But as you play, you'll learn to kill enough enemies so that you always have rockets and turbo. Eventually your aim will also improve to the point that you can snipe enemies on the horizon with a few well-placed shots while angling away from incoming fire. But all this changes as you begin to collect gun upgrades, which are rare but very powerful. In any given level, you can upgrade your blasters to at least four times their original strength. Once you get the second upgrade, things go from simply decent to outright fun. You go from handling three planes and a tank, to blasting through six planes and two tanks, giant tanks, laser towers and sometimes even nine planes. And a tank. Obviously, the unit variety leaves a bit to be desired, but deftly zapping these targets with your giant space lasers feels definitively sweet.
You shouldn't have to figure this out though. The game should've started this way; things should have gotten twice as crazy and hectic, with lasers or bombs flying every which way and hardly a clear lane for you to fly through. Your only hope would be the careful and judicious use of super-duper power-ups, lock-on mechanisms, and artificial intelligence controlled drones. These are all the trappings of old 2D shooters, such as Gradius, yet they haven't made it into Time Ace's present time. Instead, you're stuck with three generic power-ups: a smart bomb that kills everything on the screen, a shield that renders you momentarily invincible, and a speed boost. Not only are they uninspired, but they're also unnecessary; you can easily beat the game without ever using any of them.
If only you were obliterating better looking civilizations. Your ship doesn't look too shabby, but enemy vessels are hardly more complex than paper airplanes, and they blend directly into the blurry backgrounds. The game engine is so weak and the DS so overtaxed, it has to resort to flashing red polygons to tell you you're hitting your targets. But Time Ace's developers deserve some credit for creating a 3D game with a lot of action that never suffers from slowdown. It isn't pretty, but at least it doesn't look like a slide show. The game sounds fine, though there are never any audio cues, so you don't even need the volume on to get the full experience.
As an afterthought, the game includes wireless multiplayer dogfighting for up to four players but no downloadable demo or online play. If you are on a trip or car ride with a friend who also has Time Ace, you might squeeze in a half hour of fun from this rocky mode, but only if you talk a lot of smack and cheat constantly. Otherwise, the short single-player game is all you get for $20.
Whether or not that price is worth five hours of reasonable rail shooting is up to you, though you have the luxury of knowing either choice is a fine one. If you pass on Time Ace, you'll never wish you could go back in time and play it; if you do get Time Ace, you won't find yourself wishing you could go back and not play it. Either way, time is on your side.