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The player's single jet fighter (placed in the center of the screen) shoots down waves of WWI Biplanes, WWII era fighters, 1970's era helicopters, 1980's era jets, and futuristic UFOs while trying to rescue fellow pilots and avoid bombs, missiles, and other enemy fire.
Your aircraft is a sleek jet that travels to five different time eras which each have different enemies. The time periods are as follows:
- 1910; biplanes and a blimp
- 1940; WWII monoplanes and a B-25
- 1970; helicopters
- 1982 or 1983 (the year varies between ROM versions); jet planes and a B-52
- 2001; UFOs.
In the first four eras, the background setting is the sky with clouds; in the fifth, it's space with (equally harmless) asteroids.
During waves with missiles (helicopters and jets), tight turns with many double-back actions will render the attacking missiles mostly useless. Concentrate on shooting down entire squadrons (whose appearance is signaled by a siren sound) to rack up bonus points. You can also rescue the flying parachutists as you battle the enemies.
You must destroy 56 normal enemies in order for the mothership to appear, then you must destroy the mothership by shooting it with seven direct hits. After you have destroyed the mothership, all the other ships will be destroyed and then your jet will advance to the next time period. After you get past all five time periods, the game will begin again with increased difficulty.
This game was designed by Yoshiki Okamoto. He was hired by Konami as a graphic artist, although not long after being hired, he was asked to design a driving simulator video game. He did not like the idea of a driving game, but he did like the game Bosconian a lot, so he decided to base his game on Bosconian without telling his boss. He was also smart enough to know he would get in trouble for doing this, so he also had his design team simultaneously create code for the driving game too, in case his boss wanted to see it. When his boss asked if the driving game was finished, Okamoto showed him Time Pilot instead; his boss was angry, but Okamoto asked him to do a location test, the game was well-received, and the rest is history. Okamoto designed only two games while at Konami: Time Pilot and Gyruss. He later went to Capcom where he designed 1942, Final Fight, and the Street Fighter series of games.
Time Pilot has examples of :