He’s known for movies, but games? Uh-oh, or oh-yeah?...
Often times, Hollywood’s influence on video games doesn’t amount to much more than a licensed name or title, tacked onto less-than-memorable gameplay. This time around, however, Steven Spielberg has teamed up with EA Los Angeles to produce one of the most addictive, enjoyable titles on the Wii, thus far. Bloom Blox feels like the virtual incarnation of Jenga hooking up with Lincoln Logs, and shows that not all games affiliated (in some way) with the silver screen community, are simple merchandised tie-ins.
A functional, addictive Wii title that’s not a first-party product?...
Boom Blox is a perfect example of how gameplay can trump photorealistic graphics, or intense action. On a console where casual play is the norm, this Spielberg game won’t only appeal to people who look for relaxing fun after a long day, but also to competitive individuals who enjoy deep strategy, through simple execution.
For those playing on their own, Boom Blox offers several single-player options; though, for the most part, there isn’t much difference between them. Before you get to dive into any free-form gameplay, however, you’ll have to complete a few Tutorial games. These practice sessions aren’t overly mundane, and introduce you the different mechanics you’ll need to know in order to progress through the game effectively.
Through the Tutorial games, you’ll learn the different types of “blox” which have unique characteristics: some will explode, disappear, or react to similar blox, while a whole other set award or detract points, set off fireworks or play music. The variation amongst the blox makes for different kinds of games where certain criteria must be met to earn a bronze, silver or gold rating; the better the rating, the more bonus content you unlock.
Two similar-yet-so-fun ways to play by yourself…
For the soloist, after you complete the Tutorial, you have your choice of playing in either the Adventure or Explore mode.
Explore games act more akin to the traditional Arcade play, where you choose your games from a list. There are several different ways to play through the Explore mode, with variable puzzle elements: Throw games have you flicking your Wii-mote to hurl a virtual ball at blox; Blast games require you to shoot at targets; Grab games play similar to the aforementioned Jenga aspect, removing blox tactically from a large structure; and Build games have you picking up and moving blox around. Although the Explore puzzles end up being fairly easy for the critical thinker, there are some harder ones that will likely require multiple trials to even earn a bronze award; smooth, precise movement is needed in addition to intuition.
If you’re looking more for a story-driven element, the Adventure mode offers a context to gameplay—though, don’t count on finding a deep narrative. Played in a linear series, there are four stories, each with multiple puzzles, which unfold similar to a children’s book. They all involve some sort of protagonist who needs help to complete a task, and you’ll use the different play styles to assist them. Added to the puzzle elements are character blox who each have their own attributes: some will steal items, or sit and “Moo,” while others will throw blox. There’s a whole host of different characters, and their inclusion offers dynamic situations throughout the Adventure mode.
Both the normal Adventure and Explore modes can ultimately be beaten within a few hours for older players, but once those are finished, you unlock additional Challenge games for each. The difficulty factor is heightened for Challenge play, and requires you to think and react quickly and competently. There are only a few templates to play on in the entire game, but with multiple ways to clear each puzzle, things don’t get tiresome.
“Jeeeeeennnnnggggaaaaa…” I mean, “Tiiiimmmmbbbeeeerrrrr”….
The most engaging aspect of Boom Blox may stem from the fact that it plays like a simple physics simulator, with blox of different sizes and shapes reacting realistically to where you hit or pull them. There’s just something in the way each structure falls that feels right on; you can remove a piece on one turn, but the architecture may not collapse until a few seconds later.
For its simplicity, however, the game does chug when there are multiple explosions on-screen, or random blox flying everywhere. The slow down can be a bit annoying, but it gives you a chance to savor the destruction—it kind of fits in with Bob Ross’ mantra of “Happy Accidents.” Another minor technical blemish arises is some faulty physics. Every once in awhile you may find a spurious piece supported by little else than the very edge of another blox, or blox mysteriously suspended in the air.
It gets better with more people…
Technical issues aside, the game only gets better with multiplayer action. Here, again, you get to choose which kind of game you want to play (Throw, Blast or Grab), but there’s an additional mode: Attack. While the three play out similar to single-player Explore games—only with two to four people, instead of by yourself—Attack involves taking out opponents’ blox castles by throwing baseballs, for destructive match-style play.
To start the mayhem, however, things get a bit bogged down by a menu system that isn’t the easiest to navigate. No matter, since making “alliances,” Survivor style, turns things all the more interesting as you yell at each other to coax them into attacking an enemy castle—this is first time our actions mimicked those of a commercial, complete with rowdy shoving and name-calling.
Essentially, all of the multiplayer competitive games do well in contributing to a party atmosphere, but the Blast games are the weakest. The Wii is flooded with simple shooters utilizing the pointing functionality of the technology, and it’s just disappointing to see such an otherwise novel game use the mechanic.
Wait, and you can make your own puzzles? Sold…
It may be easy to scream through the single-player experience in an afternoon or two, and the default multiplayer templates could get a bit stale after awhile, but Boom Blox offers up the availability of user-created content.
You have your choice to edit any of the preloaded puzzles, or you can create your own from scratch (with what you’ve unlocked in the single-player games). For those who have extensive experience in modding, or even in Halo 3’s Forge, you might feel a bit constrained with a small file size to work with, but it’s possible to make some truly amazing simple machines, puzzles or arenas. Once you’d saved your file, you can then send your creation to a friend—it’s just a shame you can’t download files from random people, as I’m sure there are very talented people out there who don’t have each other’s Friend Code.
Finally, on the musical side of things, the game doesn’t offer any sort of robust harmonies, but opts for simple, cyclical tunes which match up with the location of play. The melodies may be limited, but they don’t get annoying or grinding, and you eventually find yourself humming along.
Doing for casual games what he did for the action flick…
When all is said and done, Boom Blox is one of the best examples of a casual title that can cater to multiple kinds of gamers: hardcore, pick-up-and-play and even children. Simple puzzles open up more advanced challenges, and add to tons of unlockable content, engaging multiplayer elements and the ability to create and tweak puzzles.
If Spielberg can continue to work this magic for his future titles, we may just have to reconsider the traditional Hollywood-game precedent set by sub-par offerings.