It's taken some time for third-party developers to really capitalize on all the strengths of the Nintendo Wii, and last year's Boom Blox still stands as one of the finest examples of a third party really nailing it. The simple concept of knocking over blocks was broadly accessible, the motion controls were satisfyingly tactile, and the boxy, playful presentation even made the best of the Wii's relatively limited technical horsepower. There were a few issues with level design and the overall flow of the game, but it was still a great eight-to-eighty kind of experience. Almost exactly a year later EA's got a sequel with Boom Blox Bash Party, a game that does pretty much what the last game did, only better. There's more levels, new gameplay mechanics, better online, and even if the new stuff is a little hit and miss, the package has been generally refined to make it easier to get to the stuff you like.
Like the original, Bash Party is fundamentally still a big physics-based toy that taps into the primal satisfaction of breaking stuff but without any consequence. It generally doesn't take too long to get a hang of the controls, and when you do, it's basically electronic bubble wrap. Using the Wii Remote, you'll chuck balls at towers of blocks (or is it blox?) yank the blocks out Jenga-style, blast them apart with cannons, or use the new slingshot mechanic to knock them around. The slingshot stuff isn't my favorite, mostly because it requires you to move forward and back with the remote to line up your shot and determine how much power you put behind it. It's a motion that has never felt right to me on the Wii, so the slingshot suffers for it. That's more than made up for, though, by the new color-matching mechanic, which gives you different colored balls that you can toss to change the colors of blocks. If three blocks of the same color make contact in any configuration, they'll disappear. It's an age-old puzzle-game conceit that Bash Party injects with some physics-based chaos, and the game ends up getting a lot of mileage out of this concept.
How you actually got to all the fun stuff was kind of an issue in Boom Blox. It was structured in such a way that you often had to bang your head against levels that were either too tough or that you just didn't like in order to get access to the next cool toy. Bash Party is structured in a similar, but modified fashion. The game is split up into single-player, co-op, and competitive levels, and within each of these sets, you're presented with a theme park map, where each of the themed areas represent a different set of levels. There's a pirate theme, a space theme, a superhero theme, and others, though they're not just for looks, with underwater and space levels that affect how the physics of the blocks behave. Like Boom Blox, you have to meet certain win conditions on earlier levels to advance to later ones. But, if you find yourself stuck in Bash Party, you can use the Boom Bux that you accumulate from clearing levels to buy your way through. It kind of feels like a cheat, but it works.
At the bottom of just about every menu screen in Bash Party, there's a satellite icon that you can hit to connect to EA's online level repository, where users can share levels they've built using the game's own level editor. The online stuff is ridiculously simple and fast, and since there's no direct online interaction with other players, it's able to bypass any friend codes or credentials--just hit the button, and you're there. You can sort through the available levels in a number of different ways, and the actual levels are incredibly small so there's virtually no waiting when you find one you want to play. If you find a level that you like, you can save it locally, and even take it into the game's level editor and tweak it. There's a decent amount of stuff on the server right now, some of it produced by EA, though it's tough to say if it'll get the same community toehold as something like LittleBigPlanet in the long run. Still, even with no actual multiplayer, I'm really impressed with how smart the online in Bash Party is.
It's not a massive change, but it's worth noting how the look of Boom Blox has evolved with Bash Party. It still mostly looks like a theme park filled with cuboid animals, but the art has gotten a little weirder and a little darker. It's kind of a junior-high-to-high-school or comic-book-to-graphic-novel type of shift, but it's noticeable.
Even though it's a categorically better game, Bash Party doesn't benefit from the exciting kick of such a fresh idea that the original Boom Blox did. It's still a terrific game, though, and one that's easy to enjoy for anyone with an appetite for destruction.