Review: A Boy And His Blob (Wii)
Posted 26 Nov 2009 at 01:56 by Aaron Clegg
|"The gooey effects will melt on your eyes like candy floss in one's mouth, while the Miyazaki-influenced character models will make even the most hard-line graphics nuts fall in love."|
Few will know it, but A Boy and His Blob is actually the ripe-old age of twenty years. The original puzzle-platformer was a cult NES classic from David Crane – creator of the then-blockbusting Pitfall series. It may seem an odd title to remake for Wii, but WayForward have taken it upon themselves to give Blob a brand new reimagining. With the company having such 2D gems as Shantae and Contra 4 under their belt, has the team succeeded in giving an old classic a new lease of life? Or is this one bit of goo that should have been scraped straight into the bin?
A Boy and His Blob follows the original's yardstick incredibly faithfully, with an equal emphasis on both platforming and puzzle solving. To the uninitiated, the bare-bones concept sees you take control of the titular 'Boy', who finds himself plunged into an epic adventure after encountering a strange Blob creature. The story (of what little there is) goes that Blob's home planet of Blobolonia has fallen under the shadow of an evil emperor, and it's up to you both to work together to defeat him and his evil, gooey minions. By feeding Blob jelly beans, he can transform into a variety of useful tools to help you advance through each level.
Placing the game in one particular genre is difficult. Despite appearing to be a 2D platformer on first sight, it's just as much of a puzzle game. The most succinct way to describe the feel of the experience is to coin it as a 2D Zack and Wiki of sorts, with an extra focus on skill. Whereas Capcom's Wii adventure title employed vast 3D puzzles, A Boy and His Blob takes a similar idea of problem-solving and applies it to dozens of 2D levels and a small helping of boss fights. Controlling the Boy with the analog stick, the goal is to simply reach the end of the level, but doing so requires the help of Blob. By feeding the Blob jelly beans, a host of tools become available to you in each level, and you'll have to use them logically to traverse the hazardous terrain and overcome the deadly, sticky enemies. With the Boy being vulnerable to the point of one hit will kill you, it's vital to make use of Blob's many abilities. You'll start off with simple objects available, like an anvil, a hole or a ladder, but soon you'll have an incredibly varied range of transformations. There are a total of 15 transformations in the game, but each level will only give you particular set of beans. It makes it simpler, yet more challenging, as you're never over-relying on one particular bean to progress through levels.
Stitched in with the puzzle solving aspect is a classic 2D platformer at heart. While the Boy is slow and vulnerable, the game still isn't afraid to challenge you with gameplay requiring skill and co-ordination. Occasionally the platforming is mixed in with the transformations of Blob, and at times it is traditional, run-and-jumping business. Throughout, WayForward's forte of side-scrolling action shines through the gameplay, and this is mainly down to some fantastic level design. However, while the meat of a great platformer is indeed present, the execution leaves a little to be desired.
Firstly, it has to be said that A Boy and His Blob has a great difficulty curve. While the game on the whole is very challenging, any player can get to grips with it thanks to the relatively easy-going opening levels. Ultimately though, this just means that some of the fundamental problems appear later on when the difficulty gets ramped up. The issue we had with the game is that it can feel pretty fiddly to play, but this umbrella problem is due to a number of smaller niggles. The initial quirk you'll notice is the choice of controls with the Wii Remote and Nunchuck set-up. The game doesn't use any motion or pointer controls. Instead, you use the analog stick to browse through your menu-wheel (whilst holding Z) to toggle and select your jelly bean. Whilst holding B, you aim the trajectory of the bean by using the analog stick again, before releasing B to throw. Selecting beans and aiming them are both actions that would surely have felt more comfortable with the use of pointer controls, but for whatever reason, the developers have abstained from the unique features of the Wii controller. For those seeking an even more traditional set-up, the game can also be played with the Classic Controller (but not the GameCube controller).
The other half of the problem comes from (we're sorry to say) the infinitely cute Blob. Despite his cuddly looks and ever-useful abilities, you may find yourself developing a deep-seated loathing of the creature. While Blob faithfully follows you around the level, he oftentimes plods along even slower than Boy. He'll frequently fall into a hole or get stuck behind a wall, leaving you waiting at one spot before you can progress through the level. A quick tap of the C button will make Boy call Blob (with voice acting to boot), but if he's in no position to bounce right to you, you'll have to press C three times, at which point Blob will transform into a balloon, and can subsequently return to you from anywhere. Because Blob will lag being so much, you'll often be finding yourself calling him three times. This can take a few seconds at a time, and it does become as repetitive as it sounds. It's especially an annoyance during the tough boss battles, where you'll need Blob at your instant beck and call in order to survive. Having infinite lives and regular checkpoints dotted throughout does cushion the frustration significantly, but it doesn't stop the flow of the game feeling fiddly, and sometimes even verging on clunky.
However, it's difficult to hold a grudge against a game that oozes so much charm and beauty as A Boy and His Blob does. Employing a soft, hand-drawn art-style combined with (for the most part) bright and bold colours, it comes across as one of the prettiest 2D games on Wii. The gooey effects will melt on your eyes like candy floss does in one's mouth, and the Miyazaki-influenced character models will make even the most hard-line graphics nuts fall in love. The frame rate runs just as smoothly, too – all combining for perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing Wii title of the year. The only quibble we have with the graphics is that, particularly in the later, more abstractly designed levels, foreground and background layers can sometimes bleed into each other, making it difficult to judge where the solid, 2D plane actually is.
Gratifyingly, A Boy and His Blob bucks the trend of short-but-sweet 2D home console games, offering hours of play time that stretch comfortably into double figures. There are 40 levels spread equally across four worlds, with the complexity of the level design being such that the later stages can take anything up to twenty minutes each to complete. The end of each world also has a highly challenging boss to defeat. However, this is arguably only one half of the game. Every level contains three hidden chests strewn throughout. Finding all the chests in a level unlocks a whole new stage accessible from the main hub. These 'challenge' stages are even rifer with dangers, requiring a greater sense of skill and heightened reactions to reach the end in one piece. Crucially, you will be drawn to hunt down the chests and complete every single level, which is truly a testament to WayForward's smart level design and the game's addictiveness on the whole.
And addictive is probably the best way to describe the ultimate package, too. A Boy and His Blob is like a nice, big chocolate éclair. It's impossible not to be drawn into it and admire its multi-layeredness. It may have its flaws, but it's still an incredibly rich experience, and you may even question whether it's healthy to find it as sweet as you do.
Scroll below for those all-important final scores. In the meantime, here are the results of our Boy and His Blob competition:
Grand Prize Winner (a copy of the game plus an exclusive artbook) - Elmer Lexmond, Valkenswaard, Netherlands
Runners-up (a copy of the game each) - Thomas Swennenhuis, Hull, UK and Nicholas Kraak, Queensland, Australia!
Congratulations to our winners, your prizes will be in the post shortly! To everyone else - N-Europe will be starting a brand new contest tomorrow :)
N-Europe Final Verdict
Mario may be monopolising the classic platformer this season, but A Boy and His Blob definitely fills a gap on Wii with its brain-bending challenges. A gorgeous visual look to boot makes it well worthy of gem-status on the market.
Stunningly fluid presentation
Blob transformations make for fantastic puzzling elements
Great difficulty curve
A meaty adventure with plenty of replay value
Can often feel frustratingly fiddly
Blob is annoyingly slow