canuckeh's de Blob (Wii) review

The bargain bin kids

One of my psychological pet peeves in all of gaming is a gimmicked title. Few things repel my wallet from a game store like seeing a game with a title that plays with improper punctuation (Punch-out!!!), numbers in place of letters (Left 4 Dead), or deranged capitalization (inFAMOUS.) So in spite of appearing to be the kind of clever, original game concept that would need all the financial support one could lend it against the oppressing brigade of space marine shooters and plastic instrument music games, I outright refused to buy de Blob because someone refused to hold the Shift button on their keyboard while typing the D in the title.

I have other reasons. Look at the box art for De Blob (I’ll put more effort typing the game’s title than the publishers did in their press releases by holding the Shift button when necessary. You’re welcome.) Look at that mischievous, Dennis the Menace look on his face and his Bugs Bunny running pose, the look that says “I’m going to cause mayhem to my teacher and look very cool doing it!” De Blob would have fit in perfectly with the many other badittude-ridden mascot platformers in the 90s, trying too hard to appeal to a generation of youngsters smart enough to see through their shallow marketing campaign. And thus, like the Bugsys and Aero the Acrobats of the world, De Blob is destined to ride in bargain bins across Walmarts and pharmacies across the country.

I’m not quite sure who De Blob is marketed for. The story is the long-since beaten to death concept of a group of underground rebels challenging the might of an evil empire, except everything is intertwined with a colour motive. The captive citizens are colourful blob creatures reminiscent of Patrick Starfish. Meanwhile, the evil empire, the INKT Corporation, literally sucks all the colour from and oppresses the populace in the most fascist way allowed in a E-rated title. This is like some racist kid’s dream.  So you play as De Blob, a blob more mightier than ordinary blobs, perhaps because he’s fatter and can retain liquid better. Story sequences are kept to a bare minimum and the humour is definitely aimed at children, but there’s something in me that says that the game won’t reach a target audience; the core gameplay mechanics are too demanding for youngsters and kids older than ten, who are sneaking Halo sessions in behind their parents’ backs won’t be anymore impressed than me.

That said, kudos for naming your final villain “Comrade Black.” If anything, I’m completely disappointed at the entire video game industry for not creating a villain named “Comrade Black” sooner.

So the world is bleakly monochrome, and De Blob is charged with using his girth to make things right. The crux of the gameplay is that Blob can absorb packs of coloured paint from assorted walking canisters and spread his colourful ooze onto any building he touches. Being a wannabe Bart Simpson of the colour world, Blob follows no rules other than the rules that govern paint colours (RGB need not apply.) Paint canisters come in red, yellow and blue and mixing two will result in green, purple or orange. Blob controls using a control scheme focused on two buttons; unfortunately, one of them is Waggle. Blob jumps with Waggle (dammit) and can lock on to specific targets with the Z button to be pounced on with, yep, Waggle. Controller waggling will yield a jump about 6/7s of the time you do it, but Blob often has a tendency to jump where you don’t want him to jump. If he’s clinging to the wall like Playdoh, you have no control over him other than to have him jump in the opposite direction, which makes a select few narrow platforming sequences on high surfaces above poisonous pits of ink a higher risk ordeal than need be. And the lock-on system doesn’t always lock on to a desired target; say I need to be Blue to attack a specific target, the game is just as likely to target a canister that’ll make me Yellow as it is the target of my mission objective and…well that sentence makes a lot more sense within the context of the game and I can’t help it! But summed up, Blob hates authority, and he views the player as authority and will sometimes refuse to listen to your instructions on how to be played, the damn child.

Each level has a pseudo-sandbox-linear vibe. Blob enters a part of the city and must earn a certain number of points to unlock the next section of the level. Points are earned either through restoring colour to the buildings or completing objectives. Now, there’s an almost hypnotic feeling that overcomes the player when it comes to painting, and perhaps De Blob should be given credit for making manual labour interesting (something Super Mario Sunshine failed spectacularly at.) The vibrant splashes of colour are accompanied by musical notes of assorted instruments that play in accordance with the jazz/funk/techno theme song in the background. Said song, by the way, is chosen by the player before each level, listed as Blob’s “mood”. This kind of control over one’s emotions is almost robotic and I start to fear De Blob more than I do the neo-Nazis at INKT. But when I’m not dreading De Blob’s true origins, there is a bit of a sense of accomplishment in gradually transforming a dull, grayscale landscape into a collage of fruity flavour.

But you can’t always depend on your arts and crafts skills, and thus you’ll have to complete the game’s missions to progress. There are only four kinds of missions, such as one where you follow an arbitrary set of flares along a guided path. Another will make a group of INKT soldiers spawn at your location and charge you with their artistic execution. Another will ask Blob to go to a giant building and use a certain number of paint points (and a lot of Wiimote shaking) to transform the building. And the most annoying asks you to paint certain buildings certain colours. These four mission objectives are repeated far too often with very little variation, and in particular the last one is of great frustration as the game starts asking for a variety of buildings that are in close proximity to be of different colours. So if, say, the camera acts a bit slow as it can be sometimes and Blob trips on a curb and hits the building that should be purple with a shade of green, well…that’s when I find myself having a hard time willing myself to fight the powers that be.

There are ten levels, each being an hour long. But you can’t save mid-level, which becomes a big point of frustration for me. You can unlock some fun side-missions that charge you with painting a confined area within a time limit, as well as the “Free Paint” mode that does away with objectives and lets the player spew colourful vandalism across each of the stages at his or her leisure.  And there’s a multiplayer mode too, but I can’t pass judgment on that being that I couldn’t find anyone interested in playing it.

…and that’s all there is to De Blob. It reminds me an awful lot of Jet Grind Radio. Similar themes, styles, taste in music. But where psychotically loyal Sega fans will be talking about the former game for an extensively long time, I doubt that De Blob will endure the same kind of cult status. The game is fun for awhile, but once you’ve gotten a fine taste of the soundtrack, then the repetitive format of the game as a whole will begin to grate at you as you progress.

Fortunately for you and unfortunately for THQ, this game is yearning to reach your local bargain bin. And it wouldn’t be too bad of a purchase if you do find it in a basket at your local supermarket for a few bucks.

3 stars

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