Review by stillnotelf

"Boy and Blob bond, bounce baddies with beans, bump off blackhearted blob baron"

As you probably know, A Boy and His Blob is a remake of the NES classic. It's really a new adventure than a remake; some transformations (and one boss gimmick) return but otherwise it's totally reimagined. As in the original, you play as a defenseless young boy who uses a supply of jellybeans to trigger fantastic transformations in his friendly alien blob; the transformations get you through the levels and help you avoid/destroy enemies.

The plot is minimal, and all of it is presented through actions rather than words. There's almost no spoken dialog, and what little there is is just short exclamations by the Boy. There are no written words in the whole main game, although they show up in the pause screen, extras, etc.

The plot itself is indistinguishable from the original: Boy finds Blob, they bond, and they bounce through blubbering baddies and blow up the black-hearted blob baron. Don't expect deep plot twists.

The developers did a great job demonstrating the affection between the Boy and his Blob – there's even a dedicated “hug” button on the wiimote.

Animations are well-rendered and very consistent. The hand-drawn art is fantastic. They included a video of one of the developer's children acting as the Boy to create model motions – in particular he hugs a comforter, which becomes the hug motion in-game.

The Blob's transformations, and the enemies, tend to lack detail. They're pretty to look at, but I guess since they're blobs, they tend towards smooth surfaces. This isn't really a complaint, but a feature of the art style. I felt the beans were poorly differentiated – about a third of them are very similar yellow-green colors. You never need to select via color (the selection wheel shows the transformation) so this is pretty minor.

The music is appropriately atmospheric but nothing to get worked up about. There is a sound-test mode, but it's presented in level format, so frankly it's needlessly complicated to find the song you want.

The game includes dozens and dozens of scans of the art as it developed from concept sketches into the final product (these are “prizes” for finishing the challenge levels). These are all fun to look at, but don't add too much value. There are a handful of images of annotated sketches that are very frustrating to read – they have notes on how to animate the Blob, etc, but the viewer for the image is static and won't even let you pause the slideshow to linger while you read all the notes! The worst part is the annotated sketches are by far the most interesting.

This is a puzzle-platformer differentiated only by its Blob & beans mechanics. There are almost no “numbers” to the game at all – you have unlimited lives, no life bar (one hit point), and unlimited jellybeans.

Checkpoint placement in the main levels is unbelievably generous - basically every baddy you bypass or hole you hop over is a new respawn point. This is extremely necessary, because you die fairly frequently (although unevenly). Levels are structured as long series of short challenges (dodge this enemy, activate this switch, get over this pit). You might die 5 times on one part, and then make it through the next 4 unscathed. This is unsatisfying on some level – I felt that the challenges weren't always particularly fair or even in difficulty, and that it was being made up for with easy respawns. I won't call it BAD, but it didn't sit right with me. The boss fights are a notable exception here: expect to waste 20 seconds watching animations before you can try again every time you die; it's a huge pain. They should have put the checkpoint AFTER the boss-roars-at-you introductions; this has long been known as a terrible way to annoy gamers.

All of the main levels contain three semi-hidden treasure chests; picking them up will activate a challenge level, which doubles the number of levels to 80 (10 per 4 worlds, plus a challenge for each). You aren't likely to miss any chests if you're paying attention even on your first pass through each level (I missed two out of the 120, and found them easily on the second try).

The challenge levels work differently from the main levels. They have no chests and also no checkpoints; you have to do the whole level on one life. They aren't particularly harder than the main levels (although they are a lot shorter). About half are one-transformation wonders: you'll have to do the whole level with just one transformation type (ok, ignoring the balloon, see below). For the more active transformations, these are often frustrating, as you try to work for fine control of fast-moving Blob forms when only one mistake kills you.

The transformations themselves are well thought-out and control acceptably. There are only two (of 15) that are underdeveloped. The balloon transformation is an obvious development holdover: all it does is turn the Blob into a balloon which returns to you, but you can do this without a jellybean by just pressing the button to recall the Blob three times. I won't spoil the remainder; having fun figuring the transformations out is the best part of the game. For the faster-moving transformations, the camera really should pan out a lot farther – this is not Sonic the Hedgehog, and you shouldn't die because of obstacles you were moving too fast to see. A few transformations do this so it's not like they didn't think of it in development. The available transformations in a level are preset by the game; you can only experiment with the beans available. A few times there is a puzzle that would be made too easy with a bean you don't have, but generally the ones you don't have aren't relevant.

The controls are tight, largely because the designers eschewed waggle/motion controls for tried-and-true buttons. The hit detection is precise but punishing. You won't find yourself dying from “hey, I wasn't close to that guy!”, but on the other hand, you are often forced to navigate between closely packed enemies. One enemy in particular explodes; you have to stay well away to avoid getting caught in the blast and it's frustrating. I won't call this bad but it's not for the easily annoyed.

One odd thing about the levels is the vestigial partial puzzles. Like the balloon transformation, some puzzles have “extra bits” with no apparent purpose. I assume they just left them in from earlier implementations of the puzzle.

Before I finish, I want to note the game's length. It's not very long (10-15 hours at most), and a lot of that is load screens and padded animations at the end of each level (you'll get really sick of watching the Blob spit up treasure chests...watching them open...watching some shiny stuff fly around...and FINALLY the challenge level marker appears). It's also not full price for a Wii disc game (30$ new at release). I wonder if it was originally a WiiWare that got too big?

Pros & Cons:
+ Fun transformations
+ Nostalgia factor
+ Well-designed puzzles
+ Excellent presentation
+ Development extras

= Short, but not expensive

- Hard to use extras
- Load times and forced repetitive animations slow the pacing to a crawl
- Little replay value

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 06/28/10

Game Release: A Boy and His Blob (US, 10/13/09)

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