Ex-Sonic Team Presents...?
It's been obvious to me that Sonic Team have been slowly moving in a direction
away from what initially made them great. Sonic Adventure 2 probably being
the best example of this. Shortly after SA2 was released, I discovered the
reason for this... Naoto Oshima, Sonic's original artist and assistant in level
design had left Sonic Team shortly after the completion of the first Sonic
Adventure. Apparently, Oshima had wanted to create and head his own small
software company. Thus, Artoon was born.
So what's a "Time Sweeper"?
A Time Sweeper's job is to maintain temporal flow and stability, or in other
words: clean up time (yep, a janitor). According to this universe, there is
an entire corporation comprised of anthropomorphic cats who keep track of time
in all dimensions and worlds. If time is wasted, it becomes small crystals and
if too many crystals coagulate they transform into time-monsters. The time
sweepers run small reconnaissance missions in each world to keep time flowing
neatly. That is, until a thieving band of pigs named the Tom-Tom Gang
infiltrate the temporal flow in world B1Q64, stealing the crystals to sell on
the black market. The number of crystals stolen breaks all records and the
result is all that wasted time starts to form huge monsters. The Time Factory
has no choice but to cut off time to that world. Blinx doesn't agree with this
and decides to rescue this world all by himself.
A Temporal Paradox
Blinx's playmechanics focus around our hero's ability to manipulate the
flow of time. Armed with his trusty Time Vacuum, Blinx must clear out all of
the resulting time monsters and restore temporal cohesion. In each stage,
various occurrences and obstacles need to be temporally adjusted in order to
proceed past them. For example: a bridge in front of you will collapse before
you get a chance to cross it and the resulting gap will be too far for Blinx to
jump. In this case, there are two options open to you, either use a Pause and
stop time completely or let the bridge collapse and then use a Rewind to
reverse the temporal effect. As one progresses through the game, the need to
use multiple time manipulations in succession becomes necessary to reach the
goal-portal at the end of each level. This is eased somewhat by the fact that
you can carry time-manipulations between levels (not to mention you can buy
slots to hold more of them at the various stores). You need to collect 3 time
jewels of the same kind (for instance, 3 orange octahedrons and any other jewels
for a Fast-Forward) to gain one time manipulation while grabbing 4 of the same
kind will give you two. Some time jewels are naturally strewn around the levels
while others can be had from destroying time monsters.
Time monsters are Blinx's other concern. Each one must be destroyed in order
for the warp gate (the goal) to open. The time vacuum can suck up items such
as flowerpots, benches and barrels to use as ammo against the many miscreants
littering the different stages. In the first few stages, all the enemies only
take one hit, but upon reaching level 3, many of them require multiple attacks
to destroy. Another aspect that I should mention is that Blinx's Time Vacuum
can only hold 5 items at the onset (with the ability to hold 10 after you buy
a power-up). When confronting multiple enemies, this starts to become a
Speaking of levels, there are 3 in each stage (8 stages in all, not including
the final boss) with a fourth being strictly for a boss (Sonic Team, take note,
this is how Sonic Adventure 3 should be). Between levels 2 and 3 of each stage
is a store where Blinx can buy upgrades to his health, his Time Vacuum and even
some new clothes (I'm currently running around each stage wearing biker-boots, a
black leather jacket and desert-camo pants... armed with a violet time vacuum...
yeah.. go fig). Caveat Emptor, (Let the buyer beware) when you buy something
like a new outfit or a new vacuum at the store, you instantly hand over your old
one. This got on my nerves a bit... As later on in the game I had to buy a water
vacuum (level 2) to get the two Cat Medals I was missing in stage 2-1. This
meant giving up my level 3 vacuum which I then had to buy back after I had picked
up the secret items in question. Oh yeah, the Cat Medals are the superfluous
secret hidden items in this game. Every time you collect so many (the number
keeps going up each time), you open up a special comedy cinema that can be viewed
in the collection room. There are 80 Cat Medals total, although there are more
than 10 cinemas to unlock.
One last thing, unlike many other games, Blinx's health isn't simply how much
damage he can take... it's how many times he can go back and try something
again. Each time you are hit, Blinx dies, but his time vacuum completely
rewinds time and the events that lead up to him being hit. This may sound
like a "Rewind", but it isn't (if you hit an enemy during a Rewind, it takes
the hit), its a "Retry" (if you hit something, the damage is completely removed
as your item will be sucked back into your time vacuum). This doesn’t seem
like much at first, but it becomes incredibly important during boss battles
where your ammo is often limited and taking a hit roughly at the same time as
the boss means you lose the damage you just did to him.
Piloting your Time-Sweeper.
Now, for everyone's favourite subject: Play-control. I might add that this seems
to be a big factor with many players as there's tons of argument over Microsoft's
pad designs. First off, the game only uses 3 primary buttons (one for jump, one
for vacuum/attack and one to bring up the time manipulation menu), so switching
between either the US or Japanese-style pads isn't in issue (I played with both
and didn't have any difficulty). Other than that, you use the left analog stick
to control Blinx and move through the various menus. This is very welcome after
playing some of the football games on the system (which require you to use
practically every button and stick/pad), as a simpler control-scheme equals quicker
intuitive play. Although, there is one slight problem I have here: Blinx has a
tendency to strafe when you don't want him to. Many times I found myself jumping
to correct his direction because he was aiming at the last enemy I killed instead
of the other enemy that I now wanted to focus on.
In this respect, its very easy to tell that this game was programmed by members
of Sonic Team. Very lush and colourful textures cover the backgrounds while
solid colours coat the various enemies. Blinx, himself, is fantastically
detailed, having a very fuzzy appearance as well as reflective goggle-rims and
boot-tips. Using the time-manipulations causes everything to be blanketed in
a monochromatic hue of red, purple, yellow, green or blue depending on which one
is used. One small thing I'd like to point out though (and I'm not necessarily
complaining here, mind you) is that many of the objects in the game have a very
plastic appearance (there's often too great a shine along creases and such).
This really stands out with Blinx's sweater, which almost looks like its made of
rubber. Other effects such as sand and lava look pretty good though. Water is
a totally different story: it splashes and ripples with frightening reality
(perhaps one of the coolest effect is using a Pause and then plowing through
a river, leaving a spread wake which immediately "heals" once the temporal effect
wears off). One thing that I'm not too crazy on though is the over-abundant use
of focal proxemics: if Blinx is too close to the camera, especially in replays,
he fuzzes as the camera focuses somewhere in the middle of the visible play-area.
It just sorta erks me because its too artificial (real cameras don't de-focus that
Just like the graphics, the music is very Sonic Team (probably because Naofumi
Hataya of Mega CD Sonic CD fame helped out with the composition): plenty of
up-beat, bouncy techno/rock. Its non-intrusive and you'll probably find yourself
humming along to it after a level or two. Even the between-level music is pleasing
to listen to. As for sound FX, well, I'm sure you've all heard what a
vacuum-cleaner sounds like, and Blinx's sounds the same. The enemies themselves
don't make much noise though, which is in-line with many of Sonic Team's games.
Blinx and his fellow feline compatriots speak their own language which sounds sorta
like Czech spoken underwater. Weird, yes, but I never grew tired of hearing him
yell "Hei Y'Pah!" at the end of each stage.
I'm rather pleased to hear that Blinx has officially been made the X-Box's mascot
in Japan as he has the right stuff to stand next to the likes of Sonic, Mario,
Crash and countless others. Hopefully he won't go un-noticed in the US. Although
lets face it, in the States, he's not entirely the image that Microsoft want to
So, when compared to the current work of the company he left, Oshima's newest
contribution to the world of furry-game characters leaves me very impressed. I can
only hope that Artoon continue to seek classic play-styles mixed with current
technology. I guess we'll find out when Blinx 2 comes out in a about a year or so.