User-generated content in games goes all the way back to titles like Bill Budge's Pinball Construction set on 8-bit home computers and first-person shooters like Doom and Quake, but it's not something that's ever really been prominent in console games due to both system storage limitations and the lack of internet connectivity for sharing of creations. More recently this has started to change with titles like Boom Blox Bash Party, Wii Music and BlastWorks on the Wii.
According to developer Budcat, BlastWorks is inspired by Kenta Cho's Tumiki Fighters, a freeware shooter that dispenses with the traditional power-up concept in favour of allowing your ship to collect defeated enemies and their guns to create a giant mish-mosh of a ship to do battle against bosses and the like.
The game includes 5 "campaigns" which are side-scrolling small-scale shooting games that end in a big boss; each complete with different visual themes, player ships and enemies. You can play these in series with 1-2 players or jump into Arcade Mode to have a bash at one with 1-4 players. Completing the series will unlock access to several games by Kenta Cho, including the original Tumiki Fighters.
Visually the game is quite pleasing with enemies composed of translucent shapes all of which have destructible bits that will fly off and can be attached to the player's ship by contacting it. These bits can absorb damage before they fall off and the player can withdraw them into their ship temporarily by holding a button to attempt to preserve them for the big boss battles. In addition to acting as shields the collected parts will also fire their own weapons to aid you in your battle through the teeming hordes of planes, tanks and sub-bosses. You'll need the help because the campaign levels become quite challenging with hordes of enemies and bullets flying about. Whilst at first the masses of parts you collect may make you feel invincible, by the 3rd campaign the fur is flying so thick that your ship will be lucky to have any extra parts left to fight the end boss with! The in-game controls work well with the Remote used NES-style on its side, however the game menus don't support use of the D-pad so you'll find yourself forced to use the pointer to scroll through options or connect a Nunchuk and use the control stick. It's a minor annoyance, but a strange oversight not to have everything outside of the editing suite (which requires Remote + Nunchuk) use the same Remote orientation.
The included content alone is pretty nice, but the core of the game is the collection of editors which were used by the team to create the included campaigns and bonus levels. The editing suite includes separate editors for shapes, player ships, enemy ships, bullets and levels. Whilst you cannot create literally anything you can imagine, it's quite flexible and offers a vast degree of freedom. Levels can have reflective water to fly over (and below), detailed backgrounds and huge bosses with animated parts. You can change the direction and speed of the scrolling background -- you're not limited to left-right side scrolling -- and can change scrolling direction in the middle of the level.
Everything created as a shape is available for use in the other editors, so the same parts used to create player ships can be used to create enemy ships or even background scenery. When you create your ship you can choose where your shots emanate from; the shots themselves can have a choice of dozens of sound effects and you can control the size and frequency of the bullets fired as well as the pattern. It can all be quite overwhelming and the controls are a bit obtuse, but there's help available online in the form of written and video tutorials.
BlastWorks is possibly the first 3rd party Wii game which has an online content delivery system unhampered by Nintendo's friend codes (they are present as an option for trading directly with friends) and without it the game would probably have been a footnote in the Wii game library. As it stands BlastWorks has quite an active community and whilst the PAL release came far behind the original North American launch, the result for PAL gamers is a massive library of user-created levels and parts ready to download via the BlastWorks Depot. Simply create an account and register your Wii code from your address book. Once this is done you can browse the content on the website and put things you like into your download basket. The next time you launch the game simply go into the online menu, choose the option to download from BlastWorks Depot and watch the progress bar display the size in kilobytes as your items are downloaded. You can download anything you can create: shapes, ships, enemies, bullets and levels, and you can upload the same for others to use. It's gratifying to see that EA has adopted a similar approach to content sharing in Boom Blox Bash Party and hopefully we'll see similar support for user-generated content in other games on the Wii in the future.
The only significantly negative aspect of the game, outside of the complexity of the included editing suite, is the size of the save file. There's so much online content that you cannot possibly download all of it; if you're a prolific creator you'll either have to juggle save backups on separate SD cards or simply upload your creations and download them from the depot later. To the developer's credit BlastWorks has one of the largest save files of any Wii game at 127 blocks, but the included base library content uses up nearly 1/3rd of that to start with (though most of this can be deleted if desired). It's enough to have several medium-sized levels and many ships and parts, but it's a shame that the developers were either unwilling (or unable) to leverage SD card storage rather than having this fixed storage limit hamper dedicated fans.
Even if you're not inclined to create your own material there's enough stuff already available to download that you can always find something new to play and the included levels and user generated content can be played with one of three levels of difficulty for added challenge. There are several stand-out creators at the BlastWorks Depot which show what can be achieved with a bit of creativity and investment of time that will hopefully inspire additional contributors in future.
BlastWorks provides a good amount of shooting action out of the box, but the ability to create your own designs and easily share them with others is what really makes this title shine. Thanks to Budcat and Majesco for delivering a stand-out title for the Wii that all shooter fans and would-be game designers would be advised to check out.