Review: A Boy and His Blob (Wii)

Now this is how you're supposed to update a classic

Originally released in 1989 on the NES console, A Boy and His Blob was quickly praised for its originality and unique gameplay ideas. Unfortunately, it was also criticized for its often sluggish control system and sometimes confusing level designs. Over the years several developers have created updates of the original title for the Game Boy and DS systems only to see these titles ultimately cancelled.

Now here we are some twenty years later, and developer WayForward Technologies have decided to breathe new life into the game, creating an updated version for Nintendo's Wii console. Not only have they added in some of the most breathtaking 2D visuals you're ever likely to see on the console, they've also brought a wealth of new gameplay ideas into the mix as well. So how exactly does this two-decade-old gameplay idea hold up, and does this new version of the game really improve upon the original release's unique but slightly erratic gameplay formula?

While you'll spend a lot of your time platforming through the various parts of each level, there will often be times when you're presented with challenges that your character cannot overcome by himself. This is where your Blob companion comes into play: feeding the Blob various flavored jellybeans will cause it to turn into a useful item you can use to make your way through the tricky parts of each level. And with an unlimited supply of jellybeans, you can use them as often as you like. Some of these transformations include springboards you can jump on, parachutes you can use to glide to safety with, rockets you can fly around on and many more unique abilities for you to make use of. You'll begin the game with only a handful of these jellybean transformations, but as you progress through the game's many levels you'll acquire new jellybean abilities as you go. You'll only be given certain abilities in each level and it's up to you to choose which ones you use and where. Some levels afford you only a few abilities, whereas others will give you a full complement of eight to choose from. It's this varying set of transformations that will ultimately make traversing the levels possible, but equally challenging as well.

The game is broken down into worlds, each with ten levels to complete. In each world you'll start out in your hideout where you'll have a world map with which to choose the levels you'll take on, with your goal simply being to reach the exit portal located somewhere in each level. There are also three treasure chests hidden in each level for you to locate and pick up, which will unlock unique items in your hideout that can be used to play special challenge levels. Once you've completed all of the levels in a specific world, you'll have to take on the boss of that area in order to progress to the next one - these boss fights are pretty standard, but they do force you to make use of your various abilities in order to defeat them. So although they do play out like traditional boss fights, they also feature many of the same puzzle-solving elements that you'll find in each of the game's many regular levels and are every bit as challenging.

You can control your character and the Blob using either the Wii Remote and Nunchuk attachment or the Classic Controller. You will be confined to the analog stick for moving your character around no matter which you choose as there is no support for the D-pad, a puzzling omission since it would seem to fit the nature of the 2D gameplay so well. Both forms of control work equally well, so it's more a matter of personal preference than anything.

There are several buttons for the various commands you'll be using throughout the game: you have one action button this is used to call your Blob when you need him to return to your side, and you also have a button that will pull up the jellybean ring menu. By holding down this button you can then use the analog stick to point in one of the eight directions, each containing a different flavored jellybean and ability. This makes it easy to quickly choose different abilities on the fly or when the action heats up. There are also buttons to make your character jump and toss out the jellybeans, and you can even use the analog stick to aim where you want to toss it, with an almost infinite range of trajectories. This comes in very handy in later levels where increased accuracy is required in certain tricky situations.

You'll quickly find that the controls used in the game might be a little confusing at first, but once you've come to grips with them you'll see how functional they really are. The control is extremely responsive no matter the situation, and even the various transformations you'll have to make use of are all set up quite well and control very intuitively. Some of the more over-the-top abilities like the rocket and the giant ball take a little time to get a feel for, especially given how touchy the control of them is, but it all tends to play into the game's sense of challenge and coming to grips with them is yet another part of the game's charm. The difficulty curve is fairly smooth in the game with the levels having an ever-increasing degree of challenge and variety of abilities with which to choose from.

You'll also find a nice amount of replay value in the way you can revisit the levels in order to locate missed treasure chests that will unlock special challenge levels for you to play from the hideouts. These levels are similar to the regular levels, only they offer a much higher level of challenge and require you to restart the level completely over when your character dies, instead of starting at various checkpoints as you do in the regular levels. Couple these extra challenge levels with the already impressive set of regular levels and what you have is a game that's not only loaded with content, but is also a heck of a lot of fun to play.

As solid as this title's gameplay package is, nothing can touch the breathtaking visuals you'll find laid out throughout the game. The cel-shaded graphics the game uses makes each area look like it jumped straight out of a watercolor painting and onto your television screen. The amazing use of vivid colors coupled with the over-the-top scenery tossed into each area make the game really come to life onscreen. The silky smooth animation and multiple layers of background scrolling even further push the gorgeous visuals to new heights. There's even some dynamic lighting effects in certain places that show just how detail-oriented the developers were in crafting this 2D visual masterpiece. It's easily one of the best visual performances on the Wii console to date and a testament to the visual capabilities of the console when placed in the right hands.

As far as musical score goes, A Boy and His Blob is a bit difficult to describe. The musical tunes themselves are all top notch, and at times sound more like a motion picture score than a video game soundtrack. The tunes cover a wide spectrum of moods and are used quite fittingly in each of the game's many levels. While the tracks are repeated at times throughout the game, they're spaced out so evenly and are of such high quality that you'll hardly even notice it, and if you're fortunate enough to own a quality surround sound system, you're in for quite a treat from the game's audio experience. Even the sound effects, such as the boy's variety of Blob calls and whistles, are very well executed. It's clear that the developers wanted to create the same level of polish with the game's audio presentation as was shown the various other aspects of the game.

Conclusion

With this update of A Boy and His Blob, WayForward have somehow been able to accurately capture the unique gameplay elements of the original title and wrap them up inside one of the most beautiful and polished Wii releases to date. To say that this game is an improvement on the original would be a gross understatement: not only does the game add an almost endless amount of depth and playability to the original gameplay idea, but it does so in a way that will keep you coming back for more. Whether you're a fan of the original NES release or not, you absolutely owe it to yourself to give A Boy and His Blob a try as you'd be hard-pressed to find a more rewarding gameplay experience available on the Wii console.

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