A Boy and His Blob was originally a hit on the Sega Megadrive, written by industry legend David Crane. This Wii update from Wayforward Technology was released a couple of years ago and was criminally ignored by the wider gaming community. I am here to tell you tell you that if you own a Wii you need to track down a copy of this game. Its unique, fun superbly balanced game play will give you a gaming experience unlike any other.
When I say "unique", I'm not referring to the game genre, since A Boy and His Blob is essentially a platform game at its core. However, there are so many nice little touches to the game that it transcends that rather overworked genre and comes across like nothing you have ever played before.
The game sees a spaceship containing Blob and several alien life forms crash-land on Earth. Blob befriends a young boy and together they must traverse several levels and overcome the evil alien forces that have taken over the land. This essentially involves exploring the levels by jumping on platforms, collecting treasure and avoiding enemies.
So far, so generic. Thankfully, A Boy & His Blob has an additional trick up its sleeve. In order to reach otherwise inaccessible parts of the screen, Boy has to feed different coloured jelly beans to Blob. These grant him different abilities or turn him into handy items, such as a ladder to reach those just-out-of reach platforms, a trampoline to reach higher levels of the screen or a parachute so that Boy can descend safely to some of the lower levels. This gives the game a more strategic element as you need to decide what ability to use when. Sometimes this is obvious; sometimes experimentation is needed to use the right ability at the right time.
This innovative game play element is combined with some superb level design. None of the levels are particularly tricky, but you do sometimes need to take a few moments to stop and think in order to navigate them safely. This gives the game a much more sedate pace than your average platform game which normally have you bouncing all over the screen like some sort of mad March hare - but this more thoughtful approach to game play works very well. Being a platform game, of course, there are still plenty of jumps to be navigated, but these don't require the pixel-perfect positioning required by many games and so it won't have you gnashing your teeth in frustration as you fail to make a crucial jump by a matter of millimetres.
Levels are generally quite short (although there are some hidden areas to explore) so the game is nice and easy to pick up and play if you only have a short time to spare. Mind you, the game is so addictive that you can frequently find yourself sitting down for a "quick go" and finding yourself still there over an hour later!
One of the key reasons for the game's appeal outside of the core game play is the presentation. The graphics are nothing short of stunning. From the opening attract sequence detailing the back-story, through to the level of detail in Boy's tree house hideaway, everything looks superb. Beautifully detailed, full of character and with stunning use of colour they make you feel like you are playing in an interactive cartoon. Those who say the Wii is not capable of stunning graphics and is too underpowered when compared to the PS3 or the Xbox 360 should take a look at A Boy & His Blob.
The game is also full of character with the main characters wonderfully animated. Both Boy and Blob are well drawn and a lot of care and attention has clearly been paid to them. They might only be a set of on-screen pixels, but you feel a real sense of warmth and affection for both of them and their relationship exudes a sense of innocence and friendship that it's impossible not to like them. The game gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling (not something I often say) and the central relationship between Boy and Blob feels like a real friendship, not a mere game play mechanic thought up by some game designer somewhere.
Sound is more minimal, but still highly effective. A hugely atmospheric tune accompanies the in-game action whilst there's some nice speech from Boy as he calls his Blob friend to where he needs him to be. For the rest, it's fairly bog standard spot effects, but that's not a criticism - a game this good to look at and play doesn't need elaborate sound effects. Indeed, this is a case where the simple background noises add far more atmosphere to the game than any amount of elaborate, realistic sound effects ever could.
Another thing which works well together is the controls. The game uses a combination of the standard wiimote and the nunchuk (the traditional Classic Controller can also be used). At first, it looks as though there are an incredible amount of controls to remember as virtually every button and stick on both controllers is used for something. In fact, the game is so well structured that the first couple of levels introduce you to the main functions gradually and by the time you've completed those, the controls are second nature. Within ten minutes or so of playing for the first time, you won't even be thinking about which button you need to press when, you will simply be moving Boy effortlessly around the screen. There's clearly been a lot of thought put into the way the game works and this pays off, as the initially complex-looking controls are actually deceptively simple and well-implemented.
There's a price to be paid for all this graphical loveliness, though, and that comes in the form of loading times. Although load times are fairly quick, they are also fairly frequent. Every time you reach a new area, the screen goes black (albeit with a nice animation in the centre of the screen) and the disk whirrs away for 10 seconds or so before the next section appears. It doesn't cripple the game, but it can be slightly annoying and get in the way of the atmosphere the rest of the game so lovingly creates.
There are also question marks over the game's longevity. There are 4 worlds to conquer, each with 10 stages, as well as bonus content to unlock. However, with infinite lives at your disposal, together with a generous smattering of restart points on each level, it's not going to take the average gamer very long to complete. I'd estimate for a vaguely competent gamer, there is around 10-15 hours of game time. There's no real replay value either and once you've completed it, you're unlikely to return to it. For once, though, this is forgivable: for a start, it means most people have a good chance of experiencing everything the game has to offer and more importantly, it's such fun that you won't really care that it's so short.
A Boy and his Blob has everything that a true gamer could want: simple, but fun game play, well designed levels, stunning graphics and a genuinely touching relationship between the two central characters. David Crane has proved himself a genius at game design time and time again and A Boy and His Blob is yet more proof of that talent. As I said at the start of this review, if you own a Wii, you really need to experience A Boy and his Blob.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2011