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Review

A Boy and His Blob (Wii) Review

by December 15, 2009

It’s heartening to see a developer aim for mastery of 2D gaming when we’re surrounded by amazing 3D graphics every day. It’s been over twenty years since A Boy and his Blob showed up on the original Nintendo. A lot has changed. The original is considered something of a classic, and while this Wii reimagining pays homage to that, it’s certainly a new game for a new generation of gamers. The idea is simple: you meet a blob, you feed him jellybeans, he turns into stuff. This opens the door for a suitably magical adventure filled with mind bending puzzles and sharp platforming. Oh, and the hug button.

The game begins on a quiet night. The boy sleeps in his bed. A bean shaped rocket crashes through the atmosphere and hits the ground – bang! The boy jumps out of bed and slides down the ladder. He approaches the crash and a little white blob, dog-like in behaviour, jumps out. The boy runs away screaming… but has a change of heart and comes back. They head back to his totally sweet tree house abode together. A jar of jelly beans gets knocked over. The boy slides the blob under his head like a pillow and they go to sleep. That’s how it starts. When he wakes up the next morning, the boy is greeted by a great big map on his wall. Approach it and start the first level. The early levels are simple and provide a pretty good learning curve. Use a ladder here or a hole there and you’ve made it. I’ve had hands on time with A Boy and his Blob a couple of times before, and the first time I had a bit of a trouble with the controls and remembering which button did what. With a few hours behind me, I whizzed through these early stages. It’s simply a matter of familiarity. I watched a young kid, maybe six years old, play the game at eGames in Melbourne. He started a level about halfway through the game. Suffice to say, he had no idea what he was doing. I gave his mum some pointers and they were on their way. I think, were a young kid to start from the start, maybe with a bit of help from Mum, Dad or a sibling, they’d be fine.

That’s not to say the game is easy! There is some hard stuff. Once it has you familiar with the controls and the basic premise, it takes right off. The boy only has one hit point – touch a bad guy, fall too far, touch some spikes, and you’re dead. The game is generous with checkpoints though, so it never seems unfair. Each level has three chests hidden in it. The basic levels begin pretty simply. You can just about walk from one end to the other. The chests are what change it up. These are essentially separate puzzles, side-shows from the main level. Get all three and you unlock a secret level. They aren’t easy to get though. Some are cleverly hidden, others are obvious but require a good, long think to pick up. By going after them, you’re effectively extending your game time by three-fold. That’s a good thing. The secret levels are sort of the antithesis to the main story levels.

These are fast paced, difficult, and unforgiving. There are no chests, there are no checkpoints. It might simply be a test of your jumping and dodging skills, or how good you are with a certain bean’s ability. These levels get really fun when you start to get the cooler beans like the bubblegum bouncer, the rocket ship, and the big blob bubble roller thing. They do, at times, achieve platforming gold. There are around forty main levels on four worlds, as well as a secret level for each of these, bringing the total to eighty. The levels do get longer, harder and more labyrinthine in nature. Add the boss of each world to this – which are all challenging and original – and you’ve got quite a game.

 

Clever level design is certainly a strong point of the game, but art direction is the real triumph. Simply put, it’s beautiful! The game has a definite Studio Ghibli feel to it… you know, the Japanese Disney? It’s something you can pick up on straight away if you’ve ever seen My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle, so it didn’t surprise me when I read that these were the main inspiration behind it. It’s definitely something that will draw the kids in, and hopefully older players won’t be scared off. There’s a lot of detail – layered backgrounds and foregrounds with little moving parts like trees that sway in the wind and little animals running around. Lighting is something that not a lot of 2D games think to use, but in this case it’s done to stunning effect.

Nighttime levels will probably become your favourite. Fire flies float around and light up the boy as he runs past, and delightful silhouettes against big city backdrops make for a magical atmosphere. I didn’t really like the third world, Planet Blobolonia, because its pastel sort of colours seem a bit washed out compared to the others. The animation of the boy, the blob and all the bad guys is great, especially on the bosses. The blob acts like a little dog would, and certainly gives you the impression that it’s your best friend. I’d love a blob like that in real life.

 

The bad guys are suitably gloopy – I use that as an evil version of blobby – and bring to mind the purpley-black slime monsters of Ghibli movies. The game looks great and extremely sharp even on a big screen. It can easily stand next to this year’s other big 2D contender, Muramasa. I wouldn’t hesitate in calling A Boy and his Blob one of the best looking 2D games of this generation. The sound design is simple but good and ties in well with the visuals. The voices and noises all add to the game’s adventurous and magical ambience, and the music, at times, moves from good to memorable. I mean that in a good way. It’s whistle-worthy.

There’s not a lot to complain about with A Boy and his Blob. It can be frustrating at times, but not too often. There aren’t a lot of problems because the game design is simple; it just has complex puzzles within it. The blob occasionally has trouble finding his way to you, sure, but that can be fixed with a whistle. Sometimes his animation goes a little hyper when he’s going to eat a jelly bean, but it just makes him look eager. Overall, A Boy and his Blob is just a lot of fun and really clever. Its pacing is good and the slower work of puzzle-solving and chest-finding can be interspersed with fast-paced platforming on those secret levels. The blob itself is charming. The level design is mostly good and sometimes great, the art is awesome and the music works. It’s not a really long game for an experienced gamer, but there are a good amount of hours to be had if you want to have them, and a kid will probably take a lot longer with it. There’s plenty of concept art and a few videos to be unlocked as well. The best thing about it though, is that it’s a really good game, and it only costs $50… less, in some places. Give it a shot, folks.

Graphics 9.0

Impressive 2D art and animation. It looks like youre playing a Disney or Studio Ghibli movie. The character design is great and the bosses look pretty amazing. Turn the lights off when the night time scenes come on. There are some dull looking levels. It looks really sharp, even on big TVs.

Gameplay 8.5

There are some stellar platforming moments here. The puzzles are mostly great and a lot require a good amount of thinking, and some good bean-handling skills. The boy isnt very capable so youll be relying on the blobs amazing transformations to get you through parachutes, rockets, cannons and more.

Sound 7.5

The sound is good but doesnt take a front seat. There are some good tunes. Ive heard some comments that the boys voice gets annoying when he calls to the blob, but didnt really mind it myself. The hugging noise is pretty adorable.

Tilt 9.0

Its a half price game, and its new and good. This is a lot better than some full priced mini-game tripe you could be picking up for loved ones this Christmas. The game can be quite short if you skip the chests, or quite long if you go after them all and play the secret levels too.

Value 8.0

I have vague but fond memories of the original NES game. It was challenging, it looked good at the time and it was original. This reimagining manages to retain most of that. There are some very obvious tributes to the original game if youve played it, otherwise it stands out perfectly well on its own. It gets bonus points for the hug button (awwww).

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Jack Baldwin

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