When someone like Steven Spielberg puts his name to a product you know you really should sit up and take notice. The world renowned director of Jurassic Park, ET and countless other films that have made a small fortune at the global box office, Spielberg has now turned his attention to videogames, partnering up with mega-publisher EA. This isn’t the first time the famous auteur has dabbled in the media of interactive entertainment - he assisted EA with the Medal of Honor series, for example - but his latest foray is a somewhat more light-hearted affair.
Boom Blox looks and feels like a videogame created by someone who doesn’t necessarily play videogames. Everything from the visual style to the interface and general aims is tailored for the more casual gamer; ironically it’s this simplicity that is also its most significant strength. By stripping away the irrelevant coating that tends to surround most ‘hardcore’ titles, Spielberg and EA have succeeded in creating a startlingly amusing slice of digital entertainment that is almost guaranteed to appeal to anyone of any age.
As the title suggests, Boom Blox features lots of blocks. Each ‘puzzle’ grants you a stack of the things, and your aim is either to topple certain blocks so they make contact with terra firma, or remove certain blocks by grabbing them or throwing balls at them. The concept it devilishly simple but some of the challenges you face certainly aren’t; in some of the trickier stages you’re expected to topple entire structures with a carefully aimed throw in order to start a chain reaction that will ultimately knock over several independent structures. The thing is, these constructions might only be weak in one tiny area, so it pays to take your time and inspect the challenge closely.
Much of the game’s appeal comes from the astonishingly accurate physics engine; without fail, blocks fall realistically and convincingly. It’s clear that this facet of Boom Blox has had the most time spent on it. You never get any instances where you feel the game’s representation of real-world physics is working against you. Each movement of a block elicits a wholly realistic reaction and just experiementing with simple ‘cause and effect’ actions is fun enough in itself.
Control in Boom Blox is exceptional. Too often is the Wiimote simply used as a replacement for a traditional joypad; here the developer has built the entire game around the control method. It simply wouldn’t be possible to recreate this experience on a ‘traditional’ console because so much of what makes it appealing is down to the way in which the motion-sensing interface is utilized. Grabbing a block and pulling it in a particular direction feels natural and intuitive, as does selecting a target and hurling a bloody great bowling ball in its general direction.
The single player portion of Boom Blox is divided into training modes, standard puzzle modes and the all-important adventure mode. In the latter there’s a semblance of storyline but it’s fairly obvious that the developer isn’t taking things too seriously. Successful progressing in these modes opens up other bonus items, such as additional characters to play as or extra items to use in the level creator feature.
Ah yes, the level creator. It’s quite likely that this section of Boom Blox will take up more of your time than any other. The appeal of creating a massive block puzzle cannot be understated and the ability to test your masterpiece at any time during construction is handy. When you’re happy with the result you can even send it to people on your friend’s list via the online connection, as well as play levels that your pals have dreamt up. This mode really is a godsend because it extends the lifespan of the game long after you’ve seen all the single player portion has to offer.
Having said that, the multiplayer side of the game goes a hell of a long way to granting Boom Blox almost unlimited appeal. Wii Sports may be your current party game of choice but that may change when you see what is on offer here. Both co-op and competitive modes are supported and are equally enjoyable. As always, human interaction enriches the experience beyond measure and the fact that pretty much anyone can pick up the controller and know what they’re doing is a massive plus point – just as elderly relatives gleefully indulged in a spot of Wii Sports, they’re just as likely to want to topple a few blocks when they see you playing this.
Boom Blox is a perfect example of how a watertight concept can produce a truly mesmerising game. Visually it’s nothing special but the core gameplay is built on foundations so solid that it doesn’t matter; as far-fetched as it may sound, Boom Blox is a game for ‘non-gamers’ to enjoy, but the best bit is that even the most hardcore of gaming veterans can also have a blast with this. That’s unquestionably the sign of a true classic.