Developer: Blue Tongue
Release Date: Sept 23, 2008
"Think Different" may have been an advertising slogan for Apple Computer, but it's just as apt when applied to Wii developers. Companies who try to do the same ol', same ol' and pump out ports have found Wii gamers to be a somewhat hostile crowd, but those who take the time to develop specifically for the Wii have been reaping the rewards. Perhaps the latest example of this is THQ's de Blob, an innovative bit of software that's a lot deeper than it looks.
Originally developed as a freeware PC title by students at the Utrecht School of the Arts in the Netherlands, de Blob has spent the last two years undergoing a transformation from student project to a full-fledged video game. And while it has changed a bit, it certainly hasn't lost its magic.
The premise of de Blob is deceptively simple: You roll around and paint the town. On top of that core gameplay element, the developers at Blue Tongue have built a surprisingly vibrant world and an amusing story line to match. It seems that the eternally black Comrade Black has invaded Blob's world with his INKT army and stolen all the color from Chroma City. Faced with an eternity of life without color, Blob and his ragtag band of rebels have to colorize the world in order to drive off the occupying forces of INKT and save the citizens from a life of gray boredom.
You'll start the game with a level free of enemy forces, giving you a chance to get familiar with controlling a rolling ball of paint. Moving around with the Nunchuk's analog stick and jumping with a slash of the Wiimote makes for an intuitive, if slightly imprecise, control scheme since Blob has a bit more inertia than your average video game character. This can make precise turns something of a challenge, but otherwise doesn't hinder play.
In order to progress through a level, you'll need to score points and you score points by completing challenges, painting buildings and defeating enemy forces. You also have to be on the lookout for ink hazards. While falling in water won't kill you (it'll merely wipe the color from Blob), touching ink turns you black and slowly eats away at your health. While inked, anything you touch turns back to gray, so it's a double whammy. A desperate run for the water can end up undoing a lot of your colorization work if you're not careful.
Level design is de Blob's strong point. The game starts with a nice, flat area and then gradually starts building upward. Vertical movement isn't foreign to de Blob; in fact, it's encouraged. Before you know it, those early jumps, which seemed so terrifying, quickly become old hat as Blob is zipping around at incredible heights. Helping things in this regard is the handy-dandy lock-on attack.
Whenever Blob is in the air, you can lock on to the nearest paint bot, trigger or enemy. A quick flick of the Wiimote sends him flying into the target. While it's a great way to pick up paint or smash an INKT foot soldier, it can also be used as a virtual zipline. For example, if a platform is out of reach, but there is a paint bot or enemy on board, all you need to do is jump toward it, lock on and then attack. Blob zips over and smashes whatever you locked on.
Enemy forces usually appear in predetermined locations, though some of the foot soldiers have a habit of wandering around a level until they find Blob. Your opponents start out weak and then are slowly upgraded as you move through the world. In the later levels, the INKT forces adapt a color defense, forcing you to match their color in order to eliminate them. If an enemy is blue and you're red, you can't hurt him.
Challenges make up the bulk of the game, yet mastering them all isn't required fare. Instead, the designers have made nearly every challenge optional. It is entirely possible to finish the game without completing every challenge, ensuring that de Blob is equally accessible to both casual and hardcore gamers. That said, there is a benefit to completing the challenges, and that is the unlockable content.
Completing each of the first nine levels opens them up for free play, which allows you to wander around and paint to your heart's content. No time limits. No enemies. Completing those same levels with silver or gold medals unlocks extra challenge levels. Complete those challenge levels to unlock art galleries and a movie collection. There is also a collection of 100 separate achievements (10 per level) to master. Needless to say, de Blob has a tremendous amount of replay value, especially for the completionist.
For everything it does right, de Blob does make a few missteps. The aforementioned lock-on attack doesn't always send Blob to the targeted item — if the game detects a "better" target, it'll send Blob flying toward it, even if you had something else in your crosshairs. This doesn't happen often, but it shouldn't have happened at all. It would have also been nice if there were a way to cycle through on-screen targets. If multiple items are in view, locking on to any particular one seemed to be luck of the draw. There were also a few isolated instances where the level designers fell back on the dreaded "jumping puzzle," which is never appreciated. It's not enough to mar the game, but with everything else being so well polished, the handful of rough bits stick out like ink blots on a rainbow canvas.
If anything, de Blob's biggest problem is going to be perception. It's easy to dismiss de Blob as "just another casual title" based on its premise, but to do so would be a mistake. It is a rare game that can appeal equally well to both the casual and hardcore crowds, yet de Blob does just that. It is a brilliant fusion of simple mechanics and in-depth play that deserves checking out. If you own a Wii, de Blob should be on your short list.
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