Retrospective: Blinx The Time Sweeper--Microsoft's Old "4D" Platformer
“Time is like a Treasure. Use each gem of it wisely..” (from Guest Writer Moon Man Jeopardy)
A while back, if you remember, I made an article about Phantom Dust, in which I had mentioned one of the reasons it was made was due to Microsoft trying to break into the Japanese game market at the time. I also mentioned that Phantom Dust was showcased alongside Blinx 2.
As a kid, I always wanted the first game ever since I saw it on the demo files on games like Mech Assault 2. But because of my parents having very little money at the time and the game never being in stock at my local game store I never got to play it. It was always in the back of my mind and I remember watching old videos of people playing it or the demo trailer. Eventually, I got older and moved on, until one day in a retro game shop I went to had a copy and reignited my interest in this wonderful game.
With the arrival of Microsoft’s Xbox in 2001, they realized it was a lot harder to get into Japan’s market with titles oriented to their western audiences. So Microsoft Got Artoon to get to work on a fresh IP as well as potentially making them an official mascot.
So Let’s get into the game and what makes it special…..
Blinx the Time Sweeper is a 3d platforming game released in 2002 developed by Artoon, and published by Microsoft. The plot of the game follows Blinx, who is a rookie Time Sweeper who runs headfirst into a closing portal to a world being shut off from the Time Factory after a group of pirate pigs known as the Tom Tom Gang are raiding that world for it’s time, Causing monsters to pop up from their sloppy raid to try. Our hero decides he will be there to clean up their mess and save a princess that was captured by their leader Benito.
The game boasts being the first “4D” platformer as the fourth dimension indicates the mechanic of Time based powers. You go into each level having to eliminate the various time monsters in the level before you can progress with Blinx’s Vacuum gun that can suck up objects to shoot at the enemies under a time limit, and at the end of a world you must fight a boss. When you take damage you lose one of your lives for the level, rewinding you back to a moment where you are safe, usually not too far from where you took damage. When you lose all of your lives you are sent back to the level select and are given a chance to try again.
You start out with 3 lives, but can upgrade how many lives you have at the shops in each world. You can also find lives around the level to replenish your lost ones. You will also sometimes run into a Tom Tom in the level and have to fight them as they will steal gold and time crystals from the level, and will attack you if they see you. They have high health and will usually run away shortly after arriving so it is recommended to try to deal with them as quickly as possible. There are also parts of the level where you can use time powers to traverse them, such as rewinding time on a collapsed gate to pass through or recording a duplicate of Blinx to stand on a lever to give you enough time to go through a door.
You are also equipped with the ability to hold a certain amount of Time abilities that you can use throughout the levels. You have access to abilities such as Pause, Fast forward, Record, Slow, and Rewind. You obtain these power-ups by picking up time crystals for each respective power, having to match at least 3 of the four crystal slots to get one of that power up, and getting four crystal grants you two uses of that power up.
You also can find gold in the levels to use at shops that are in each world, buying a better vacuum gun, health upgrades, and even nice little outfits that Blinx can wear. Your starting vacuum gun can only hold 5 small items, so you will want to upgrade when you have enough gold to spend on better vacuums, as they come in many varieties whether being able to suck up things faster or sucking up bigger objects to even having more spaces to suck up objects as a lot of little nooks and crannies are hidden away by bigger objects, such as more gold, the collectible tokens, or even time crystal for some abilities you might need to use.
The game while having a fun and unique concept for the time certainly had a fair share of issues. The game ramps up in difficulty both in a good way and a bad way. The good being the game throws more challenges and level mechanics, the bad being that the platforming isn’t always fun or accurate, as well as the camera controls being sometimes unresponsive or counter productive. Some levels are a blast, while some you feel more relieved to have scraped by. Sometimes enemies feel as though they are either too easy or frustrating with their behavior often leading to frustration when you lose a life and have to go back in progress. The final boss is the ultimate example of this, being a hellish gauntlet that starts you all the way from the beginning if you lose no matter what phase you have gotten to.
When the game released it received mediocre reviews from most game journalists. It also received a sequel in 2004 Blinx 2: Masters of Time and Space, Though the game brought a lot of changes, such as being able to play and customize your own Time Sweeper and Tom Tom characters in their own campaigns the series ended there, Which is a story for another time.
With all of that in consideration, the game is still a fun experience that I’d recommend trying. If you can get an old Xbox and a cheap copy of the game go support your local retro game store. You can also play the game on the Xbox cloud service on pc, though there can be a lot of desync and screen tearing on the game at times.
I’d love to see a new game in the franchise maybe using the mechanics of both games in a multiplayer setting, perhaps a competitive monster hunting game where teams go race to defeat more time monsters than the other using time powers to fight the monster or sabotage the opposing players. Maybe even a cooperative game where you and some friends have to complete levels together similar to It Takes Two. Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t seem to be interested at this time, so maybe some bright-eyed developer can take a stab at it in the future? I enjoy being able to look back at these older games and share my interests with others, as these bring back memories of good times to me, and to quote the opening of the game; “Time is like a Treasure. Use each gem of it wisely..”