Reviewed: February 8, 2003
Released: October 8, 2002
As popular as the platform genre has become there is a noticeable shortage of these games on the Xbox, but never fear, Microsoft and Artoon are here to save the day with one of the most original concepts in gaming history.
Blinx: The Time Sweeper is one of the few platform games you can currently play on the Xbox, breaking new ground in the platform genre and even managing to break out of the confines of three-dimensional gaming and enter the forth-dimension. For those of you who slept through your honors physics courses, the forth-dimension is somewhere between the Z-axis of space and a 60’s vocal group responsible for such hits as “Up, Up, and Away” and “Aquarius”.
Seriously, the forth-dimension is TIME and Blinx gives you unprecedented control over time. Making use of the Xbox’s hard drive, the game actually saves your entire game as you play it then lets you manipulate those levels by rewinding of fast-forwarding the action. You can slow-mo and even record sections and then have Blinx re-enter those levels and work alongside his former self. If this is all starting to sound like Back to the Future II you’re right.
Blinx is an incredibly clever game featuring 40 colorful levels full of crazy creatures and challenging puzzles that span 10 unique environments. If the time control element isn’t novel enough how about a cat with a vacuum cleaner as your hero? At least he’s not named Luigi and there’s no haunted house.
The story is almost as original as the game. Blinx is a Time Janitor, one of many felines who patrol the delicate fabric of time by going through portals with their TimeSweeper and cleaning up any time monsters that are created from rifts in the space-time continuum. It’s pretty much business as usual until a dangerous biker gang starts stealing time crystals and kidnaps the princess. Naturally, these events create a huge time monster problem and it’s Blinx to the rescue.
There are plenty of platform staples, which make this game easily accessible to anyone who has ever played a platform title. You travel to ten unique worlds with each one having three levels and a boss battle. Unlike other platform games, you have only ten minutes to finish each level. This can be more than enough for some levels and not nearly enough for others. You will find yourself playing and replaying many levels and this is where the time manipulation comes into play.
You have total control over your environment and the flow of time. You can pause the world and run around, as others are frozen in time. If a bridge collapses you can rewind time and watch it magically repair itself so you can cross. If you die and hit the retry option the game rewinds itself about ten seconds and you pick up right before the deadly hazard. The vast and creative gameplay possibilities are virtually unlimited, allowing you to replay and tweak events that took place several minutes ago.
To control time you have to collect various time crystals. These crystals come in different shapes and colors and each corresponds to one of the five VCR-like time modes. Blinx can only hold four crystals at the start, but you can upgrade this later in the game. It takes three matching crystals to activate any of the modes. This will have you carefully considering each and every crystal you pick-up.
Your goal in each mission is to race through the level sucking up all the time monsters and reach the Time Goal at the end before your counter expires. There are also objects such as trashcans, gears, logs, etc. that you can suck into your sweeper then fire them at monsters. You can only store a limited amount of these objects effectively limiting your ammo. This creates some interesting situations where you need to know when to fire garbage versus sucking up monsters. To make things even more complex, you fire the objects in the reverse order you sucked them up and different objects do various amounts of damage. This actually gives you reason to carefully think about the order of the items you collect, especially if you know what monsters lie ahead.
Blinx is a linear game and you can’t go gallivanting around the time stream. You have to do each level in the order they are presented and you can’t move on to the next until you have completed the last. Once a level has been successfully completed you can go back and replay it as often as you like in hopes of doing better.
By design, Blinx rewards repetitive gameplay by allowing you to learn the level design and monsters you will encounter (which never change). This makes it easier the more you play since you know which crystals to collect to power-up the time modes you need to use and collect the garbage in the order best suited to the monsters you are about to encounter.
While Blinx is one of the more original platform games ever made it is still just that, a platform game. Once you get over how cool it is to manipulate time you are still faced with a basic platform game in the juicy center. So, just how good is the game without the hype?
Blinx is quite the nimble cat. He can jump and double-jump and leap to either side or summersault backwards. As good as our hero moves, there are a few problems with the way his weapon works. Ideally, you would want to have independent control over your sweeper's aim with the right analog stick. Unfortunately, your aim is determined by the direction Blinx is facing and assisted with a moderately helpful auto-lock target system. The big problem is when Blinx needs to fight monsters above or below him. You can jump and hope to lock onto monsters above you, but in some areas it becomes quite frustrating. There was one level that had a sunken pit with a ramp leading down. Locking onto a monster on that ramp was difficult unless you got close enough to put yourself in danger.
There are a good number of monsters and they increase in variety and numbers as you progress through the game. You will occasionally see members of the Tom-Tom Gang popping out of these little time vortexes that appear in the ground or walls. You have to keep an eye out for these guys as they only appear for a short time and you have to be fast on the trigger to hit them. While it’s not required to hit them to finish the level, you are rewarded with some gold if you do.
“What use does a time traveling cat have for gold?” you might ask. Shopping, of course. Between each level you can take your gold and any leftover trash and go shopping for new outfits, TimeSweeper upgrades, and extensions for your various timer counters and crystal capacity.
Not all danger comes in the form of time monsters and gang members. Some of the environments become quite deadly as well. One of the hardest, yet still one of my favorites is the Temple of Lost Time where you will get to do plenty of platform jumps, dodge swinging weapons, rolling boulders, and generally try not to die. Many of these hazards are less hazardous when you slow or pause time, but knowing when and where to do this is half the challenge.
Difficulty ramps significantly as you play through the game. The first part of the game is designed to ease you into the game mechanics and get you familiar with the controls and concepts. About halfway into the game things start to get ugly, the monsters get more vicious, the levels get harder, and the time crystals become rare commodities you will greedily horde, fearful to use because you don’t know when you’ll find more.
As previously mentioned, the game demands that you play and fail if only to figure out what you need to do the next time through. Unless you are using a strategy guide don’t expect to finish a majority of the levels on a single pass and even if you do you will probably want to replay and try something a bit different. Some levels force you to come back later. The very first level features a 16-ton weight that is well beyond the capacity of your initial TimeSweeper. You’ll be playing for quite some time before you can afford the 16-ton sweeper upgrade.
Blinx suffers from some of the worst camera problems in platform gaming history – no, make that videogame history. I was tweaking the right stick (camera) almost more than I was the left. The camera was never in the right spot, and as soon as I would swing it around it would move to some poor angle as Blinx changed direction. To make matters worse the focal length needs to be much wider. Most of the time you are zoomed in so close to the action that you are missing a lot of your surroundings, which often consist of off-camera monsters taking cheap shots at you.
The opening and closing movies are amazing CG productions that are truly enchanting and quite spectacular. This makes the fact that there are no between-mission movies just that much more disappointing. Once you start playing the game there is very little narrative to tie it all together. You simply bounce from level to level and do a bit of shopping in-between.
Once you get past the terrible camera angles and control you will be treated to one of the most visually pleasing games currently available on the Xbox. In an age where you can see traces of other games in new releases Blinx offers a style that manages to remain fresh and original. The art design is elaborate with the Xbox being pushed to the limit to deliver real-time lighting and vibrant colors with detailed textures that will have you studying the screen.
To contrast the vibrant and lifelike levels you have some wacky cartoon creatures inhabiting them. Even Blinx has a very animated look and style to him. While it would have been easy to go for a stylized CG cat, the designers chose to keep him a cute little animated character with fluid animation and a style that is all his own. The monsters are varied and they get more creative and crazy in their design the further you get into the game.
The framerate is flawlessly smooth for most of the game but when the levels get more complicated and you are fighting multiple monsters or the large and detailed bosses things can slow down just a bit, but never to the point of becoming distracting or unplayable. The only annoying speed related issue I had with Blinx was the fact that Blinx is incredibly slow as a character. His pacing just seemed a bit off and he lumbers around the level like Garfield after eating six pans of lasagna.
The music in Blinx is surprisingly varied with each level having its own theme. While it’s nice to have 40 unique tracks for 40 levels not all of the music is as easy on the ears as I would have liked. Some of it just got annoying, and when each level is ten minutes and you will be replaying each one at least twice – probably lots more, you will have to tolerate some annoying music for long periods of time.
The sounds effects are pretty minimal. There are some basic effects such as the sweeper noises and various nondescript noises from the monsters but Blinx is quite the quiet kitty with only two sound bytes that he repeats throughout the entire game. There are a few interesting high-tech sounds associated with manipulating time, but that’s about the extent of it.
The entire sound package is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that will benefit those who have the system to support it. The music sticks to the front channels while the subdued sound effects stick to the rear. This actually helps you locate those off-screen monsters before they get in their cheap shots due to the lousy camera angles.
Each level has these little secret cat icons that are as hard to find, as they are to collect. Often, you will have to return to earlier levels with an upgraded sweeper to gain access to these secrets. Collecting these icons rewards you with hilarious cutscenes that are actually worth the effort it took to earn them.
You’re scored on each level based on the monsters killed and the time it took to complete it. This creates a bit of competition, either with yourself or with friends or family. Some will want to play each level until they get the highest score possible while others will be content to simply finish this incredibly challenging game.
Blinx is a hard game and you can expect 20-30 hours of serious gameplay just to figure it all out and finish it. If you want to perfect your score and collect all those secret cats then you will be doing plenty of backtracking and can easily add another 10-15 hours to that estimate.
Blinx: The Time Sweeper had the luxury of being one of the few platform games available for the Xbox when it released in October. Newer platform games have since released and stolen some of its thunder, but the concept of time control is undisputedly original and reason enough to play this game. It’s much too long to finish in a rental, but at only $29 you will certainly want to add this title to your permanent Xbox library.