Developed by Artoon Studios and published by Microsoft, Blinx The Time Sweeper is an original Xbox exclusive in the grandest sense. Released on October 7th, 2002, Blinx symbolizes everything the company wanted to achieve with its first introduction into the home console market. An adorable cat humanoid hybrid, varied platforming stages that are distinct, and a time control mechanic that deeply impacted the overall functionality of the gameplay. All of this combined to produce a title that still stands the test of time, and is a gem of an exclusive to have graced the original Xbox. Blinx is by far a throwback to the great action platformers of the previous generations, most notably on the Nintendo 64, and this in part adds to its charm. Director Naoto Oshima, the lead designer on the legendary Phantasy Star franchise, helmed this wonderful single player.
Under his directorship, Blinx is the perfect culmination of witty level design, vibrant sprite animation, and a storyline that is as whimsical as its protagonist. Such is the grandeur of Blinx that it received the full backward compatibility treatment on the Xbox One with a full visual upscale on April 10th, 2018, nearly 16 years after its initial release. If the original Xbox was known for its direct PC adaptations of Western-style RPGs, Blinx sought to shift that trend and provide the then flagship console of Microsoft its
The game has one of the most charming plot lines of any third person platformer with a wonderfully tailored script by Japanese video game writer Soshi Kawasaki. Expositional wise, the plot unfolds as the titular character, Blinx, a janitor from the outer reaches, uses his TS-1000 vacuum cleaner to maintain the stability of the space-time continuum and provide balance to the fragmented universe. One day during his custodial duties, the majestic Time Crystals are stolen by the malevolent Tom-Tom Gang, a malevolent group of pig-like creatures who are hell-bent on conquering Dimension B1Q64 and its surrounding universe. Thus ensues Blinx quest to recapture the all-important crystals and vanquish this hell-raising gang of pig creatures. Throughout his journey, Blinx comes across a host of NPC’s that are as witty and significant as he is, including the leader of Dimension B1Q64 Princess Lena. Towards the conclusion of the plot, Blinx must enter the final stage using a time portal and rescue Lena before her dimension is destroyed with the power of the time crystals. Rescuing a princess from her captors maybe a platforming cliche but that is not necessarily a bad trait to have. The plot itself is nothing new to the medium but the way in which it unfolds through the gameplay and time manipulation mechanics is what makes this such a unique title on the original Xbox. Artoon studios delivered a work of art that pays tribute to all the great platforming adventures of its predecessors while introducing something that was novel to enhance the key plot points of the story. This is something only the greatest of artists can achieve in a work of pure narrative storytelling.
A total of 10 stages, including 40 sublevels, inhabit the universe of Blinx. Each level is distinct with some featuring German Expressionist backdrops and snow-covered landscapes that add a sense of depth while paying homage to the popular genre. Furthermore, each stage can be altered using the title’s time-altering functionality. For example, if players come across an abundance of enemies on screen, Blinx can slow down the gameplay with the touch of a button making it easier to take out multiple targets with a single touch. Conversely, if during a platforming sequence, players can utilize the fast forward feature to speed up Blinx’s double jump abilities to make reach new heights. Such nuances in gameplay during a time when the platforming genre was dominated by the simplicity of the run and jump functionality of the Mushroom Kingdom was truly novel. Oshima broke new boundaries with this time manipulation schema and is something that came to pervade other genres in the following years. Blinx’s vacuum weapon is a fun way to vanquish enemies on screen although it lacks the accuracy of lock-on targeting that is featured in the Luigi’s Mansion series. This is mainly due to the lack of a second thumbstick control that would have added more precision when locked on to an enemy. A strange misstep by its developers and its absence is greatly felt throughout the entirety of Blinx’s journey.
In terms of difficulty, the game is well balanced and steadily ramps up the intensity as the protagonist progresses through different stages. Around level four is where the importance of the time manipulation mechanic comes into play, and its significance is ever more present. The first three levels are almost a gift to the player, launching pads to show what the game is about and simple romp from the Time Factory location where Blinx works. The game’s balancing is perfectly in line with its plot progression and nothing seems out of place in terms of its difficulty. As the protagonist progresses so does the level of combat and enemy encounters that culminates in intriguing boss battles. Character sprites and animation cells are of the highest caliber with Masamichi Harada leading the design team. The world of Blinx is littered with a lush brush stroke of art that gives the Disney company a run for its money. Blinx is by far one of the most beautiful platformers on the original Xbox and it being featured as a backward compatible title is much deserved in a world now dominated by first-person shooters and mindless annual sports franchises.
Blinx The Time Sweeper is a charming relic of a time when DLC’s and expansion packs were absent from the public conscience of console gaming. Microsoft produced a title that replicated everything that came before it in the genre and yet put forth something that was completely different from the milieu of the medium. If this were anything less, Blinx would be remembered as just another cute cartoonish mascot character who graced the inception of a new system with the hopes of granting the fledgling console a slice of brand name recognition. This, thankfully, is not the case with Artoon Studios’ work. With a colorful cast of characters, distinct world design, and time-altering mechanics, Blinx holds a special place as an Xbox exclusive. What is more amazing is that this product is now playable over a decade after its release and younger audiences can recapture the glory days of this now resurgent genre. Master Chief may have become the mascot for the Xbox system but that does nothing to diminish what this franchise could have been in the years to come. Blinx is as charming and substantive as Sonic or Crash Bandicoot. A shame when one considers what little fan fair the franchise has gotten except for the mediocrity of a mundane sequel. In the end, gamers are left with the joys of being able to revisit this fantastic platformer on their current gen console.