Time Keeps On Slippin'
The life of a janitor cat ain't easy. You spend all day and all night busting your paws to keep everything clean and what thanks do you get? Nothing, that's what. Hell, the company even makes you pay for your own vacuum cleaner. What a bum deal. It's hardly worth that lousy amount of catnip they're paying you, anyway.
So when the evil Tom-Tom gang starts stealing a bunch of time crystals and unleashing crazy monsters, who has to clean up the whole mess? You, that's who. Even after all those years of loyal, underpaid service, the top cat upstairs still expects you to put in some overtime and stop the bad guys. There had better be a bonus in the next paycheck or someone's going to get a hairball in their morning coffee.
And so it goes in Blinx: Time Sweeper, Microsoft's anticipated platformer. As a vacuum-toting janitor cat, you'll use garbage and the power of time to fight hordes of strange monsters and foil the malevolent plans of the Tom-tom gang. But while it's got some great ideas going for it, Blinx ends up losing a few of its nine lives with some of the most frustrating gameplay we've seen this side of daylight savings time.
The Blinx basics are as simple as any platformer. Just suck up the trash that's conveniently strewn about and spit it back out at the enemy before they can get their grubby little spikes... err... teeth... um, trash on you. You bounce around from platform to platform through each of Blinx's strange and colorful worlds.
Adding some depth is the ability to exchange items you sucked up during a level for cash, which can then be spent on upgrading Blinx. You can buy a new vacuum or some spiffy enhancements like a garbage capacity pack or retry holder to give you more lives. It's a nice addition.
But what really separates Blinx from the platform crowd is the "4th dimension" of time. Rewind to the past, run forward into the future and even stop time itself. Those are just some of the powers that Blinx has at his disposal.
To obtain these powers, all Blinx needs to do is fill up the four slots on the time sweeper with the right combination of time crystals. For example, three stars will result in a "slow motion" power, while four diamonds will yield a pair of "record" powers. Getting a bad combination will simply result in the loss of those power crystals.
Using these powers is without a doubt a revolutionary idea that allows players to use their imagination to overcome obstacles and find hidden areas. Most of the time, the level design makes it really obvious what power needs to be used, but every once in a while you'll come across a situation that's a little more subtle, like pausing a scene with falling logs, jumping on a log and hitting rewind to get you up to wherever they came from.
The use of time is definitely a cool idea and one that currently can only really be done on the Xbox thanks to the hard drive. But unfortunately, there are a few frustrating moments to go along with it.
Every now and then, you'll reach a place requiring a certain time power up that you don't have. The bad news is that you're basically screwed. Unless you've left those pickups back in a place that is still accessible, you'll be forced to restart the entire level. And even then, you might need to go back to an even earlier level to get that power up.
Equally frustrating is the occasional missing monster problem. In order to complete a level, the game requires you to kill every monster and reach the goal within ten minutes' time. On one particular level, a rolling monster attempted to attack me, but instead rolled harmlessly past me and off a cliff. This monster did not re-spawn in its original spot like vanishing monsters usually do and I had to restart the level. Needless to say, I felt like hissing and spitting.
And as if this cat hasn't already fallen from the tree, there are camera and invisible barrier problems as well. Even though you can control it manually using the right thumbstick, the camera has a nasty habit of trying to compensate for movement on its own, leaving you with a weird angle during critical platform jumps. Also, you'll occasionally hit invisible barriers when trying to shoot at enemies that happen to be near garbage, along a wall, or through a door. Rowr.
Blinx claws its way back with some good graphics. Each level is colorful with smooth lines and nice little effects like water and sand particles. The level of detail is very tight, right down to Blinx's eyes, which do in fact blink.
But in the end, I can't help but be disappointed that the great concept behind Blinx: Time Sweeper didn't pan out so smoothly. Instead of an outstanding title, all we're left with is an average game highlighted by one outstanding feature. It seems as if the developers were so focused on their great idea that they forgot to iron out the little kinks that are common to the platform genre. Oh well, maybe this cat will have better luck in the next life.