Capers of the Chrono Cat

Someone involved in the development of this game was high; not to advocate the use of drugs, but someone was, frankly, fried out of their gourd. Maybe it was a concept artist, perhaps a graphics programmer, or maybe it was just me. Maybe I was really, really high, and imagining that I was playing a video game about a cat with a vacuum cleaner that can affect time like he was a Prince of Persian Kittens. Or maybe I had developed a terrible brain disorder and it was conjuring up bizarre hallucinations about an anthropomorphic cat playing willy-nilly with the time stream.

Back in 2002, Microsoft tossed their hat into the gaming ring of animals with attitude – it’s required by law that every console do this. The formula entails blending a platform game with a cute animal, and giving him some sort of two-dimensional never-do-well to battle against. Oh, and make the furry hero sassy. So, Blinx is back, and he has sassiness in spades, almost as if he can defeat the Tom Tom Gang with sheer attitude alone. Developers, Artoon, even saw fit to give Blinx 2 the boastful subtitle of Masters of Time & Space. Please bear in mind that this pretentious title involves a cat with a magic vacuum cleaner.

The zany – nay, absolutely wacky – conventions from the last game are enriched here by the addition of cooperative and multiplayer aspects. It’s rather similar to the first, but expanded by giving you the option to play as either the heroic Time Sweepers or the despicable Tom Tom Gang. Tom Tom Gang? Yes, the Tom Tom Gang is threatening all of reality with their despicable antics. Naughty, naughty Tom Tom Gang! They’re not quite as threatening as, say, Al Qaeda, Darth Vader, or even Bowser, but ok, the Time Sweepers are duly concerned, so we’d best play along. Here’s the set up: You customize your team and jump straight into the fray. As the tale begins, a time crystal has been ripped asunder. Any seasoned game player can see where this is going, right? Collect the crystals before the other team does. Yawn?

At the core of the gameplay is the alternating between sides, each with their own abilities, which adds variety to the missions. As with the original Blinx game, the Time Sweepers have their magic vacuum that snags surrounding debris to fire it back at targets. And you have the aforementioned crystals that allow for tinkering with small sections of time (rewinding it, pausing it, etc.). Playing as The Tom Tom Gang, however, introduces the ever-popular stealth mode; requiring you to creep about unseen while pursuing your dastardly deeds. You’re also equipped with all manner of absurd gadgets, everything from wormhole grenades to bananas. While a little variety is certainly welcome, the game’s inability when it comes to actually choosing a side robs you of truly caring about an already inane storyline.

As with the original Blinx title, you’re forced to use your temporal/spatial manipulations to solve a series of puzzles, such as activating switches and moving past obstacles. The potential for some truly mind-bending puzzles is lost here, however, since most of them lack creative design to the point of being laughably simplistic. To make matters worse, the game’s buddy system will essentially put you on autopilot, guiding you through even the most mundane of puzzles.

As with any (good) platform game, there are boss battles in Binx 2. Reminiscent of Sonic Heroes, you recruit the rest of your team to defeat boss enemies. However, unlike the lackluster Sonic game, when your companions show their cute little faces, you have to wonder exactly where they had been hiding. Do you remember the old Transformers cartoon series? How about when the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime, would transform into a truck and his trailer would suddenly appear behind him – leaving you to wonder just how it got there? Well, that’s what your teammates do in Blinx 2’s boss battles; they come and go as they please. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as you quickly grow weary of the assortment of ?helpful’ critters. They’re not the brightest guys to have helping you out, either. Spastic and lobotomized are two words that immediately spring to mind. There’s a fine line of distinction drawn between co-op A.I. providing assistance and doing all the work for you, but these guys run around the battlefield in random patterns as though they forgot to take their morning medication. Maybe they’re just as bored with the prosaic maps as you are.

The standard multiplayer aspect comes across as little more than an afterthought to the actual game. There’s nothing terribly clever here, just standard variations on Deathmatch, which can be broken up into 4-way split-screen. There is also a two-player co-op mode that seems altogether rushed and sloppy. The game changes slightly to accommodate the extra player, but there isn’t enough of a variation to really justify including it in the game.

Masters of Time & Space has decent graphics, but you’ll find very little eye-catching about it. You’d think that by tossing aside things like logic and reason, Artoon would go hog wild and throw some really surreal scenarios and graphical twists at you. A time traveling cat with a vacuum cleaner deserves no less than something bizarrely bizarre. That’s the least you’re likely to expect from developers who were obviously high during the production process. The game environments have improved over the original Blinx; offering a broader area to run around in, but it’s still the standard animal/platformer fare.

Sorry to do this again, but there is a relevant need to invoke Sonic Heroes: The voice acting in Blinx 2 is decidedly wretched. It’s fairly understandable that cats cannot talk, but at least try to sell the idea. Convince us that Blinx is sassy. Convince us we’re on his side. Give him and his friends some notable personality. Make us sympathize, empathize, and love them. Make us want Blinx and pals to emerge as number one. And make us hate the Tom Tom Gang (not to be confused with the Tom Tom Club) for being generally and generically wicked to the core. Sell it to us. We want to believe! We want to fight authentically against this chronological Judgment Day; but if the in-game actors sound like peripheral characters from a 1970’s Saturday morning cartoon, then perhaps we don’t care. And it’s in no way convincing that the voice actors care, either.

In the end, his sassiness may save the day, but perhaps Blinx realizes that he, like the rest of us, is just along for this ridiculous ride. If Microsoft was looking for a system mascot to equal the likes of Crash, Mario, or Sonic, then they’ll have to keep looking. Sassy and furry does not a hero make. But, that said, maybe when Halo’s Master Chief finally drags off his gleaming helmet, we’ll discover that he’s just a brave otter armed with a heart of gold, a plasma rifle, and an undying hatred for aliens.

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