Konami didn’t start out making games. Like another of its soon-to-be rivals, Data East, it started out as something else. In Konami’s case, they were an outfit that rented out jukeboxes and repaired them, but in the 70s, eventually got caught up in arcade fever when they began building their own cabinets, copying some of the famous formulas of the time like Space Invaders while adding unique twists to them, and eventually creating unique classics such as 1982’s Time Pilot. Yoshiki Okamoto was the man behind Time Pilot, someone that fans might recognize from his work with Capcom’s Final Fight, Forgotten Worlds, and Street Fighter II
The premise behind this classic was simple — you flew a futuristic jet that could jump through time facing off against planes and “motherships” of different eras, blasting them all in the name of getting a high score. It was a lot like many other arcade shooters of the time where scoring points drove quarter after quarter, token after token, into hungry coinboxes and packed flashy visuals and sound effects.
Controlling the jet was an eight-way joystick and with a single fire button to blast all of those enemy planes from the sky. You didn’t have to worry about pesky things like altitude or the Grandfather Paradox in blowing away all of these targets — the only point was to score points and to survive as long as possible while doing it. You had a quota shown on the bottom of the screen as a line of planes that slowly decreased as you blew your way through the unfriendly skies and once it was emptied, would face off against a “boss” of sorts before jumping to the next time period.
The game covers several time periods: 1910 pits players against biplanes with a “boss” blimp to defeat, 1940 pits WW2 monoplanes against them with a B-25 bomber as the final objective, 1970 throws choppers at the player with a CH-46 as the boss, 1982 had jets and a B-52, and 2001 brought in UFOs with the game starting all over again in 1910 speeding things up slightly with more targets swarming around gunning for our time travelers.
The “bosses” didn’t have any weird patterns — they usually just flew in a straight line and could take several hits before exploding. The trick was trying to maintain a bead on them while everyone else is shooting at you (and in trying to keep out of the way of the suicidal AI). There were also parachuting people floating around that you could pick up for bonus points. Every stage had clouds and a sky except for the last one which took place in space with asteroids floating around.
It was later ported over to a few consoles (and even copied, appearing as the bootleg “Space” Pilot): the Atari 2600, ColecoVision, the MSX in Japan, and even the Xbox 360 where it cost 400 Microsoft points (around $5) as a DLC title (and was enhanced with new graphics and sound) which didn’t settle well with some such as Kristan Reed writing for Eurogamer. I can’t really argue with that — expectations changed over the last few decades and as classic a game as Time Pilot is, five bucks could be a bit much to ask considering what else was available for that price. It also appeared as part of a number of Konami arcade compilations such as Konami 80’s Arcade Gallery in the arcade in ’98 and for the PlayStation in 1999, 2002’s Konami Collector’s Series: Arcade Advanced for the Game Boy Advance, and the Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits which came out in 2007 for the Nintendo DS.
Time Pilot’s formula still holds up as a scorer’s game providing a few minutes of fun, scratching that trigger finger in a unique and clever way. And it’s not too hard to find it you can pin down one of those classic Konami collections which Time Pilot always seems to be a staple of. Classic, arcade action with a neat twist to stages and enemies, it’s easy to see why Time Pilot’s still a favorite among shooter and arcade fans as they tear through waves of planes without worrying about changing the course of history.