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Blinx: The Time Sweeper

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Blinx, then. According to some it’s the single most important game since Halo – the Xbox equivalent of Super Mario Sunshine, or Jak and Daxter – a genre-defining time-shifting adventure of epic preportions. But behind the hype, the glossy magazine adverts and carefully-selected screenshots is Blinx really just another lifeless platformer, soon to be completely forgotten by everyone except the publisher’s accountant?

Well, yes. Blinx, sadly, is the most recent case of over-hyping a sub-standard game, the likes of which we haven’t seen since ET on the Atari, and we all know what famously happened to the thousands of copies of that, don’t we? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that Blinx will fly off the shelves at your local EB, but that’s more due to some ‘favourable’ reviews in the gaming press and a lack of viable alternatives for your cash than actual merit. However, the very fact that you’re reading Gamestyle means you’re a discerning gamer who’s not easily convinced by a 100 page review, 20 large screenshots and a 90% mark, and hopefully you’ll come away from this particular review with a more balanced opinion of the game.

Microsoft need a marketable mascot – there’s no secret there – the mere sight of Mario and his proud purple point-of-sale is enough to sell the game, never mind the console to play it on, but without this identity the Redmond crew are struggling to penetrate the mass-market. Blinx is the first real attempt to do this – the game itself is little more than a vehicle for the eponymous feline’s debut on the console, but unfortunately it’s just not a good enough game to make people take notice, and any further title with the same lead character is going to face the same problems, regardless of improvements down the line.

At it’s heart, Blinx is a simple platform/adventure but the unique feature is the cat’s ability to make use of various time controls along the way. The story’s not entirely relevant, displaying a disappointing lack of invention with the usual save-the-world pretext, and the way the game flows is along the same elementary lines. With 8 differently themed areas (each with 4 sub-levels inside) the process is both linear and tired – dispatch each enemy (by sucking up trash and firing it back out at them) to move onto the next sub-level, and then defeat the boss in the 4th to move onto the next area. Repeat, ad infinitum. Not only is this an insult to gamers used to a more open path through a game, it’s also totally void of any replayability, such is the banal level design and laughable monsters, which almost entirely resemble blobs of jelly.

The time manipulation aspect, however, is novel, if nothing else. It’s based around the collection of little gems – collect 4 and the game sees if you’ve got 3 of the same – if you have you get one use of the relevant time morphing ability, collect 4 of the same and you get two goes. It’s worth mentioning that these time-powers are the single positive aspect of the entire package, and even then they grow tiresome very quickly and do little to alleviate the boredom of troughing through the game. You need to know which powers will be needed at any particular moment (the events you use them in are scripted, for the most part, and often only one time power will be of any use) but they work very much like a tape-recorder.

Use a Pause power and the game temorarally slows to allow you to move, Matrix-like, undisturbed past the stationary monsters (not that you won’t still have to return and kill them anyway later), use the Record to do one thing, then play it back allowing two Blinx’s on the screen at once, and so on. Whilst undoubtedly original in concept, they don’t ever make enough of an impact to warrant the developers patenting the ideas – I seriously doubt Miyamoto’s got anything to worry about here in terms of innovation.

Technically, Blinx is also somewhat of a non-starter. Whilst those screenshots look impressive, in motion the game sloths about at a shockingly low frame rate given the pathetic AI and the not-exactly high polygon counts the Xbox has to deal with. Whilst the textures are passable, the poor level design and enemy characterisation means that the art never really comes through, and the often claustrophobic corridors and basic outdoor areas suggests the developers never really got to grips with the development kits at all. Worst of all, though, is the camera – not since Resident Evil have I been forced to battle so many enemies without actually being able to see them on screen, such is the totally amateurish camera mechanics. Sonically it’s a little better – the music is fine and the sound effects are well placed and superbly engineered within the 5.1 soundscape.

Under the surface probably lies some excellent ideas and concepts but all too often the best ideas are scrapped by the publishers as they try to work a game into something more ‘sellable’ and mass-market. Thankfully, some developers are left to make their own decisions and in some cases (Ico, Project Eden, Super Monkey Ball) a simple idea becomes something beautiful, and I can only wonder what Blinx would have played like had some of those brainstorming sessions been committed to DVD. As it is, Blinx is unrewarding, derivative, insulting and just plain dull, and worse of all, shamefully ignorant of the huge leaps forward in level design, characterisation and game structure and in the last decade, and as such is best avoided.