Blinx is back, and this time around, he and his time mastering feline companions aren't alone in their quests, as new to Blinx 2: Masters of Time and Space is the ability to also control the Hogs of the Tom Tom Gang, which are, as you may have guessed, masters of space. With this new twist to the gameplay, amongst other enhancements, MSGames hope to deliver this series into the realms of "best platformer" for the Xbox, but has it got what it takes?
Blinx 2 is all about control, first of which is time control, basically equating to abilities such as modifying time with all your standard remote control functions (rewind, pause, slow etc), and secondly perhaps the more unique space controls, such as the ability to utilize black holes and clones of yourself, amongst others. Basically, the time elements are given to the Time Sweepers (the Cats), and the space elements are given to the Tom Tom Gang (the Hogs), and you control both sides in their quest for Time Crystals, which happen to be scattered throughout various crazy worlds. The reason for this is integral to the storyline, so it is perhaps best left at that - even if you're playing it, all you really need to know is what needs to be done mission to mission and the storyline will unravel itself. These two factions are not friendly towards each other however, and they both want the same crystals, so being able to control both sides certainly adds a unique spin to the title, and gives a complete, rather than lop sided, story.
As the Time Sweepers, the game is probably at its best. Rather than a simple gun system, you can use your character's "time sweeper" (i.e. souped up vacuum cleaner) and pick up items ranging from time bombs to spare tyres, which can then be launched at enemies and structures throughout the levels. The "sweeper" is hardly the toughest weapon out, in fact it makes them look like a bunch of pussies (haw haw), but as the game quickly shows, they can be mean machines as well. As the Tom Tom Gang, stealth is your main attack with (usually) silent guns and other sneak tactics at your disposal. This is certainly where the game is at its most ordinary, as even though the "space" controls are on hand, not much else can be said for the game's originality under Tom Tom Gang control. The good thing is, you can at least use the space controls at will, the time controls only seem useful where scripted - for example, as a Time Sweeper, rather than dieing, it will rewind time before your character's fatality and let you continue on a different path.
Throughout most of the game, you will be using your time and space abilities to solve puzzles, ranging from environmental puzzles such as levers and buttons, to more real time puzzles, such as moving guards and security systems. While there are beatable enemies throughout the game, usually referred to as "Time Monsters", these are secondary elements that basically serve one purpose - to provide powerups for your time/space controls once killed. This is obviously the case as often they will respawn in key areas which just so happen to require these powerups, such as a collapsed bridge needing the "rewind" time control to rewind time before it fell. These enemies are often very easy to kill and don't offer much of a challenge, however, you will encounter boss enemies which are much more difficult and meaningful, although still not overly challenging.
Unfortunately, as opposed to what the game's marketing might have you believe, this isn't a matter of "full" time and space control. Don't worry, you will be using these functions a lot during the game, but the thing is, the game basically tells you what to do, and how to do it, whether it be in the form of an obvious hint from HQ, or as blatant as a popup message from the game itself detailing everything you need to do. I can see why this was done - to avoid frustration in confusing areas where it isn't obvious what function is needed for use - but in doing so, they have certainly sacrificed a significant amount of lasting ability and freshness - this is the type of game you don't need a walkthrough for. This wouldn't be so bad if the gameplay was a little less linear with these hints only representing one method of completion, but alas that isn't so. Funnily enough, most objectives have two or more ways of successful completion, but since these usually have absolutely nothing to do with each other, the game shamelessly lets you know both in detail before hand - in other words, it doesn't just tell you what the goal is, it tells you each way to do it. This does manage to slightly randomize your actual playing path, but it doesn't do enough to add variety to the game - in fact, since most objectives have more than one method of completion, it simply makes it easier to just run around the somewhat small levels and blindly winging missions without really doing anything beyond running, killing enemies and collecting powerups - although even doing this can't evade the game's intrusive "hint" system, which is practically triggered by every single event in the game.
On the plus side, character customization is a big part of Blinx 2 and it is executed well. You can change just about everything involving the appearance of your characters on both the Time Sweeper and Tom Tom Gang sides. This can be done in all game modes, which includes the Story mode and VS mode. Story mode is, of course, the game's primary mode and also features Co-Op play for those looking to expand the story mode beyond the one controllable character. This is executed as expected and does offer a reasonably enjoyable experience for both gamers. VS mode isn't so great though, it is basically up to 4 players on the one console battling it out in a game that was really designed more for puzzles and not real time combat. There is no doubt the story mode is the best mode of player on offer here. On top of the visual customizations, during the story mode you can access your HQ's shop and purchase powerups and new weapons etc, further emphasising the game's customization ability.
Visually, Blinx 2 is reasonably impressive. Of course, being a platform title, Blinx 2 features the standard use of 'cartoony' graphics and while this is often associated with lower quality graphics, that is not the case here. The environments are particularly impressive, with the lighting and texturing aspects being the key contributors. It's not necessarily the best looking platform title on the Xbox, but it is certainly well up there on the list. Control wise, the game is reasonably standard - left analog stick to move, right analog stick to move the camera, with the D-Pad used for highlighting on screen specials (such as the time and space controls), and the rest of the buttons used appropriately. This isn't a spectacular control system, but then again it isn't really lacking either. Perhaps the only complaint is the constant need to re-adjust the camera - full control is great but maybe the game could have used a bit more inbuilt control rather than seemingly leaving it mostly up to the gamer to worry about.
Blinx 2: Masters of Time and Space is not going to win any awards for its excellence - not as a general Xbox game nor a member of the platform genre, but it will manage to keep fans of the series/genre occupied. While the gameplay is well supplemented with the ability to control time and space in certain aspects, the problem is these aspects are too scripted, and even when the game isn't telling you exactly what to do and how to do it, it is still too obvious what works where, basically creating predictable and unimaginative gameplay - and seeing as the game probably relies on puzzles more than real time action, this is its major downfall. As mentioned, it is more than capable of being enjoyed by fans of the series or easy to please (perhaps younger) platform/puzzle gamers, but it doesn't go much beyond that.
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