Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Microsoft has released its entry in the mascot wars, an off-beat platform title called Blinx: The Time Sweeper. Blinx is one cool cat and has the ability to suck up objects and spit them back at enemies. Big Deal, but the really cool things is that Blinx can collect time crystals and shift time either backwards or forward, pause the action or slow things down with slow-motion. This is not something you see everyday making this a unique title. The gimmicks are really cool but do they get in the way of the action? We journey through time to find the answer.

Even though the Xbox hasn't been known as a mascot system, Micorosoft is trying to make some inroads into the younger set with their recent releases. Blinx: The Time Sweeper is definitely an odd entry into the console wars but is innovative and fun, if you can get into it. The deformed character design and strange sense of humor are definitely in evidence throughout, and it should come as no surprise that Blinx was developed in Japan. On the surface, It seems like a fairly standard platform game. It follows the adventures of a cat who works in a Time Factory that's over-run by monsters and thieves. His mission is to fix time-disasters and save the world. As he walks around, Blinx can suck up objects into your vacuum cleaner, or time sweep, and throw them out at enemies when you face them. You'll see different objects you can suck up and throw on each level, but since you can only carry 5 of these initially, you need to use these sparingly.

This seems straightforward enough, but he'll also find time crystal icons scattered around the levels. Collecting 4 of these time crystal icons makes a combination. Learning which icon combinations earn which rewards is confusing initially, but it becomes intuitive quickly Earning three of a kind plus any other usually gets you new time shift ability. Blinx can rewind, pause, slow-motion and fast forward which are all quite useful in battles to give you a big advantage. To activate a time-sweep, you pull up a menu and select which time-shift you want to use. The entire screen also changes color when you use one of the time sweeps while an onscreen bar counts down the time you have left, which is quite useful. However, some combinations are worthless while others give you extra lives or power-ups. The coolest feature is the ability to record the level and replay it with a shadow Blinx cooperatively, which really adds to the fun.

Learning when to use the time-shifts is confusing at first, but most gamers should be able to figure it out fairly quickly. For example, when you come to a bridge that's been knocked out, you simply use the rewind to put it back in place. You need to hurry though, because the time shifting is only on for a few seconds. The pauses are quite useful when you face a boss character or have more than one foe lurking in the area. Generally, you should be able to figure out when to use these, and the early levels prompt you with hints if you get stuck. It pays to think a little bit 'outside the box' and figure out how you want to affect the gameplay before you use the time-sweep. One hint: Blinx pauses completely when you pull up the menu so use this to your advantage. Another really cool thing about Blinx is that you don't start again when Blinx dies. Instead, the last moments of the game itself rewind like a videotape which is a really creative effect.

There are several different time monsters on each level looking to send Blinx to his final hour. Luckily, you have a handy indicator on screen not only tells you how many are left to defeat, but what kind they are. You also can view an onscreen menu telling you which objects are in you inventory. While for the most part, it doesn't really matter which objects you use, some boss creatures can only be damaged by certain types of objects, which adds another layer of strategy to the proceedings. Surprisingly, Blinx' game structure is fairly straightforward. Each level is divided into 4 stages, three normal and the final is a boss battle. Blinx can also buy items in the shop between levels, and items such as extra lives or "replays", rewinds and can also purchase enhanced time sweepers and more powerful ammunition. Another interesting aspect of Blinx comes when you have to return to levels to uncover hidden items. As you may have guessed, this isn't the usual platform game and the time shifting really leaves an impact, making this a truly original and innovative experience. While it's hard to get used to at first, once you get into the game, the concept of time changes, and you begin to see which situations need to be shifted. Besides this however, Blinx is fairly conventional in level design and enemies which is sort of weird, since the idea behind it is so original. Bosses move in fairly standard design. In a way, this works because had the gameplay been too weird, most players probably wouldn't have been able to figure out what was going on in the game. Having a somewhat normal structure helps to make the time-shifting concepts more apparent.

There are some problem areas that arise during play that detract from Blinx' otherwise excellent play. Even though you can move the camera manually during the game, the auto-positioning isn't as good as it could have been, and makes things more confusing than they should be. This can be quite annoying at certain points where you can't see what lies ahead of you. Unfortunately, the controls aren't as polished as they could be and aiming your time sweeper isn't as intuitive as it could be. The awkward perspective makes it difficult to aim your gun and throw objects precisely where you want them to land. While making accurate shots gets easier, it takes quite a bit of time in order to accomplish this successfully. These controls make Blinx harder than it should be and causes an unnecessarily frustrating experience. However, these problems are small obstacles that really shouldn't dissuade you from enjoying Blinx.

One area where the game doesn't disappoint is in the graphics which take good advantage of the Xbox console's abilities. Blinx offers a mixture of cartoon-style with more realistic mapping effects. It sounds strange, but the effect makes for a really interesting look. The expansive level designs are surprisingly linear, though you can find some secret areas.The environments are crisp and colorful and the solid level designs are good, if a tad predictable. Blinx' character animation is excellent, making the characters come alive. The enemy designs in Blinx are off-beat but also clever and interesting, especially the boss characters. The soundtrack is fairly annoying, and really gets on your nerves. Unfortunately, you can't get it out of your head, either. Overall, Blinx has decent production values but nothing really extraordinary.

It's a fairly interesting game, and while not all of it works, there are some clever gameplay conventions that make it worthwhile. The production values are superb and showcases the Xbox console. Unfortunately, the time-shifting system is too confusing in the early going, which can be frustrating. Its camera system is a rough and aiming isn't as easy at it could be. However, things get better and persistence pays off with a fun game. Blinx also has some really clever designs, which should especially appeal to gamers who love anime and off-beat titles. Unfortunately, the gameplay is too simplistic. The reliance on gimmicks can't mask the conventional level design and enemy AI which makes things a bit too easy for experienced players. Blinx: The Time Sweeper is a mixed bag with an interesting design undermined by fairly conventional gameplay. Being able to play with time makes this a unique and innovative experience unlike any other platform game on the market but these cool ideas that are undermined by substandard controls that aren't up to the task. Aside from the time-shifting elements, the gameplay in Blinx will give most players a strong sense of déjà vu.

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