Review: de Blob (Wii)

¡Viva la revolución!

Chroma City has been subjugated by the diabolical INKT Corporation! Can anyone free the formerly colourful Raydians from their grey prison? Enter the members of the Colour Revolution led by legendary Chroma City graffiti artist Blob, whom players control in their quest for colour, funk and freedom!

Based upon a game created by university students (many of whom went on to form Ronimo Games of Swords & Soldiers fame) to celebrate the remaking of Utrecht city-centre, de Blob was one of two bold new Wii titles released by THQ in 2008 (the other being Deadly Creatures). Thanks to in-house development studio Blue Tongue Entertainment's focus on brilliant design, high quality cinematics, a fantastic soundtrack and fun gameplay, de Blob continues to be one of the Wii's stand-out titles.

Story Mode starts off with an animated sequence that looks like a clip from a feature film. The members of INKT have descended in a massive spacecraft to subjugate the people of Chroma City, whose only crime seems to be enjoying bright colours, funky music and a good time. A group of four Raydians (as the inhabitants of this world are called) have banded together to form the Colour Revolution, but unfortunately they're no match for the INKT forces that have a firm grip on the entire city. Enter Blob, the legendary graffiti artist who was out napping in a nearby jungle whilst all this was happening and has charged into action to free his fellow Raydians from tyranny. Possessing the ability to absorb paint and leap tall buildings, Blob is the kind of superhero Chroma City needs. With the help of the other Colour Revolutionaries, you'll guide Blob through 10 stages of colourful platforming action: taking back the city, freeing the citizens and driving back the INKT forces until the ultimate showdown on their spacecraft!

The story has an epic feel which is expressed in the size of the levels. Rather than being subdivided into stages, each massive level is a part of the city divided up by gated walls. Opening the gates, and ultimately the level's exit, requires building up "Colour Energy" which is achieved primarily by painting buildings and other objects in a city that has been stripped of all its chromatic trappings and rendered a dull, grey place. You obtain your "pigments of freedom" from the INKT Corporation paint bots that drained the colour to begin with. Blob absorbs “paint points” by touching or slamming into them and takes on their colour. Paint bots come in one of three primary colours which can be mixed as you would a set of real paints to create purple, orange, green and brown. Standing in your way are the INKT foot soldiers known as "inkies" and their diabolical contraptions: ink cannons, tanks and speeder bikes. Get hit with ink and you'll need to clean off in a clear pool of water or lose paint points until you disappear completely. If that wasn't enough many levels also have hazards to avoid in the form of hot plates, spikes and lethal ink pools.

Painting things in Chroma City is as simple as loading up with paint points and touching them. Painting big things runs down your paint points, so you'll need to top-up regularly to keep up the fight. The more paint points Blob has the longer he can survive being "inked," but it's at the cost of being slower and heavier and therefore unable to jump as high or as far as he can when he's smaller. Using the (STICK), players roll Blob around on the ground or steer him through the air after jumping with a flick of the Remote. The motion control is pretty well-implemented and using a downward motion to squash enemy inkies or paint bots after targeting them with (Z) is both intuitive and satisfying. Blob slowly slides down walls and the sides of buildings that he jumps into and sliding along multiple buildings before hitting the ground will rack up more Colour Energy. Blob can also jump away from a wall with a sideways remote flick or access far away places by targeting a "Z-jump marker" followed by a jerk of the Remote. The design logic for using motion for jumping seems clear – especially when facing multiple enemies. Getting into a rhythm of (Z) and Remote jerk quickly becomes second nature and there's less chance of confusion than you'd have with pressing a succession of buttons.

While the gestures generally work well there are some instances when a button press for jumping would have been preferred – the motion input generally feels less precise (not to mention the potential for "Popeye forearm" from one of the later side missions featuring scores of enemies). Giving players a choice of controls is something we support, so it would have been nice to have a conventional alternative to remote waving and the ability to remap button layouts. It should also be mentioned that on rare occasions you can get hung up on the spiky trees which are sometimes a little too close to the walls and buildings in some areas – though it must be emphasised that only once did we find ourselves wedged into a spot we couldn't get out of, meaning a choice of restarting the level or letting the time run down so we could continue from the last checkpoint.

Whilst painting the town red (or any other colour you fancy) is the main focus, there's a lot of variety in the gameplay courtesy of your fellow revolutionaries who provide you with optional challenges to complete. Each of the four colourful freedom fighters offers a specific type of challenge of varying difficulty and challenges are marked out in the level via a rotating 3D "tag" with a colour matching that of the revolutionary.

Your reward for completing these challenges is more colour energy and a boost to the time limit for completing the level. There are loads of challenges in each level and you can earn more bonus time by freeing Raydians who spill out into the street every time you manage to paint every building in a block. Although running out of time is rarely an issue, it should be noted that there are no mid-level saves, so some time investment is required to complete a level in a single sitting. The gates which subdivide the game levels act like checkpoints in case you run out of time or lose all your lives, but they're only valid for the current play session. Whilst levels can be completed in a speed run of under 20 minutes, if you want to go for achievements like painting 100 percent of the level or freeing all the Raydians, each level will take 40 minutes to over an hour.

On the plus side, your best times and achievements are saved when you complete a level and completed levels can be replayed as often as you like. Consequently even the most time-constrained completionist can get all the awards eventually, given enough replays. Progress towards completing goals can be tracked via an option in the pause menu. After completing a level you also unlock the ability to replay it without the time limit in place, minus challenges and achievements – this bonus mode is just for colouring, relaxing and enjoying some tunes.

As stated earlier the levels are pretty large and presented using a 3rd-person perspective. Rather than a map you have two primary aids for finding your way around: "radar" and a "free look" mode. By holding (A) a small ring of icons will appear around Blob showing the direction of the nearest paint bots of each colour, where clean water is (for cleaning him of paint or ink) and the direction of the nearest challenge. If a challenge is in progress another icon will appear indicating the direction of the nearest challenge objective in case you're lost. Left and right on the (DPAD) rotates the camera around Blob and (C) resets it behind him. The automatic camera generally works well, though sometimes you'll end up with Blob filling the screen if he's up against a wall at the edge of a level boundary. If you want to look around in any direction you can hold down on the (DPAD) to enter "Blob's Eye View" which is a first-person perspective that uses the pointer to control the camera – great for getting the lay of the land from the top of a skyscraper (and admiring the handiwork of the graphic designers).

The visuals are first-rate. Not only are the cinematics used to set up each part of the story excellent (and often hilarious), the design and level of detail are outstanding. You can paint nearly everything in the game world: not just obvious things like buildings and trees, but park benches, signs, lampposts, walls, rocks, shrubs and beaches. When Blob is filled with a lot of paint it flies off of him in realistic splatters, leaving a colourful trail everywhere he goes. You'll also find "style" icons to add graffiti patterns to your paint.

de Blob also has a strong and pleasing design aesthetic: the liberated Chroma City looks like a funky grafitti art playground inhabited by Raydians who take the form of bouncing happy jelly beans when freed from their "Graydian" suits; INKT are represented by a comic mix of imitation fascist propaganda, Soviet military uniforms and Keystone Cops antics. The conversion of buildings and public squares from dull monolithic structures to giant jukeboxes, turntables, microphones, skate parks, football nets and other collages of sport, music and art as a result of challenges and level-ending missions is fantastic to behold.

The cherry on the sundae is the music. It's a lovely combination of live recording and reactive musical cues that change as you move about and paint the city; brimming with funktastic jazzy melodies that will have you tapping your feet if you've got a funky bone in your body. You can choose which track to play before starting a level and during your first playthough you'll unlock a new track after finishing each stage, providing a selection of around a dozen by the end. It's so good it should be sold on its own and thankfully it is via iTunes and the Amazon download shop, amongst other outlets. In a rather clever bit of programming the music starts out sparse as you enter each new section of the city, but builds in complexity as you colour more and more of it.

It's a great reward that acts like a subliminal encouragement to keep exploring and painting, as does the ability to unlock two bonus challenge missions for each level based upon the amount of the city you colour. If that wasn't enough there are three multiplayer games you can play with your friends in two-to-four player splitscreen. All are competitions to see who can paint the most buildings with different mechanics and win conditions. None of them are particularly addictive, but they're a nice extra in a great game.

Conclusion

If you want to play something that will put a smile on your face and brighten up your day, de Blob is a great way to spend your time. Any control issues or camera glitches are overcome by terrific art and level design, music and gameplay which combine to create a fresh new take on the platforming genre. Feel the funk and join the Colour Revolution!