Review by kobalobasileus
"An Example of the Proper Way to Do a Remake"
A Boy & His Blob (2009)
An Example of the Proper Way to Do a Remake
A Boy & His Blob (B&B2009) is a complete redux of the NES title, A Boy & His Blob - Trouble on Blobolonia (B&B1989), in celebration of that game's 20th anniversary. B&B1989 was made by 8 people and originated in Europe, whereas B&B2009 has a significantly longer credit roll and hails from America.
B&B1989 had a lot of potential and an unexplainable appeal, despite being nearly impossible to play due to required blind leaps of faith, severely limited lives, no continues, and no explanation whatsoever of what the player is supposed to do. The concept of having a transforming white blob as a sidekick while exploring hidden underground passages is such an original and quirky idea that the premise made me want to play the game as much as the gameplay mechanics made me want to destroy every copy of it in existence.
When I read that there was going to be a complete redux, not port, of A Boy & His Blob on the Wii, my hopes soared, as the addition of modern gameplay conventions to the original game's premise would finally allow me to experience David Crane's brilliant idea in its entirety. Yet, at the same time, I was leery of the possibility that B&B2009 would be just as disappointing as B&B1989. I wondered which influence would win out, the aesthetics or the mechanics.
B&B2009 is a beautiful game. Eschewing fancy graphics and overwrought polygons, B&B2009 is completely hand-drawn and hand-animated using large, vibrant sprites. The characters, both heroic and villainous, look great and the backgrounds range from beautiful to breathtaking. While not quite up to the standard set by VanillaWare for 2D sprites, B&B2009 still holds its own quite well. Compared to B&B1989, it is apparent that a whole lot more effort went into designing the visuals. The animations, specifically the Blob's transformations, are smooth and pleasing to the eye, particularly some of the more complex transformations such as the ladder and robot.
The audio in B&B2009 is also a striking improvement over the original game. There are a number of different music tracks, all of which are easy on the ears. It even includes an orchestral remix of the main theme of B&B1989. The only portion of the music that isn't excellent is the vocals for the ending theme, which are still passable, just not excellent.
The sound effects are fairly minimal, but they are well done. The Boy has a handful of different yells and whistles that he uses to call the Blob and the Blob makes a nice gulping sound when he eats a jellybean and a variety of appropriate sound effects for his various transformations.
One minor complaint I have about the presentation in B&B2009 is that the jellybeans are no longer labeled by flavor. One of the endearing features of B&B1989 was the use of puns in determining the effects of jellybeans on the Blob. For example, a tangerine jellybean turned the Blob into a trampoline, or an apple jellybean turned the Blob into a car jack. These were clever, as the first flavor and form rhyme while the second flavor and form are a pun on Apple Jacks cereal. While both of these transformations are featured in B&B2009 and are associated with appropriately-colored jellybeans (orange and green, respectively), the actual names are nowhere to be found. It almost seems as if the developers made a conscious effort to remove all text from the game. While this is a sensible decision for a game featuring a 6-year-old protagonist and a Blob, neither of whom is likely literate, it takes away one of the few aesthetically pleasing aspects of the original game.
B&B2009 also has a couple of technical issues that mar the presentation. First, the game only has one save slot, which is completely unacceptable. The purpose for this one save slot seems to be to allow a seamless transition from the title screen to the stage select map. The other technical issue is the somewhat long load times for each stage. These load screens feature animated enemies or the Boy & Blob and appear before and after each stage for a noticeable amount of time. Neither of these technical issues is a deal-breaker, but they are annoying and prevent the game from achieving perfection.
Unfortunately, the developer of B&B2009 decided to stick with tradition and not explain any of the story premise in the actual game. Like B&B1989, the story setup is detailed in the instruction manual instead of in the game itself. It seems that, at one point, a series of picture-book-like panels was going to be used to setup the story, but these were cut from their place at the beginning of the game and made available as an unlockable extra, alongside other developer materials. Instead of a cohesive premise, B&B2009 begins with a strikingly well-animated FMV cutscene that shows-off the Blob's transformation abilities and gives a peek at the game's four bosses, a blobby cobra, a blobby big cat, a blobby bird of prey, and a blobby humanoid with a crown.
Pulling together story elements from the instruction manual, the FMV opening, and the scrapped story panels from the extras, the overall story of B&B2009 is this:
An evil blob has declared himself King of Blobolonia. He has influence over all black blobs and plans to imprison all white blobs (a not-so-subtle reference to racial conflict?). The titular Blob escapes from Blobolonia on a rocket and crashes on Earth near the titular Boy's treehouse. The Boy finds the Blob and discovers that the Blob likes jellybeans... and that the jellybeans cause the Blob to transform into different things based on their flavors. The Boy and the Blob must travel around Earth and Blobolonia, defeating the black blob subcommanders before facing off against the King Blob and freeing all of the blobs from his evil. As the two travel, they form an unbreakable bond of friendship, despite their incredible differences.
B&B2009, like many of the best third-party Wii games, uses no motion-controls whatsoever. It also gives the player a choice between playing with a Wiimote + Nunchuck or with a Classic Controller. Being the old-school curmudgeon I am, I used the Classic Controller and found it to be nearly perfect. In the game, the player directly controls the Boy with the controller and indirectly controls the Blob using jellybeans or commands issued by the Boy. The left analog stick moves the Boy and allows him to look up and down while the right analog stick does nothing. B makes the Boy jump, holding Y brings up a radial menu of jellybean flavors that can be chosen with the left analog stick, X calls the Blob, and A allows the Boy to throw a jellybean of the selected flavor. Pressing A tosses the bean near the Boy's feet, whereas holding A allows the player to aim where the bean will fly using the left analog stick to adjust the trajectory. The d-pad, unfortunately, is not a movement option, as Up causes the Boy to hug the Blob, Down causes the Boy to tell the Blob to calm down (which makes him hold still and stop chasing after jellybeans), Left does nothing, and Right makes the game's camera follow the Blob instead of the Boy (which is handy for determining the potential bottomlessness of pits). The reason I would have preferred to use the d-pad for movement instead of the left analog stick is the fact that I suffered numerous deaths-by-falling when trying to press up or down on the analog stick to see if anything was hidden or just out of sight above or below the Boy's location. Since the game registers any diagonal movement of the analog stick as sideways, one must be very careful about looking around as well as grabbing onto ladders in mid-jump.
B&B2009, like B&B1989, is a puzzle-platformer in which one character (the Boy) is weak, ineffectual, and easily killed, while the other character (the Blob) is indestructible and athletic but unable to unlock his true potential without help. Unlike the original game, however, B&B2009 features distinct stages instead of a vast, interconnected world. These stages are numerous, with 40 making up the main game and another 40 challenge' stages that can be unlocked by finding three treasure chests within each normal stage. Clearing the challenges' unlocks concept art and other developer materials that can be viewed from the stage selection areas.
Other big changes in B&B2009 from B&B1989 include unlimited lives, many checkpoints in each stage (except challenge' stages), unlimited jellybeans, only certain flavors of bean being available in each stage, and the fact that the Blob will now eat jellybeans off the ground. One might think that all of these concessions would make B&B2009 way too easy. That is not the case, as the concessions serve only to make the game playable whereas the original was not. The game has an easy learning-curve, however, with too many of the early levels dotted with condescending billboards featuring pictures of the blob-transformation needed to proceed. By the end of the game, the billboards mostly go-away and there are plenty of tricky puzzles and sections that require precise steering of a parachute or rocket. These stages are still not teeth-grindingly hard, but they would be if the player were only given five lives for the entire game as in B&B1989. The overall difficulty of B&B2009 is decidedly average.
Overall, A Boy & His Blob is a solid addition to the Wii's library of retro-inspired games. The puzzles are well-designed and clever, the controls are tight, and the game is fun: everything that A Boy & His Blob - Trouble on Blobolonia was not. I recommend A Boy & His Blob to anyone who likes 2D platformers and spatial puzzles, and to anyone who was put-off by the original game's difficulty and incomprehensibility.
Overall (not an average): 9/10
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 02/09/10
Game Release: A Boy and His Blob (US, 10/13/09)
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