Boom Blox Review

19 02 2009

(This article, and my reivew for Bioshock can both be found at TerrorTube.  Check it out, and vote it up, please!)

 

Boom Blox

Boom Blox

BOOM BLOX – Nintendo Wii – Developer/Producer: Electronic Arts – ESRB Rating:”E”

Let’s face it, the world is changing. Everywhere around us new technology abounds, people are doing new and interesting things, and yes, even gaming is hitting the mainstream thanks to the runaway success of Nintendo’s Wii console.

While as a reviewer and a longtime lover of video games, I tend to have tastes that trend towards the hardcore market, it’s worth noting that as a father of two and as a fan of games of all sorts, I am interested in what’s out there for the casual market.

This is what led me to Boom Blox. Boom Blox was created by Steven Spielberg (yes, that Spielberg), and developed by Electronic Arts for the Wii. Spielberg originally wanted to create a game that his kids could play with him, and one that really leaned on basic fun elements. Thus, a game where one throws balls at towers of blocks was created! Yes, in its essence, Boom Blox is about usnig the Wii Remote to throw a ball at the right point in a tower, to knock it over in the most destructive way possible with as few throws as possible. It’s a simple concept and one any child can grasp (especially boys). However, what bogs Boom Blox down, and keeps it from staying within that box of “simple fun”, is its need to expand the gameplay using all sorts of extra elements like special blocks (a bomb block explodes, chemical blocks need to be combined to, erm, explode, and disappearing blocks, well…they disappear.) And throughout the game, you’re introduced to other mechanics as well. There’s a ray gun that lets you zap blocks (or blocky animal enemies) for quick effect. There’s a sticky hand that works like one of those gummy hands you’d buy from a machine in a store for a quarter, inside an acorn of plastic…you simply place it on a block, and then use the “string” to pull it out.

Spielberg really really likes farm animals, apparently.

Spielberg really really likes farm animals, apparently.

There’s a couple other things, but really, they’re simply variations on a theme. My point is not to say that these things don’t work…Actually, they work pretty well. But instead of adding nuance and strategy, these simply seem like padding to make the game longer and worth more for your buck. What seems to be lacking is the ability to take the core mechanic of throwing a ball at a bunch of blocks to take them down in as few throws as possible, and make that increasingly complex and difficult through level design. However, instead of taking that path, they opted for “varied gameplay.”

Now, this may be the difference between the casual market and the core market. Instead of finding this variety refreshing, I found it dulling. Another thing to note, is that the game is rated E for Everyone, meaning that a 30-something (me) is probably not the demographic the game was intended for. So perhaps I’m being overly harsh. Stranger things have happened. And it is definitely worth mentioning that the likely intended audience for this game (6-12 year olds, from what I can gather) would really get a kick out of the game’s simple controls, and colorful graphics and innovative gameplay. But for someone who’s been around this block and others a bit…there wasn’t much meat after the initial perhaps two hours of gameplay, to keep me hooked.

If you’ve got kids of this middling age (again, 6-12 year olds), be prepared to assist at the beginning, and then watch as they get it quickly. However, as a gamer all of my life, I couldn’t for the life of me, complete the last two levels of the Adventure mode. After such simple tasks throughout the game, these last two levels are immensely difficult and out of left field, in respect to the rest of the game. Kids of the assumed intended demographic will likely be extremely frustrated by this difficulty jump (assuming they hadn’t moved on to another game yet) as the game offers little to reward you for completing these missions.

Sheep and Gems and Breakin Stuff.  Yeah!

Sheep and Gems and Breakin' Stuff. Yeah!

Boom Blox does have a lot crammed onto the disc, though. There are basic tutorial stages which explain the mechanics of the game (repeatedly, and sometimes while you’re trying to make your shot. This was frustrating…), Adventure mode, (which takes you through a silly story involving many of the blocky animals,) Explore mode, (where you simply play levels using the different game styles and mechanics used throughout the game,) Create mode, (where enterprising young minds can create their own Boom Blox levels using content unlocked from playing other modes in the game,) and finally Party mode, where multiplayer action comes in.

The adventure mode, as I described earlier, is a bit lacking in level design. It’s got a lot of potential, but seems to favor repetition and “cheap” difficulty increases rather than interesting level design. Explore mode tends to be a bit more rewarding for me, as I’m doing what I choose to do, rather than whatever the game decides to throw at me at the moment. Your mileage may vary, of course, but what I think has the most potential is the party mode. Sure, it’s not THAT entertaining right now, but there is a Boom Blox 2 coming down the pike shortly, and you can be certain, with the Wii’s ability to get everyone and their mother (literally) to play party games on the console, that this mode will be expanded greatly. In fact, that’s my biggest complaint about the game. It’s a great first effort, and puts forward a lot of cool ideas for interesting gameplay. However, instead of going full-out and really executing, they simply put it out there as-is. Which is not to say it’s bad, just uninspired. One hopes that the moderate success of the first title will prompt them to boldly go further in an effort to lure more gamers into the fold. There are interesting mechanics at the core of this game, and I certainly hope they expand their level designs and really add more naturally-staged difficulty rather than simply add more blocks types to break, and more levels of the same-old, same-old found in the original.

Overall, Boom Blox has a great core concept, a decent control scheme (although it would be nice if future iterations used the forthcoming Wii Motion Plus attachment for 1:1 grabbing and throwing), and a lot of gameplay potential. For its intended audience of young boys and girls, the game will likely be a great purchase or rental. However, anyone over the age of 16 will likely find that the novelty wears thin quickly. Despite my minor issues with the current game, I will be anticipating the sequel, and would recommend that people try the game. If anything, the rental is worth it for the simple visceral pleasures of breaking things for a couple minutes, without consequences. (However, if there was ever a game with which to use the strap on your Wii-mote, it’s Boom Blox! Use it, or lose your TV!)

ESRB Rating…Is it appropriate?: Absolutely!

Gameplay: 6/10

Visuals: 8/10

Effect on Christian Walk:  Neutral

OVERALL SCORE: 7/10


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3 responses

19 02 2009
Karl

Reminds me of Tetrisphere for N64, which is not a particularly bad thing.

20 02 2009
Otakudad

Never played it… I’ll have to check it out.

20 02 2009
Otakudad

And again, the game’s fun. But it gets old quick. And simply throwing different modes or “win conditions” doesn’t fix it.

There’s not much more satisfying than seeing this huge structure of blocks that you found the perfect place (and perfect throw) to topple in a huge chain of collapse. It’s really cool. I hope the sequel builds more on that idea for the main game.

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