Fast cat in a cramped Xbox world

Tuesday, November 5, 2002

My first reaction to "Blinx: The Time Sweeper," an ambitious action game exclusive to the Xbox, is that it feels almost claustrophobic.

I can't give you a full review yet. "Blinx" has the hallmarks of quality, including a sensible, generally intuitive beginning that will pique your interest. But I haven't had a chance to play deeper and evaluate the more complex challenges.

This much is immediately clear: In contrast to so many games that feature a vast, free-roaming environment, "Blinx" starts you off with the need to think quickly while navigating some relatively tight spaces. That felt uncomfortable, if not unfair.

The game is fast-paced, but it has a number of clever ingredients that allow Blinx the cat -- the character you're controlling -- to manipulate the sense of time. For instance, Blinx can rewind an experience and try it again, succeeding where he previously failed. Or he can pause the threatening action around him while he continues moving, and completing tasks, at a normal pace.

A couple of years ago, I would have been awestruck by the game's sophistication. Instead, "Blinx" made me feel hemmed in. I've gotten used to video-game adventures that unfold halfway toward a horizon instead of in a visually chaotic room. Give me a virtual world I can explore, not one in which I'm constantly trying to avoid being cornered.

The Xbox is desperately in need of must-have games. "Blinx" doesn't strike me as quite that special, but it does have a distinctive personality. If you like a mad-dash sensation combined with multi-tasking -- in other words, bopping monsters and dodging dangers while collecting the objects that give you time control -- "Blinx" represents a solid addition to the Xbox lineup.

Though it seems out of sync with the more elastic nature of other innovative action games, "Blinx" has the zest of a solid three-star game. As I advance through it, I'll report back.

Perspective, please:

Once again, there's a lot of hubbub about upcoming, mature-rated games with adult content -- either lewd or violent -- that inevitably will tempt adolescents. A game with a "mature" designation is supposed to be for individuals 17 and older.

But the games provoking most of the furor, including the strangely risque bicycle-stunt game "BMX XXX," are aberrations, not symbols of a prevailing shift in video-game development. Mainstream sports titles and a sprawling variety of action games for all ages are the norm.

Yes, grown-ups have become crucial to the game market. That's a familiar demographic evolution in pop culture. Comic books, for instance, have been transformed by adult consumers. The result is that comics retain a lot of eye appeal for children, but very little appropriateness. The same tilt is increasingly obvious in animation.

Not so with video games. There's an enormous quantity of genuinely kid-safe material. Worry all you want that the games generating controversy are the start of a trend. But that's a worst-case scenario at this point.

WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR:

"Batman: Dark Tomorrow," among the more anticipated game releases for the end of this year, has been delayed by its Japanese-based publisher, Kemco, until early next year. It had been scheduled to arrive in early November for PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox.

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