A Boy and his Blob initial thoughts

I just beat A Boy and His Blob last night, at least the standard 40 level linear progression. I still have a bunch of bonus levels to wrap up. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on what I like and don’t like about the game. Overall, it’s one of the better games I’ve played all year in terms of gameplay and graphical presentation. It’s got a few rough edges but they are minor and do not detract much from the total experience.

Though I wouldn’t say I was much of a fan per se, I did play the original Boy and his Blob on the NES way back when I knew nothing about David Crane. The game had a clever mechanic (one might say gimmick) of transforming your companion, Blobert the blob, into various objects by feeding him various jellybeans. Using these various transformations properly let you progress through the game. It was a very difficult and unforgiving game (not unlike another favorite of mine, Bionic Commando), but the limitations seemed to be more brutal than Bionic Commando, such as a limited number of jellybeans. By using up too much of one flavor, you’ve just gone and torched your whole playthrough and you’ll need to start again.

Needless to say, the Wii version of A Boy and his Blob does away with this limitation and gives you unlimited jellybeans. The tradeoff is that each level has preset bean types that you can use. A lot of the old favorites return, like the Apple Jack, Pear-achute, licorice ladder, root beer rocket, et cetera. There’s a few new one too, like the bubble gum bouncy ball and the blueberry balloon that takes the place of the old ketchup beans. By using all of your beans, you’ll pass through levels, beat enemies, and collect treasure chests.

The immediate first impression of this game is that it’s gorgeous. While the animations might not be as overly complex as Muramasa, all of the animations are fluid and have lots of incidentals, such as flowing clothes and hair. The motions are so natural for the boy, and the blob is something else. All of his transformations have a T1000 type feel to them – stretching and squashing until he forms the required shape. The levels look like moving paintings, owing to the traditional animation roots of the developers. If you ever wondered what a good SNES game would look like at a higher resolution with much deeper colors and more frames of animation, this is it.

The character designs, for the ones that are there, are excellent. The boy evokes a Christopher Robin archetype, not accidental according to his designer. He still has the same green shirt and blue shorts as the NES boy, but is younger. His voice is supplied by a real boy, which is a nice touch in my book. The Blob is, well, a blob. He’s very cute. His various transformation designs are about what you’d expect. One of them is wicked awesome, but I won’t spoil it, because the first time you see it you’ll want to rock out.

The enemies aren’t your usual marching army types, but more animal analogues in black blob form. There’s black blob toads, for instance, which will attack with their tongues. There’s evil black blobs that just slime around, and big burly bear blobs that you can ride by putting an anvil on your head. The boss characters are big and nasty, though – a snake, bird, and hound that are well animated and are a challenge to beat.

The game does hold your hand in the first quarter, but it lets go with puzzle help afterwards. There will still be the occasional death warning or parachute sign alerting you to leaps of faith, but in my opinion these are a bit unnecessary. The boy collapses with one hit (the equivalent of “dying” I suppose) but the checkpoints are so frequent that there’s almost no penalty for dying other than having to walk a screen or less. This really opens the game up for some exploration – if you think there’s a chest down that pit, why not jump down it and see if it’s bottomless? If you die, you return back to the ledge or a checkpoint. You’ll retain your pickups (treasure boxes) when you die, so you can complete levels without fear of having to redo things.

You can also replay any level in the game at any time to pick up chests that you missed. You still need to complete the level to obtain the chest; you can’t just warp out and have it. This does cut down on the frustration level, though, because if you miss a chest you don’t have to worry about it. You can always come back later and get it.

The game is also genuinely fun. The relationship between the boy and the blob is very heartwarming, even though the game doesn’t really have any dialogue other than the boy calling for the blob. It’s a game that anyone from any culture could play and still “get” because there isn’t any overwrought dialogue or voice acting to get in the way. Plus, if you don’t enjoy pressing the hug button “just because,” I’m not quite sure if you have a soul.

That’s right, the game has a button dedicated to solely hugging the blob. It doesn’t do anything other than hug him. You could also tell him to stay put, but that doesn’t really do anything to him either. The best thing about this hug is that it was based on one of the developer’s own children hugging a sleeping bag to simulate the blob. Now that’s doing your research.

The game isn’t perfect. Namely, I felt annoyed at the sometimes fiddly nature of the boy’s control, especially near the edges of platforms. It’s hard to describe other than when the boy turns around his standbox might shift to the opposite direction, causing you to fall off the edge. I would have been more upset about these control problems if the checkpoints weren’t so frequent, but they are there nonetheless. I felt that the general bean-switching and throwing system worked fine, but the bean positions on the 8-way circle are not the same between levels for the same kind of beans. Because there’s more possible beans than slots, there’s no real way to avoid this. It just messes with your muscle memory. Thankfully, opening up the bean switch window acts as a pause on the game, so you can take your time switching.

Sometimes the blob spazzed out too – his AI could be kind of wonky in how he finds paths. I even had a situation where he glitched off the screen, but he returned shortly afterwards. I also thought he should jump higher and that instead of me whistling three times for him to come that he should have a timeout for turning into a balloon and coming to me. This isn’t really much of a complaint, just pointing it out.

Another gripe is the music. There’s only a few songs in the game. The classic theme from the NES is there, of course, and it does sound good. The other music is also decent, but there’s just not enough of it. Four or five more tunes to break it up would have been much appreciated. Unlike Bionic Commando, which had a lot of source material to pull from, there were only two unique songs in the original – the main theme and a boss battle theme. Not much to work with.

Overall, it’s a good game and I really liked it. If you have a Wii, go pick it up. There’s no waggle or other stuff – just straight up 2D platforming action with a lot of heart.

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