each combat arena also has a specific time to beat, which offers some great incentive to try battles again and concoct the perfect run. Every bit of extra content here is as carefully considered as Lysfanga herself when plotting out an arena game plan.

Arena twists are fw and far between …

The indie struggles more in trying to keep the winning time loop idea fresh throughout. The core combat is a little one-note, as I’m largely spamming two buttons to belt out repetitive combos. Lysfanga gets three weapons by the end of the journey, but none of them feel terribly distinct from one another. They all roughly feel equal in power and range, even a slightly weaker chakram that is meant to help thin out dense enemy herds.

Arena twists are few and far between too, which is a shame because there are some strong ideas here. Some arenas feature two sets of colored doors. Moving through one locks that color and opens up the other set. That requires some careful planning on my part, as each Remnant I send out will flip that door and potentially mess up my path. A couple of strong ideas, like introducing enemies that need to be killed with a specific weapon, come in the very final arenas. There’s not much time for Sand Door to compound its twists like a great puzzle game normally would.

A bridge full of enemies appears in Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior.
Quantic Dream

I chalk up a lot of Lysfanga’s quirks to a very promising first-time studio getting a little overeager. There’s another world out there where this releases as a short action game that hits the same sweet spot that publisher Devolver Digital’s catalog often nails. I can’t fault a studio for aiming for the sky and delivering something more than a great proof of concept, though perhaps a small team this new would have to clone itself to nail such an ambitious debut.

Those critiques feel small in the grand scheme of an impressive indie though, like one meandering Remnant moving out of step among a dozen skilled warriors. Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior is the kind of fresh idea that truly shakes up a stale genre. I don’t expect something as new as this to be perfect on its first outing; I want to see developers learn from these ideas and put their own spin on them. Excellent games come from iterative cooperation. I salute Lysfanga for being the first soldier on the line, leading the charge.

Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior was reviewed on PC and Steam Deck.