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Destructoid review: de Blob

12:21 PM on 10.04.2008 // Jonathan Holmes

de Blob's rise from an art school project to a high-profile Wii release will likely go down as one of videogaming's great Cinderella stories. It's not everyday that some hard-working kids manage get discovered by a real-life game developer, and when they do, the whole industry takes notice.
As great as de Blob's rags-to-riches story may be, it's still a new IP, and new IPs and the Wii don't tend to play nice together. Does the game have what it takes to buck the current trends and become a smash hit, despite the fact that it's a third-party title that's neither a mini-game collection or a remake? Hit the jump for the answer.
de Blob (Wii)
Developed by Blue Tongue
Published by THQ
Released on September 22, 2008 

The first question most inquiring minds have about de Blob is, "Does this game play as kiddie/casual as it looks?" It's a natural question to ask about a game featuring saccharine-rich characters painting a world with bright, happy colors. Well, I'm happy to report that despite de Blob's simple look and and simple hook, the gameplay is more than suitable for the hardcore.

The overall goal of the game is to paint everything in sight, but the old-school motivator for high scores is also a factor, as it takes a certain amount of points per stage to open up new areas. Bonuses are handed out for painting a series of objects with speed and/or with different colors. There are also ten to thirty in-game missions to engage in per level that call for you to do more specific tasks like race through a certain area, paint a particularly large object, or fight a variety of different enemies (tanks, cannons, speeder bikes, regular cops, etc.). It all plays out something like a GTA-style sandbox game, except at a greatly accelerated pace (and without all those silly prostitutes). The longest you’ll go without painting something, smashing something, or platforming across something is probably around three seconds. The game's releases of stimuli is always cranked to the max, in terms of both intensity and pace. For more sedate gamers, it may actually be a bit too much.

Blob goes about this mission with only one tool at his disposal -- his body. The character is a living paintball who, after absorbing some color, is able to splat that color on anything he touches. With the exception of a few incidental objects, everything in the game is paintable. Trees, trashcans, churches, boats, bridges, cars, trains, even the citizens of Chroma City themselves all go through a drastic transformation after coming in contact with Blob. Not only do they gain whatever color Blob had at the time, but they can be physically transformed as well. A church becomes a multi-tiered skate ramp, a beat-up old sedan becomes a mini-sports car. It’s exciting, silly, and beautiful to see this black and white world gradually come to life, sort of like Katamari Damacy in reverse. Where the Katamari series is all about absorbing as much of the world's stuff as you can, de Blob is about trying to relieve yourself onto as many objects as humanly (or blobbingly) possible.

If the Raving Rabbids and the Loco Rocos were forced to try and repopulate the planet, the result would look just like Blob and his day-glo compatriots. They all speak in weird blubbery, sloppy-sounding language that would make Mushmouth proud. It’s cute stuff, but not so cute that it’s annoying. In opposition to Blob and Co. are the Inkies, who look one part Stormtrooper and one part Purple Tentacle (minus the purple). All these characters come together in the game’s extremely polished cut scenes, which tell a story that is vaguely reminiscent of Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, where Blob and friends work to liberate the color-drained citizens of Chroma City. It’s not an original plot, but it’s told with more than enough poignancy and humor to make up for it.

The story mode lasted me about eight hours, but it could have gone on for a lot longer. The mode has ten required levels and twenty easily unlocked "secret levels," all of which can be replayed multiple times to break open even more stuff like concept art and soundtrack options. Each level introduces a new gameplay element, environment, and/or enemy. These minor tweaks in the experience are all well and good, but they don’t really change the game all that much. Each level has you doing basically the same thing -- painting buildings, rolling around, and crushing bad guys. It may sound like eight hours of that would get old, but due to the game’s over-the-top, endorphin-pumping presentation, the game just doesn’t get boring.

Part of the excitment comes from de Blob's sound effect system. The game’s score, a combination of Latin dance, ska, reggae, disco, and funk, would have been incredible in and of itself, but combine it with the game’s unique integration of soundtrack and player behavior, and you have a title that borders on musical genius. Depending on what color Blob is at the time (Red, Blue, Yellow, Purple, Green, Orange, or Brown), a different instrument will play as he slathers an object with paint. These riffs melt seamlessly into the game’s score. It may even be a few minutes into playing before you even notice that you are effectively making part of the soundtrack yourself, which makes it all the more gratifying when you suddenly realize you have the power to not only affect the way the game looks, but the way it sounds as well. It’s a design technique that’s been done before in games like Rez and Lumines, but that doesn’t make it any less fantastic.

It will take more than waggle to play this game. de Blob has you moving Blob (the game's star) around with the Nunchuk’s analog stick. A flick of the Wii Remote makes him jump or attack. Most of the buttons on both controllers come into play, with the Z button for lock-on and the C button for camera adjustment coming into play the most frequently, but it’s the analog stick and the Wii-remote that you’ll be using the most. The controls are a little more complicated than the Lego games, but not as involved as, let's say, Metal Gear Solid 4. Advanced techniques take a little getting used to, like the Spider-Man-ing short-term move across walls, or wall jumping to hard-to-reach areas, but overall, the game’s controls are well implemented. The first hour of play will involve some growing pains, but by mid-game it will all be second nature. 

The game also has a few split-screen multi-player options. Up to four players can play in three different competitive modes. One mode plays sort of like a competitive version of Q-Bert, another like Pac-Man Vs, and the last is just like Story mode but with more players. These modes will probably be most appealing to those who may find the single-player mode overly daunting, though the sense of rivalry that multi-player can inspire knows no boundaries. Unlike in Mario Kart or most fighting games, every playable character in de Blob is the same, ensuring a level playing field. As long as you’re motivated, you can potentially kick ass at de Blob.

Ok, so enough with the good news. Here's where de Blob goes wrong. For one, you may get a little sick of the game’s environments. They all take place in one urban environment or another, like the freeway, the city dam, or docks. It’s certainly a more interesting city than Santa Destroy, but it does get a little old sometimes. The game’s textures could also be better. Close up, they’re PS2-style pixelated, though the designers are smart enough to keep the camera panned out far enough that it’s rarely an issue. Speaking of which, de Blob's camera is by far my least favorite thing about the game. A lot of the time it’s fine, but it can quickly end up in the wrong place, causing all sorts of deaths. It’s easy enough to just re-adjust it before going for a particularly tricky jump, but after playing Super Mario Galaxy all year, I’ve become a bit spoiled. Anyway, none of these flaws are bad enough to severely affect the overall experience, but they are noticeable enough that knowing about them before you play will hopefully detract from any disappointment they could cause.

So where does de Blob belong? Well, if you like games that offer tons of freedom, energy, and mischief, then de Blob belongs in your hands, eyes, and ears. The only way this game could be more pleasing to the senses is if it smelled like flowers and tasted like candy. This goes for the casual and hardcore sets alike, as the game is easy for non-gamers to learn, but still complicated enough to keep the hardcore interested. In many ways, de Blob is like a Pixar movie in videogame form: an experience filled with life and vibrancy despite being made from plastic-y polygons. The only thing keeping me from recommending it to everyone for immediate purchase in the fact that not everybody can tolerate games this packed with trumpet blasts and primary colors. If you’re one of those rare Wii owners who bought your Wii just to play Red Steel, then you may want to rent first. But if you’re a fan of Jet Grind Radio, Katamari Damacy, or any stylish, pseudo-sandbox style game, then get de Blob today. You won't be disappointed.

Score: 8.5 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)

Jonathan Holmes, Bad Joke Uncle
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