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Retrospective: Blinx: The Time Sweeper

Waste of time.

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.

Oh, please fall to your death, you sanctimonious, polo-necked little smug-goblin.

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 Alice In Wonderland levels of creepy.

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!