Monday, October 8, 2012

Third Rate Game Play: Blinx: The Time Sweeper

Game: Blinx: The Time Sweeper

System: Xbox

Developer: Artoon (Pinobee)

Publisher: Microsoft

Player: Tony

Experience: Had played briefly once before

Over a decade ago, Microsoft entered the gaming industry with the Xbox, and in that generation of gaming, the company attempted to create a variety of new IPs with the help of multiple developers worldwide.  While Halo was providing a great base for first person shooter fans and western gamers, Microsoft needed to create a mascot that would be seen as less violent and more marketable.  Where Nintendo had Mario, Sega had Sonic, and Namco had Pac-Man, Microsoft would have Blinx: The Time Sweeper.

Blinx: The Time Sweeper was developed by Japanese company Artoon, headed by Naoto Oshima, one of the founders of Sonic the Hedgehog.  Oshima started development within Sega as far back as 1988 with Kujaku-O (known as Spellcaster in the US), an adventure title based on the manga Spirit Warrior.  After designing The Last Battle and Phantasy Star II, Oshima, along with Hirokazu Yasuhara and Yuji Naka, would produce Sega’s big mascot adventure: Sonic the Hedgehog.  While Oshima worked on the character design, Yasuhara worked on the game design and Naka developed the programming behind it.  After Sonic became a big hit, Naka and Yasuhara left to work on Sonic the Hedgehog 2 with Sega Technical Institute, and Oshima remained with Sega’s Japanese Sonic Team to work on a new title for the Sega CD: Sonic CD.  Under Sonic Team, Oshima continued to direct while Naka led as Producer, spanning across such games as NiGHTS into Dreams and Burning Rangers for the Sega Saturn.  By 1999, however, Oshima was finding himself disinterested in Sonic Team’s direction, and after his roles in Sonic Adventure, he left the company to form Artoon on August 27, 1999.

Artoon would begin its development history with Pinobee: Wings of Adventure (published by Activision) for the GameBoy Advance in 2001.  Pinobee is a robotic bee built to protect the world, and his dash attacks and other abilities are all upgradable within the game’s multiple worlds.  Pinobee would see a rerelease on PlayStation in 2002, and a Japan-only sequel was developed, Pinobee and Phoebee.  While Artoon was working on advancing the Pinobee franchise, it was working alongside Microsoft on developing Blinx: The Time Sweeper.

Microsoft Game Studios was the game publisher branding for Microsoft as of July 2002.  Microsoft itself was founded by Paul Allen and Bill Gates in 1975, initially selling BASIC interpreters for the Altair 8800.  Microsoft would become famous for the development of MS-DOS and subsequently the development of Windows, which debuted November 1984.  Over time, Windows and Microsoft Office have held a majority share in both OS and office software markets.  Microsoft’s first published PC title (from MobyGames) would be 1979’s Microsoft Adventure, a Softwin Associates-developed computer port of the adventure game Colossal Cave.  Other major titles include the Microsoft Flight Simulator series debuted in 1982, the hit puzzle game Minesweeper, released in 1992, and Ensemble Studios’ Age of Empires in 1997.

Microsoft began its venture into console development with the creation of the Xbox, which launched stateside in 2001.  Development began in 1998 when Kevin Bachus, Seamus Blackley, Ted Hase and Otto Berkes from the DirectX team began to develop a video game console based on PC equipment.  With the help of Ed Fries, head of Microsoft’s game publishing division, the “DirectX Box,” later renamed to Xbox, would be developed and eventually unveiled at GDC 2000.  In order to bring more attention to the high-end console, Microsoft acquired Bungie Software in June that year.  At the same time, Microsoft would move on to publish games exclusive to the Xbox from multiple software developers.  These include Oddworld: Munch’s Odyssey by Oddworld Inhabitants, Project Gotham Racing by Bizarre Creations, Amped: Freestyle Snowboard by Indie Built, Fusion Frenzy by Blitz Games, and Azurik: Rise of Perathia by Adrenium Games.

In 2002, while Blinx and other major titles were in development, Microsoft formed Microsoft Game Studios.  From here, Microsoft Game Studios would handle all publishing and distribution for the Xbox.

Blinx is a cat on a mission to fix glitches in time. With the aid of his trusty and powerful Time Sweeper, Blinx must recover lost time crystals, fight Time Monsters, and ultimately rescue a kidnapped princess. Visit nearly 40 levels in warped-reality worlds inspired by Venice, canyons, caves, ancient ruins, and even the works of artist MC Escher. You can also buy gear and power-ups, which enhance gameplay performance, or you can purchase enhanced versions of the Time Sweeper.
What's most important is gameplay. Gameplay, gameplay, gameplay. It all starts with the gameplay and the game design. Once we have that where we have the basic concept of what sort of play is going to be involved, from there comes the character design, the world design and the environment….With Blinx when I first created the character, I was looking for a character that would appeal to the Japanese market. At that point, we still had a lot of hopes for the Japanese market. While Blinx isn't totally American, in Blinx 1, the character is very, very cute. The way I made the character appeal to the Japanese market was by adding lots and lots of detail. With Blinx 1, the fur was super detailed.
~Naoto Oshima (about creating Blinx), Director, Artoon [1UP]

Blinx: The Time Sweeper is a platforming adventure title with time-manipulation elements playing a major role.  Players assume the role of Blinx, and cat who lives in the Time Factory, a land existing outside of the realm of time.  In fact, the Time Factory and its inhabitants are tasked with providing time crystals to multiple worlds across the universe to allow their occupants to live on happily.  When things go awry, the time crystals can become monsters, but thankfully Time Sweepers can work at defeating said monsters and maintaining order in every world.  When dimension B1Q64 is attacked by the pig Tom-Tom gang, however, things go terribly wrong; as the gang proceeds to gather as many time crystals as they can, monsters grow and emerge en masse, threatening to destroy the land and spread to other worlds.  Before the Time Sweepers can cut off the link to the Time Factory, Blinx jumps into B1Q64’s warp tunnel, aimed to save the world and earn the world's Princess’ affection in the process.

The game is a slow-paced platformer with time-based puzzles incorporated into each level.  The purposes of each stage is for Blinx to defeat each of the monsters present in the area before exiting through a portal at the end.  At times, members of the Tom-Tom gang will emerge to attack Blinx, as well.  In order for Blinx to harm either Tom-Tom or monster, he has to suck in random items into his vacuum, the TS-1000, and shoot the debris back at them to cause damage.  While traversing around each level, there may be landmarks which collapse or shift out of reach for Blinx to reach, and sometimes enemies or markers may be too hard to defeat in real-time.  Thankfully, Blinx can acquire Time Powers by obtaining at least three similar Time Crystals out of four collected at a time.  These powers range from rewinding the world around Blinx to recording a copy of himself to assist him in puzzles and battles alike.  At the end of each level, what Blinx has collected gives him money to spend in a Shop for upgrades later in the game, and players are graded based on time performance, with each level limited to ten minutes.  There are no lives, but rather, Blinx has a set number of Retries which can be increased by gathering three heart Time Crystals in a set of four.  At the end of each Round, Blinx will face off against a large monster reminiscent of smaller monsters fought in the adventure.

After Blinx, Artoon would develop a sequel, Blinx 2: Masters of Time and Space in 2004.  In this sequel, players assume the role of either a Time Sweeper or a Tom Tom, and Blinx and other characters from the predecessor act as secondary characters, assisting players as they attempt to piece together the legendary Big Crystal.  Despite the attempts made to make Blinx a formidable mascot for the Xbox branding, the character failed to garner much clout outside of Japan, where he remained the mascot throughout the lifecycle of the Xbox.  Instead, many adopted Master Chief as the unofficial mascot of Microsoft, and as the company moved forward, he would become Microsoft’s biggest character.

Besides working on Blinx’s sequel, Artoon would begin its development history with Nintendo.  In 2004, the developer created Yoshi: Topsy Turvy, a platforming adventure title in which players can tilt the GameBoy Advance to help Yoshi traverse the world and complete the levels’ special goals.  The game did well enough that a couple years later Artoon would develop another Yoshi title for Nintendo, Yoshi’s Island DS.  The company’s last major title developed for Nintendo was the Wii Remote Plus arcade game FlingSmash which released in 2010.

Artoon’s collaborations expanded beyond just Nintendo and Microsoft.  Artoon would work with Sony on Echoshift, a PSP spinoff of the Game Yarouze-developed Echochrome.  The company also developed Club Penguin: Game Day! on Wii for Disney in 2010.  One of Artoon’s biggest collaborations would come with Mistwalker, the design company headed by Final Fantasy-creator Hironobu Sakaguchi.  These projects include Blue Dragon (published by Microsoft) and Away: Shuffle Dungeon (published by Majesco).

Artoon was busily developing a few more projects when, in 2011, parent company AQ Interactive announced that it would be absorbing Artoon and other development subsidiaries feelplus and Cavia.  While not credited as Artoon-developed, the Nintendo-published and Mistwalker-collaboration project The Last Story was developed by what was mostly Artoon.  Also, while there is no definite proof right now, there is speculation that Artoon was working on the 3DS platformer Cubic Ninja, published by Ubisoft, before being merged into AQ Interactive.

After the merger, AQ Interactive would itself go through a merger with Marvelous Interactive and Liveware to create Marvelous AQL.  Since the merger in October 2011, Marvelous AQL has had one game release in the US – the Nintendo-published and Square Enix-co-developed board game Fortune Street on Wii.  In Japan, the company has developed other games including the female ninja side-scrolling action series Senran Kagura.  Currently, Marvelous AQL project Harvest Moon: A New Beginning will be releasing this November and Rune Factory 4 (developed by Neverland Co.) is expected for a US release at some time, as well.  MAQL is notably working with Keiji Inafune, known for Mega Man and Onimusha, on a number of projects, too, including Soul Sacrifice on the PlayStation Vita and Kaio: King of Pirates for the Nintendo 3DS.

But where was Naoto Oshima in all of this?  Before the merger into AQ Interactive was complete, Oshima left the company with other developers of Artoon to create a new company: Arzest Corporation.  Arzest has worked predominantly with Nintendo since its inception, but the company has yet to release a major release since 2010.  The company’s first works were three games in Wii Play: Motion: Spooky Search, Jump Park, and Cone Zone.  After that, Arzest was behind the development of the 2011 StreetPass Mii Plaza update, including the addition of Find Mii II and improvements to Puzzle Swap and StreetPass Map sections of the program.  We have no information as to what else Arzest is working on.

Microsoft Game Studios has since released a vast library of titles for Xbox, its successor the Xbox 360, Games for Windows, Windows Phone, and downloadable platforms such as Xbox Live Arcade.  Shortly after the release of Blinx, Microsoft acquired Nintendo developer Rareware, and from that developer, Microsoft has published such games as Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Conker: Live and Reloaded, Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo: Elements of Power, the Viva Piñata series, and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts.  More recently, Rare has been behind the development of Avatars and the Kinect Sports series.

More major franchises published my Microsoft include Fable (started in 2004 by Lionhead Studios), Forza Motorsport (started in 2005 by Turn 10 Studios), and Gears of War (started in 2006, an Epic Games property).  As for more specific projects, Microsoft Game Studios has released Kung-Fu Chaos (developed by Just Add Monsters, now Ninja Theory), Voodoo Vince (developed by Beep Industries), MechAssault (developed by Day 1 Studios), Jade Empire and Mass Effect with BioWare, Crackdown (developed by Real Time Worlds, sequel by Ruffian Games), Lips (developed by iNiS), and Kinect Joy Ride (developed by BigPark).  Any independent game released on XBLA and Windows Phone will also be stated as published by Microsoft if they themselves do not have publishing power.

Currently, Microsoft is working heavily on producing new Xbox 360 projects, including Xbox SmartGlass, a multi-device program which allows data from the Xbox 360 to stream onto mobile devices to provide insight on particular game or movie content in real-time.  As for game software, Microsoft Game Studios (now named Microsoft Studios) is headed to publish 343 IndustriesHalo 4, Sumo Digital’s Nike+ Kinect Training, Lionhead Studios’ Fable: The Journey, and Turn 10 and Playground GamesForza Horizon this year.  As for future plans, Microsoft Studios is working with Crytek on Kinect action title Ryse, and People Can Fly (as part of Epic Games) is working on Gears of War: Judgment for early 2013.  Smaller titles to emerge on XBLA by Microsoft include Twisted Pixel’s LocoCycle, Signal Studios’ Ascend: New Gods, and Blind Wink Games’ Matter.  No Blinx sequel has been discussed and with the absorption of Artoon and failure of its first sequel, it can be assumed the series is over.

Having never played many games for Xbox outside of a handful of titles, a good portion of which had Halo in the title, we decided to take a look at the older Xbox catalog, particularly those games which could run on an Xbox 360.  We had seen videos of Blinx: The Time Sweeper, and curiosity got to us…but would it kill us much like the cat?

In this episode, we venture into Blinx’s first two Rounds: Time Square and Déjà vu Canals.  Beforehand, we try to load demos from old Xbox games but quickly find that to fail rather swiftly.  We do not try for high marks, but we do explore where we can with little knowledge on what to do, even after having played it once before.

After having played through two Rounds of Blinx, it is easy to see where it may have lost appeal in the mainstream view.  Blinx is slower in all ways than Mario, whether by gameplay design or technical issues; framerate specifically became a problem throughout the recording.  Meanwhile, the game’s platforming element was not as heavily-focused as in other mascot platformers.  In fact, the game appeared to rely more on attacking monsters rather than making difficult jumps.  The Time Crystal mechanics were used well enough in the rounds we played, but outside of a couple specific moments, the game did not really need time manipulation to complete.  Still, when the time manipulation was used, the effects were acceptable, considering it was an Xbox original.

The style was solid, and the music was active and poppy, which further emphasized the style.  The biggest issue the game had from my perspective was the framerate, which pulled the game into a slow crawl.  Either way, we enjoyed what part of the game we played.

We actually recorded this game back in 2010, just as we were receiving our HD PVR capture device.  We would not receive a full widescreen TV for HD recording for a while longer, so the quality is not exactly the best it could be.  Meanwhile, as we recorded it twice, you might notice an attempt or two to make a joke which did not turn out exactly as anticipated.  It should be mentioned that the first time playing the game, we had issues fighting the second boss for one reason or another.  This was rectified in the recording you see here, thank goodness!

Will we continue Blinx: The Time Sweeper in the future?  If fans are willing to ask us, we will.  The biggest issue in getting it is that Gamefly has such a low supply of the game, it may very well be impossible to obtain again.  Perhaps we will need to acquire it permanently or have it lent to us or something.  Either way, we appreciate any feedback!

3RM Says: So much work to sweep so much time...should
have upgraded to the vacuum. *cough*

No comments:

Post a Comment