E3 08: Hands-on with de Blob

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de Blob is de bomb.

Yes, I know that “de Blob is de bomb” is neither clever nor funny. I was amusing myself all week saying it and I just had to get it out of my system. Sorry.

de Blob is a new Wii platformer coming out in September from THQ and I really hope it ends up being a hit. Sadly, after playing it, I immediately awarded it my “Zack & Wiki award of E3″: a game with an amazing concept and addictive, creative gameplay that will most likely only reach cult status and not sell well overall.

Hopefully, though, my gut feeling is wrong and more people give this hidden gem a chance. de Blob is easily one of the best games I played at last week’s E3.

Hit the jump to find out why de Blob is so great.

Nothing against the game, but I have to say I am not a big fan of the title. de Blob is fun to say, but the more you try to use it seriously in a sentence the more it makes you sound ridiculous. Many people asked me on the show floor “So, Chad, what was your biggest surprise at E3?”, to which I responded “Um … de Blob?” This answer usually resulted in either a confused look or the person just turning around and walking away altogether.

Bad name choice aside, though, de Blob is an absolute blast to play and one of the best experiences on the Wii.

In the game, you play as a little round ball of paint (a blob, if you will) that must journey around many different levels to bring color to a black & white world. If I had to compare it to other games, I would say it is a strange mixture between Super Mario Galaxy, Rocket: Robot on Wheels, and Katamari Damacy. I don’t know about you, but that just might be the best combination of games ever!

Here is the basic premise: using the analog stick on the nunchuk, players control de Blob as he rolls around the world. By holding down the “A” button a compass ring appears around your character and shows you the location of key treasures and challenges (these are your goals). To progress through the game you have to complete challenges handed to you by some wacky characters to unlock new levels and to access secret areas.

To jump, you quickly swing the Wiimote and de Blob will leap in whatever way he is facing. I know, swinging the Wiimote each and every time to jump sounds like a chore, but it really isn’t; it only takes a quick flick and becomes second nature before you know it.

In addition to moving and jumping, de Blob can also lock on to almost anything using the “Z” button. After doing this and swinging the Wiimote, de Blob will perform whatever action is necessary. If he is locked on an enemy, flicking the Wiimote will have him attack; if he is locked on a switch, flicking the control will activate it. It’s a simple premise, but is perfectly utilized and very easy to pull off.

Each level — of which there are many — is gigantic, with many different challenges scattered throughout. Even better, the challenges are completely varied and never get boring (at least, they didn’t in the limited amount of time I had with the game). The THQ rep I was talking to said there would be around 25-35 challenges in each level. This, combined with the numerous amounts of things you can collect on the level, makes the overall game pretty robust. If you are a fan of collect-a-thons like the original Banjo-Kazooie, you will be more than happy with de Blob.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me explain how the challenges work. The game doesn’t just list a bunch of challenges for you to choose from. Instead, as I previously mentioned, you have to follow your handy compass and find the challenge locations scattered around the giant levels. This is great as the levels themselves are like fun games on their own. Even when you are not competing in challenges, you will be jumping on platforms, dodging obstacles such as spikes and fire traps, fighting enemies, and leaping on these amazingly fun launch pads that shoot you all over the levels. These pads reminded me a lot of the launch stars in Super Mario Galaxy and are just as satisfying to trigger.

When you are finally ready to tackle a challenge, the game introduces you to its main mechanic: painting. de Blob starts each level as a neutral color. Scattered throughout each level are paint canisters colored either red, yellow, or blue. When you pick up a canister, de Blob becomes that color. In a very cool addition, when de Blob rolls around as a color, he leaves a paint trail everywhere he goes. No matter how long you stay on the level or how far you travel, the paint trails always stay there. It is a neat feature and became more than just an aesthetic when the paint trails actually started helping me learn where I had already explored. Even cooler, the three primary colors can be combined to form any color of the rainbow. If a challenge asks you to turn purple, for example, de Blob must pick up a red and blue canister to create the correct hue. Accidentally become the wrong color by accident? de Blob just needs to find some beautifully rendered water (be it a large lake or a small bucket), jump in, and he will return to his original, neutral-colored self.

The challenges themselves are separated into a few different categories. Some will ask de Blob to paint a section of the city, others will be traditional races or arena battles. Regardless of the type, all the challenges I took part in were creative and fun. In one, I had to paint a factory different colors. The pipes around the industrial structure needed to be orange while the large holding tanks needed to be green. Trying to collect the right combination of colors while jumping over perilous platforms and conveyor belts was tough, but, most importantly, it was always entertaining.

When I first starting playing de Blob I was worried that it might have been a little on the easy side — some of the early challenges in particular seemed skewed toward a younger audience. But as I played for just a short time, things became challenging rather quickly. Not only do the challenges and obstacles get tougher, each level has a countdown timer that forces you to get to the end in a set amount of time. Before you freak out about this being a deal breaker, keep in mind that the timer is rather long and there are numerous clock icons hidden in the level to give you a time boost. I loved this addition as it not only added a sense of urgency, it reminded me a lot of retro platformers like Super Mario Bros. 3 that only gave you a certain amount of time to get to the end of a level.

Graphically, de Blob looks gorgeous, with the particle and water effects impressing the most. The black & white levels looks a little bland, but they help establish a nice contrast once everything is eventually splattered with bright colors. To top it all off, everything runs in silky smooth 60 fps without an ounce of slowdown or clipping to be seen.

de Blob is one of those games that is kind of hard to describe, but it is quirky and creative enough to easily recommend. I wasn’t expecting much at all when I sat down to play it, but once I did I was pleasantally surpised. In fact, de Blob may be one of the best games I got to play while at E3. Hopefully audiences won’t be turned off by the odd name or equally odd gameplay to not give it a chance.

In a pefect world, de Blob would sell millions as it is a shining example of a Wii game done very right.

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Chad Concelmo
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