There's a law of writing about games that is never broken. If you ever say any game is the first to do anything, somebody in the comments will sniffily point out that you're wrong, citing something that came out on the Amstrad or similar in eighties, and questioning whether you should be allowed to review games.
"This is the first time gaming has seen a sentient mountain ride a unicorn to defend the concept of lateness," you find yourself confidently typing. "Well, actually," someone retorts, "I think you'll find that Super Mounticorn LX did that on the Tatung Einstein in 1984."
Never did this happen more often than after Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. When Jordan Mechner's reinvention of the series came out in 2003, there was nary a mention of the game that wasn't accompanied by, "Well, actually, I think you'll find Blinx did it first." The idea for the Prince's time-manipulation abilities came to one of the game's producers while they were in the shower, but according to the internet the seed for such things must have come from the third-person adventures of a time-travelling cat.
I'd never played Blinx. I had quite a few people tell me off for not knowing about it in 2003, but their snooty-nosed ways only put me off finding out (especially when it was Kieron Gillen). Recently, I decided it was time.
Wow, Blinx is awful.
Its awfulness is multifaceted, too. Strip away the concept, the gimmicks and the presentation, and just look at the platform game, and at its core it's a dreadful, broken piece of old plop.
The premise is pleasingly bonkers. You've got a race of anthropomorphic cat people (always a good start), who spend their days visiting planets at various points in time to prevent their being taken over by monsters. Monsters that grow from dropped time crystals. Crystals they must collect. They make their money by, um, "selling time to other worlds". But oh dear me no, planet B1Q64 is in a terrible state. It's falling apart, populated with monsters, and all the time cats are being brought home. Except for brave Blinx, who decides to single-handedly save the disappointingly named planet.
So it's up to you to clear each level of its occupying beasties, gather as much gold as you can find, and then leave. And that's it. There's nothing more to the story. No sense of progression through a narrative. The closest you get to anything feeling like it's changing are the upgrades you can buy from the betwixt-level shops.
It's clearly laid out as a series of disconnected challenges. The game is divided into thematic chunks of groups of three levels and a boss, each designed to be tackled repeatedly in the hunt for hidden tokens and best times. And instead of multiple weapons and ammunition, Blinx has something called a Time Sweeper. This looks a bit like a metal detector and a vacuum cleaner had a baby, letting him hoover up "trash" in the world, then fire it back at the Time Monsters to attack them. And it works this well: none.
It's a nice idea - a weapon that relies on finding world objects to use as ammo. Imagine if you could aim it. But you can't! There's no way to choose at what you'll fire. Instead you just point Blinx toward something and hope he won't decide to shoot something else behind him. I wish I was exaggerating. At the game's whim, Blinx will not shoot the enemy that's about to kill him, but instead an inanimate object diagonally behind his shoulder. Perhaps he'll decide to attack the unaware enemy at a right-angle to where he's facing, so the monster an inch away from his face can get on with killing him. Gosh, it's so much fun!
The platforming is ghastly, made worse by a malevolent camera that seems to have been designed to point in the opposite direction to anything you need to see. Midway through attacking an enemy it will literally swing around 180 degrees to face nothing at all. Jumping across gaps is pure luck. And re-angling the camera for yourself is a giant pain, since the controls to do so are set to the wrong direction, with no option to switch them over. It's like when a platform game reverses your controls, but for the entire game.
Getting killed is common, too. Most games, when starting a level, will offer the character their health. But not Blinx. If he's at death's door, he stays at death's door until you either buy some more health at great expense or manage to collect the time crystals necessary to get an extra heart. Otherwise you just restart the level with nothing, again and again. Which brings me smoothly into discussing the game's most wantonly stupid feature: those time crystals.
Blinx has a number of time controls at his disposal. He can pause, slow, rewind, fast-forward and record. The first two are self explanatory. Rewind lets you reverse time where an object has fallen, perhaps temporarily rebuilding a bridge. Fast-forward gives you a brief protective shield, and lets you complete a part of a level in less time, if you're chasing such things. Record lets you play for a few seconds and then rewind to the point where you started, and where the recorded version of Blinx will repeat the action as you get on with something else.
None of those is a bad thing! Gosh - can you imagine how much fun a platform game would be with such powers? Except Blinx seems to go out of its way to ensure you won't.
To acquire the ability to do one of these things, you must first gather at least three correspondingly colour-coded time crystals. You have four slots, so either get four of the same for two of the power, or fill the fourth slot with a disposed random. Pick up three different crystals, or two and two, and you've wasted the lot. In fact, pick up three different ones and you have to waste a fourth to clear the slots.
While occasionally the game will drop necessary crystals for a particular task near its location, that's no guarantee you'll be able to use them. Picking crystals up occurs when you walk over them, and since they splash out all over the place when you kill an enemy, it's impossible not to gather those you're not after accidentally. Because health is included in this muddle, in the form of another heart-shaped RETRY Crystal, you're inevitably searching for those and then screaming in frustration as you walk over the completely pointless bountiful supply of purple RECs.
Then it turns out you needed those RECs to open the nearby door, but you lost them because two of them clogged up your attempt to get a RETRY, so now you have to backtrack to find more bloody REC crystals. And if there aren't any? You have to restart the entire level. Although, if you're backtracking, the chances are you'll be restarting anyway, because for absolutely no reason whatsoever, the damned thing only gives you 10 minutes for each level. Exceed that and you're dumped back at the start, forced to repeat everything yet again. Oh, it's so miserable.
It looks lovely, as it happens. But there's no intelligence here. The monsters are frequently the exact same colour as the backgrounds, so you don't know they're there until they've killed you. And the enemy design is often inspired. It's hard not to enjoy the sight of a land-flopping giant green fish with outer space in its mouth. Until the game arses up and gets you killed, and you have to fight it for a third time and you hate it hate it hate it.
So that's Blinx then. A game that truly deserves to be forgotten forever, thus giving Prince of Persia the position as being the first action-adventure with time manipulation that it deserves.
Let forth the slew of comments pointing out the action-adventures that included time manipulation before Blinx.