Blinx - The Timesweeper marks the Xbox's odd foray into the heady world of platformers claimed by titles like Mario and Ratchet and Clank. Microsoft development studios has taken a long hard look at the world of the platform game and hit on a combination of cute graphics and engaging gameplay. I'm not the world's greatest platform fan and I can't stand the shoes - but this game kept us enthralled for a good while, we actually found ourselves enjoying it and rooting for the main character Blinx as he bounced around the myriad of strangely designed levels.
The game is seriously fun to play and has a very light learning curve, it won't take a serious gamer too long to master the controls and to learn the nuances of how the game works. But a complete novice will quickly pick up the basics and be able to progress beyond the initial stages without too much trouble. The story takes place in a totally whacked out world, where a bunch of strange cat-type people oversee the time stream, they make sure nothing bad happens. Of course, something bad happens and a gang of sorts start turning people into time crystals, causing a dangerous situation for the world and all operatives are evacuated.
But the bad guys also capture the princess of that world, and with the crystals turning into monsters it's up to Blinx to rush blindly into the time gate and travel to save the woman he has the hots for, cleaning up the mess on the way - once and for all. Blinx himself is armed with a strange weapon that looks a little like a pocket watch that he keeps on his back - this Timesweeper is your key tool in dealing with the evils of the game. With a pull of the right trigger, you can suck in trash and store it; some of this stuff is worth a good amount of gold. Of course, if you tap the right trigger you fire the object you have stored at the enemy you're facing. Some enemies take more than one lump of trash to dispose of.
But that's not where the game gets interesting; Blinx introduces the factor of time into the mix. Collect certain combinations of time crystals and you can gain something called a time control. You can carry only 3 of these events at the start of the game, but later on you can buy more control slots at the stage shop. The manual comes with a list of the crystal combos so you're not left experimenting and wasting valuable resources. Back to the combos, for instance, collect 3 crescent moons and any other crystal and you get a pause. If you collect 4 of them, you get twice the amount. Easy huh? With the controls, you hit B, choose the one you want and then let it go.
Pause, rewind, fast forward are a few of the controls in the game and they can be used to access areas that you could not normally get to. For instance, hit rewind and that bridge that you saw collapse will reform for a short amount of time allowing you to safely cross - usually finding a secret or getting a pile of hidden time crystals. Especially useful are the handy dandy Retry hearts that allow you to rewind to the point before you died, giving you an edge on knowing what's coming next. Fans of the Matrix are sure to love this game's wicked take on time controls. Find a boss fight too hard, well just slow him down, or even use pause - you still move at normal speed and can lay the smack down while he has to remain in frozen time. Neo eat your heart out mate!
This all adds up to a more tactical game, since you can stock up with the controls you know you should be able to use. And I'll warn you now, some bosses can only be taken down if you use the right control. Record will allow you to sample a small moment in time and play it back, while you actually sneak behind a boss and shoot him in the back. It's tricks like this that really do rock. With a good number of levels and the ability to go back to previously played levels and stages, this game has it all for the gameplay - you can collect more gold, and certain monsters guard more valuable items - do you want to use it as a weapon or do you want to escape the level carrying it? If you do you'll end up exchanging it for more gold. This allows you to buy retries, bombs, and new Sweepers - which have even more suction power. Some heavy weights block early levels and I guess behind them are even more elusive secrets to unlock.
There are cat medals to find in most of the levels, some require the use of the rewind time control and if you get them all, you'll unlock a cool feature or bonus item.
Now to talk about the sound, before I talk more about the graphics of the game in detail - all Sonics in Blinx are top notch, and the whole game really does have some boppy tunes while you play. The central character himself has some humorous noises as he bounds around the levels, with no regard for his own safety. Spot effects are excellent and you can often use the audio of the monsters 'boing' as a good locator for where they are. There's not much more I can say about the sound, apart from the odd language they speak in the cutscenes - which adds more to the game than it takes away from it.
Now, graphically, Blinx is one of those shiny games that really appeal to both young and old gamers. Kids are going to love the big colourful characters and the attention to detail in the levels themselves is great. The water effects are gorgeous and the textures and lighting truly showcase the game's engine to a great degree. It flashes by at a fair lick of pace and we encountered no frame rate drops at all. The sfx that kick in when you use a time control are great, the screen blurs, changes colour and you know that something's going on. It only lasts a short while though before a timer returns you to the real time.
The level of animation in the game is consistent with a good platformer and if you look closely at Blinx's Sweeper you'll see the small clock face on it, complete with rotating hands. There's a lot to explore in this game, and with the use of the various time controls it's going to take a while to find out all the secrets - I like it because it offers a new innovation and a strategic element to a platformer that's not often seen in other games of this type. A refreshing change and definitely a welcome one, the road's clear ahead for the Timesweeper and I'll be watching to see how many other games attempt to implement this kind of trick, or something similar.