The game uses a special arcade cabinet that projects the game's characters using refraction, making them appear free-standing. The "holographic" effect is an optical illusion using a large curved mirror and a CRT television set. Characters appear as tiny images about five inches (12.7 cm) tall, standing in mid-air in a manner similar to the volumetric projections seen in the Star Wars movies.
Time Traveler has a non-standard shape for an upright arcade cabinet. Though the game is played standing up the cabinet is larger and shorter resembling an oversized cocktail design (50"Hx43"Wx45"D) (H: 127 cm; W: 109.2 cm; D: 114.3 cm). It doesn't have a monitor but instead uses a flat, dark stage called the "Micro-theater", which was invented by engineers Steve Zuloff and Barry Benjamin. The Micro-theater is composed of a big concave mirror that lies underneath the stage. Along with it, a 20 inch (50.8 cm) Sony TV sits in front of the mirror. The player controls are located on top of the TV equipment. A couple of neon colored geometric blocks placed at the back of the stage serves as the only background for the game. It is decorated with white formica all around and with a tall "SEGA Hologram Time Traveler" sign on its back.
- Hologram Time Traveler arcade cabinet
Time Traveler's gameplay is similar to . The player moves a joystick in a specific direction or presses a button at certain points in the game. By entering the right command, a movie clip plays showing the player's character progression through the game, while the wrong move results in a unique death scene for each segment. Time Traveler is different from Dragon's Lair by offering lots of supportive help. For example, the game shows hints through a short video clip after losing a life. It also offers a short tutorial available at the beginning of the game.
The player controls consist of a 4-way joystick, an action button and a time reversal button. The latter is a feature that allows the player to rewind and repeat the last couple of seconds of a failed segment. This gives the player a second chance to try and escape his death without having to repeat the complete FMV sequence all over again. Between levels, players can buy more time-reversal cubes by inserting more coins into the arcade machine.
The game starts with three lives and one time-reversal cube. Gameplay keeps going until the player loses all of their lives or completes the game. It also encourages players to insert more coins by allowing continues and the option to purchase additional time reversal cubes. Being an arcade game, it is designed with a hard difficulty setting and for short gameplay time. Assuming the player successfully memorizes the majority of the FMV sequences, then the game takes about ten minutes to complete.
Time Traveler offers a total of seven levels called "time periods". Every level has a time era theme (e.g. pre-historic, Middle Ages, the future) except one fictional one represented by symbols called the Age of Magic. Time periods consists of a number of FMV sequences, usually three. Completion or failure of a level returns the player back to the level menu. To minimize repetition the game randomizes the order FMV sequences play within a level. It also allows the player to choose the order in which to play the time periods up to a certain degree. Later time periods are not accessible until the player completes a required amount of levels.
As the game progresses players randomly encounter a mini-game called "Hellgate". In this mini-game the player can bet a life to win extra lives or even a free credit. The game consists of a slot machine where the mini game takes its name from. Depending on the outcome, the game awards or penalizes the player by giving or taking away lives. One of the outcomes makes the player lose the entire game, not just Hellgate. Expert arcade players usually avoid playing this game as the odds were heavily stacked against them resulting mostly with losing lives rather than winning bonuses.
In 2001, the game was published by Digital Leisure in PC CD-ROM and standard DVD formats. These home versions have the option to simulate the mirror reflection of the original arcade cabinet through a pair of anaglyph stereoscopic glasses due to the lack of the original arcade cabinet's hardware.