Review by SneakTheSnake
"A beautiful and ultimately heartwarming platformer."
I don't have much experience with the original game, A Boy and his Blob, for the NES, and something tells me that's a good thing, at least from what I know about the title. I'd played it a little and wasn't able to get too far; its vague mission objectives were only underscored by sloggish controls and repetitive music. It made for a laborious playthrough for many and, as it was released before the advent of the Internet, I'm sure many a gamer was disappointed to find that, judging only on screenshots in Nintendo Power and the back of the game's box, the game was a short and unrewarding experience.
Developers, though, found enough in the game to deem it worthy of a remake; nearly every game one can think of from the 80's and early 90's is getting some sort of facelift these days. After... hmm, let's see: Frogger, Street Fighter, Pac-Man, Bomberman, Metal Gear, Bionic Commando, Klonoa, Mega Man, Contra and so many others, it's time to retread this ground. Fortunately, this Wii-make trumps countless entries of the same category in many big ways and even the original NES title, tenfold. A Boy and his Blob is not only an excellent revisiting of an old franchise; it's also a truly wonderful game in its own right.
The basic elements to know about this game are that there is a young boy, his alien blob, and that they are on a journey that spans many environments in the guise of a 2D puzzle / platformer, supposedly to return Blob to his home planet. The main hook from the NES game was the boy's supply of jellybeans that he'd feed the blob at crucial moments in the game. The blob could turn the creature into a ladder, another into a rocket ship, another into a key and so on. These would be used in some hard-to-follow puzzles and usually serve the purpose of helping the boy get through barriers or over obstacles. Is there a gate preventing you from entering a building? Feed the blob a certain jellybean (whose purpose in the NES title would at first be unclear to you until you use trial and error or strange clues in the jellybean's name) that turns him into a manhole and go underground to the other side.
The original game survived mainly on this creative but shoddily executed concept. As far as I can recall, there was no way to get new jellybeans if you ran out of ones of a certain color. If you thought you needed a rocket ship in one part of the game and squandered your supply of those beans, and you really needed the bean someplace else, the game would be unbeatable. If your blob's "key" form worked for a door you haven't encountered yet and you tried it on a gate, you'd be up the creek later on. The blob would usually be good about staying behind you or within earshot of your whistle, but he would get caught in crevices or simply never come if you move from screen to screen (think Pitfall). Similarities between the NES game and the Wii-make end here. Boy, blob and jellybeans (this time in an unlimited supply) are what transfer over to the new game: none of the control pratfalls, unresponsiveness from your AI blob or confusion over the beans' functions appear here, and thank goodness for that. What we have here is a well-executed puzzle platformer.
Gone is the "go anywhere, but with no guidance" structure of the original; in its place is a series of overworlds that connect the boy and his blob from environment to environment and then from level to level, of which there are ten in every environment. These overworlds each contain viewing areas to take a look at concept art you have unlocked throughout your adventure and access special stages.
In any given stage, it is your goal to simply reach the stage's exit using the beans at your disposal from the get-go. That is to say, you are given a supply of up to eight different beans in any individual stage. In one stage, for example, you may only be given the trampoline bean, the ladder bean, the rocket bean and the manhole bean. It sounds as though it's limiting the player's creativity, and one could debate that it is, but the game only gives you the beans you'll need to complete the one isolated stage, and this eliminates a lot of confusion. Along the way, you and the blob must work in tandem to activate switches for moving platforms, drop rocks on enemies and collect the three (optional but bonus-feature-unlocking) treasure chests in every single level.
The stages are excellently designed. The means to your end are different in every stage, whether it be a standard puzzle stage or one of the more challenging, action-oriented stages that are unlocked later on. The blob, thanks to the jellybeans, is actually quite versatile, and the forms he takes, usually everyday objects like a ladder, a manhole, a bubble, a trampoline, a jack and several others, make him absolutely necessary to beat each stage. This is certainly one of those games in which there is a great feeling of satisfaction and personal triumph when completing a particular stage or besting a fearsome boss.
Speaking of bosses, the meanest foes in the game take more brain to defeat than brawn. This game is not combat-heavy; the most fearsome combat involves dropping rocks on enemies' heads. As such, the blob is not prone to kicking butt and taking names - except once. Beside that, it's necessary to first figure out the boss's attack patterns and then, just like the regular levels, use the blob's multitudinous forms to take the boss down. These can be just as puzzling as the regular levels.
The controls are top-knotch. Without too much Wii waggle, the boy and blob are navigated through the world with the Wii-mote / nunchuck combination or via the Classic Controller. I preferred the former, as the jelly bean selection menu is used by holding a button down and rotating the analog stick, as the beans are placed in a circle, the center of the circle showing how the blob will change after eating the bean. The game's physics, especially the boy's jumping, take a little bit to get used to (think of the more recently-released Limbo), but the game's control scheme is definitely very serviceable. And, though it serves no practical function, there is a "hug the blob" button for those special sentimental moments.
These stages can get especially difficult, though I never felt cheated out of a death because of the controls. Your character will befell a spike-related death every once in a while, or an enemy may get the best of you in the realm of the one-hit kill, but it would never be on the fault of the controls. It can simply be chalked up as part of any good puzzle-platforming experience, like Prince of Persia. The treasure chests in each - which, upon being found, are eaten up by the blob, in a funny animation - can be especially hard to reach.
The game survives on a very intriguing, organic vibe. Thank the digital deities above that there are no stupid gimmicks in this game! The blob isn't some demented sidekick, spouting off idiotic one-liners, sporting a backwards baseball cap or explaining the game via shoehorned, poorly-written tutorial jabber. The boy isn't a stuck-up snob who can't appreciate what he's already got, almost absent of any endearing or relatable character trait like most platforming mascots. He's not using the blob for his own means, putting him down or building him up. Heck, there's not even any dialogue in this game except for a few snippets!
A Boy and His Blob doesn't beat you over the head with its premise or take any significant amount of time explaining its controls, game mechanics or backstory. It never feels pretentious. The controls are simple, the tutorial is built seamlessly into the gameplay with pictures strewn about the environment showing how the different transformations work, and the narrative is seamless, significant and heartwarming without a single line of script.
Though there isn't too much to bring gamers back to The Boy and His Blob after the game is done - the game's biggest shortcoming (that and its lack of multiplayer or online functionality) - I'd put this game on the exclusive pedestal of games which must be played because of how they make a gamer feel. Maybe developers can truly be inept, maybe it's the games I choose to play, or perhaps it is simply a magical thing that happens under a blue moon and when the planets align, but is very, very rare - for me at least - to sense a strong emotional connection in a video game's story.
It can almost be unreal, watching the boy romp in a firefly-lit cove, with the blob bounding happily behind him, not saying a word, simply following the boy attentively and faithfully, enjoying every moment of it. When the boy calls out for his companion, it may be out of fear, out of undying patience, out of caring. When you celebrate the completion of a tough part of their journey, they celebrate with you.
It's truly a delightful marriage of effective design, beautiful graphics, an orchestrated and eclectic aural presentation and feeling. You'll never hear or see me complain about this game's aesthetics; the 2D animation is some of the best I've seen on the Wii, and the dynamic lighting effects - on the foreign alien planet, in the nighttime stages lain across a sparsely lit valley - are astounding. I loved watching the blob transform so fluidly, especially into his more elaborate forms, and I never tired of the game's sound effects, from the boy's calls out to the blob to the "squish" of a black, gooey foe getting crushed by a boulder. As mentioned before, the soundtrack is orchestrated, and there are specific musical allusions to the original title. And I'll be danged if this game doesn't feature the most beautiful ending song to any video game I've ever heard. Period.
Excellent 2D puzzle platforming gameplay. A great soundtrack. Immaculate design. This game is the ultimate Wii package, a pick-up-and-play game whose mechanics, while uncomplicated, are that much more approachable and whose graphical presentation, while almost Gamecube-caliber, are not any less beautiful. It's a steal, now,and I can wholeheartedly recommend you pick it up, no matter where your gaming tastes lie.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/21/10
Game Release: A Boy and His Blob (US, 10/13/09)
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