What do you get when the greatest videogame company of all time teams up with the greatest film director of all time for an original project on the Nintendo Wii? That remains to be seen, as Capcom and Hayao Miyazaki currently have no plans to work together. While we wait for that to change, we can all sit around and play Boom Blox, the first game in what is planned to be a series of collaborations between Electronic Arts and Steven Spielberg.
EA and Spielberg are perhaps the two biggest money makers in their given fields, not to mention true experts in pandering to the lowest common denominator. Is Boom Blox just another piece of bland, cookie-cutter crap in line with the other uninspired F.V. that EA and Spielberg have been spewing out of late, or does the game hark back to an earlier day when both creators’ monikers were synonymous with genuine artistry?
Hit the jump to find out.
Boom Blox (Wii)
Developed by Electronic Arts Los Angeles
Published by Electronic Arts
Released on May 6th, 2008
Boom Blox maybe the most flailing, out-of-control, mixed bag of a game currently available on the Wii, even more so than Mario Party 8 or WarioWare: Smooth Moves. The premise of the game is simple enough: you, the player at home, use the Wii Remote to manipulate the various blocks presented in full 3D computer graphics on your television screen. Beyond that, anything goes. Through the course of the game, you’ll be picking blocks up, swinging them around, throwing them, throwing baseballs at them, shooting them with an electric cannon, playing Jenga with them, turning them into gold, and blowing them up — all in a variety of single-player and multiplayer modes.
The plethora of options doesn’t stop there. The blocks themselves have multiple different properties. Some explode when touched, some disappear entirely, and others are actually alive. These animal blocks move around the screen all on their own, sometimes seeking protection and guidance in the style of Lemmings. Other times, they just need to be shot. The method of gameplay you’ll be utilizing and what the blocks will be doing changes at a nearly constant rate. Bored with shooting monkey blocks in the face? Fine, because in a few minutes you’ll be guiding a mommy gorilla block to her lost children before they burn in some fiery lava. Don’t let the E rating fool you, folks, this game can be brutal. There is more wanton monkey killing here even than in Congo: The Movie on the Sega Saturn.
Also like Congo: The Movie, Boom Blox is far from the most well-crafted game on the planet. If you are one of the millions of people who grew up on Spielberg’s Tiny Toons and Animaniacs and were hoping that Boom Blox’s plot would have similarly inspired writing, visual design, and music, then prepare to be disappointed. The game’s multiple storylines, which range from a Braveheart parody about sheep to a horror tale about five kitten-girls being attacked by zombies, are all surprisingly forgettable. The game’s visuals and music are all also quite flavorless. When it comes to craft and style, Boom Blox feels less like something from the mind that brought us Indiana Jones and more like something from the creator of the Hamster Dance. It’s cute and it’s polished, but it’s almost completely soulless.
Things get better after you get over the initial shock of the game’s by-the-book surface qualities and really dig into multiplayer mode. This is where it gets good. Boom Blox‘s multiplayer is perhaps gaming’s greatest gateway drug, even more appealing to non-gamers than Wii Sports or Wii Play. Not all people appreciate bowling, laser pong, or cow racing, but it’s safe to say that everyone on planet Earth, from a five-year-old boy to a ninety-year-old woman, enjoys smashing other people’s stuff. That is what Boom Blox‘s multiplayer mode is all about: smashing other people’s stuff in the methods described above, plus many, many more.
There is a horseshoes-esque mode that has you knocking your blocks into specific areas of the screen for points (and knocking your opponent’s blocks off the screen, depriving them of scoring opportunities). There is a Rampart-esque mode that has you hucking bowling balls at your opponent’s block-built castle. The list goes on. If you ever tire of the hundreds of pre-made multiplayer screens, there’s a stage creation mode, where you can customize every aspect of the game’s built-in levels or make your own from scratch. It all adds up to the perfect combination of simplicity, variety, and unpredictability, the three most important aspects to a successful, casual-friendly multiplayer game.
The single-player mode does not fare as well. The game is over far too soon, and the road to completion is far too easy (with the exception of the last two “Zombies vs Kittens” levels. Damn you, zombies!). Most of the game’s single-player levels can be beaten in less than a minute, and it took just under six hours to see everything in the game. The great amount and variety of single-player levels in Boom Blox will prevent boredom from setting in quickly, but the lack of skill or strategy needed to beat them keeps the experience from being memorable. It’s like the gaming equivalent to a giant all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. Everything tastes okay, and you never run out of choices, but somehow you never really feel full.
Overall, I can’t recommend Boom Blox for those who will only be playing the game alone. Zack & Wiki, Elebits, and even Mercury Meltdown Revolution are three cheaper, better looking, and deeper action/puzzle Wii exclusives that are more deserving of your time. If rated on its own merits, the single-player mode in Boom Blox would only get a 6.5. Multiplayer does not suffer from the single-player mode’s faults of being overly easy and forgettable. Playing with another person always keeps the game fresh, and if the single-player mode could be played multiplayer-style with computer-controlled opponents, then I could easily give Boom Blox a 9.5. As it stands, the good, the bad, and the boring of the game all come together to an average of…
There is no legitimate reason why Boom Blox should be as fun as it is. None. It’s really nothing more than a series of incredibly intuitive, yet totally dissimilar types of action/puzzle gameplay revolving around knocking down blocks. It’s simple. It’s cute. Initially, it seems almost childish.
It’s also the most fun I’ve had on my Wii since No More Heroes.
I’ve only gotten about halfway through the single-player campaign, but I’m loving it so far; I understand Jonathan’s point that the levels can be completed very quickly, but (unless I’m massively underestimating Jonathan’s skill at the game, which is a definite possibility) most players will spend anywhere from five minutes to a few hours trying to get gold medals on each of the adventure mode and exploration missions.
Yeah, you can pass the singleplayer levels easily enough, but to achieve a gold medal on each stage is much more challenging, time-consuming, and ultimately rewarding. I’ve personally spent quite a long time messing around on certain ball-throwing stages, trying to figure out how to topple six individual block towers with a single, well-placed throw.
I’ve played all the multiplayer modes with at least three different groups of people, but certain moments always elicit the same response: when you’re trying to remove a precariously-placed block in the Jenga-esque mode, you and whomever you’re playing with will likely let out a yelp of worry and surprise as the tower quivers and shifts from side to side. When the tower finally collapses, everyone in the room will be yelling with simultaneously tragic and jovial alarm. As simple as the gameplay modes are, the believable physics system makes the experience much more suspenseful and fun.
I’ve only got two complaints with the game, but they’re reasonably big ones. Firstly, it’s way too easy to “cheat” in multiplayer games. One can easily grab and move several different blocks without ever being penalized, so one player can destabilize an entire tower and screw over the next player before finally ending their turn. Secondly, many of the cooperative or single-player levels are poorly designed in that when you’re meant to knock certain gems to the ground, they can land on the solid starting platform in such a way that, though they’ve technically fallen from the towers they sat atop, they haven’t hit the actual ground below the platform. As a result, the player has to waste a few extra throws pushing the excess gems off the concrete starting platform just to prove to the game that they did, in fact, knock them off the towers.
I’d have never thought anyone would ever make a game that combined the tactile joy of knocking down block towers with the ingenious design of a puzzle game, but Boom Blox manages it: it’s fun, accessible, intense, and mentally stimulating all at once. At certain points in both the single-player and multiplayer modes, I felt like I was having more fun playing this virtual form of Jenga than I could have by actually breaking out the box and setting up a real game. That may not sound like much, but given the abysmal official Jenga game on the Wii, that’s a hell of a compliment.
Destructoid Review Final Verdict
Score: 9.0 (Fantastic. Negligible flaws. Otherwise very, very good; a fine example of excellence in the genre.)