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A Boy and His Blob Review

4
  • Wii

A Boy and His Blob is a charming all-ages affair that one-ups the game it's based on in virtually every conceivable way.


 A Boy and His Blob: Friends Forever!
 A Boy and His Blob: Friends Forever!
The original 1989 release of A Boy and His Blob for the NES is a game that's easier to appreciate for its ideas than its execution. Its pedigree is certified with the involvement of Pitfall! creator David Crane, and the concept of a protagonist coaxing varied utility out of his gelatinous companion by feeding it jelly beans is as weird as it is whimsical. Lots of clever ideas, but as a game, it was kind of gawky and awkward. In a sterling example of the right way to do a remake, WayForward's A Boy and His Blob for the Wii takes the underlying premise, amplifies that game's strengths, and shaves away its rougher edges. It's a far more approachable game, but it's also not condescending, making it suitable for players both young and old. It's also a seriously adorable game, with a gentle hand-drawn art style that really emphasizes the sweet, unspoken friendship of the two title characters.

Beyond the brief opening boy-meets-blob sequence, there's not much explicit storytelling in A Boy and His Blob. The dynamic duo travel through the woods, underground caves, and finally, the blob's contoured, pastel-hued home planet of Blobolonia, all the while collecting treasure and magic jelly beans while dodging sinister black blobs of varying shapes and sizes. On their own, either character wouldn't survive for too long in this treacherous world. The boy can't jump very high, can't swim, can't survive long falls, and doesn't have a life bar to buffer against fatal contact with bad blobs or spike pits. Aside from his peculiar companionship, he is just a boy. The blob, on the other hand, is basically invincible, though he's also just a shapeless wad of white stuff. (For whatever reason, I imagine the blob has a consistency somewhere between a marshmallow and Silly Putty.) But, when the boy feeds the blob a jelly bean, which you can select different flavors of through a simple radial menu, the blob can take on a myriad of forms, allowing the pair to overcome obstacles and subdue enemies.

This is the crux of the gameplay in A Boy and His Blob: figuring out how to use the blob's candy-induced abilities to get the boy from point A to point B. You start off with simple stuff like ladders, trampolines, and Looney Tunes-style portable holes. New abilities are introduced steadily over the course of the game, though the abilities you'll have on any given level are predetermined, creating limitations that force you to consider the less-than-obvious approach to a certain obstacle. There are fleeting moments in A Boy and His Blob that require a little twitch timing, particularly the game's incongruously unforgiving boss fights, but it's mostly a lot of deliberate puzzle-solving. There are moments that seem to demand some arbitrary trial-and-error, but for the most part the puzzling aspects of A Boy and His Blob rely on simple, straightforward, logical problem-solving.

 It looks even better in motion.
 It looks even better in motion.
This review already says more about the gameplay in A Boy and His Blob than the game itself does, a point I particularly appreciate about this game. There's no heavy-handed tutorial, just some regular, helpful signage to clue you in on which jelly bean you might want to consider using. Beyond that, the game lets you figure it out for yourself, without too much penalty, as the levels are heavily checkpointed and you've got infinite jelly beans to toss around. Not that A Boy and His Blob is a terribly complex game, but I feel like one of the worst things a kids' game can do is talk down to the player.

If the simple efficiency of the gameplay doesn't grab you entirely, A Boy and His Blob might maintain your attention with the clean lines and sharp detail of the presentation. Visually, this is a much less adorned game than, say, Muramasa, but there's still ample craft to the smooth animation found throughout A Boy and His Blob. There are touches like the way the boy's shirt edges will flutter as he falls, the odd, tiny bits of blobby wildlife going about their business on Blobolonia, or the seamlessness with which the boy and his blob hug that really help bring the whole thing together. The sound follows the same clean and simple design philosophy, relying on a few pieces of lively mood music and some minimalist voice work for both boy and blob. I particularly appreciated that the voice work for the boy, whose speech is mostly limited to brief instruction, sounds like an actual boy, not a cartoon character. It's a subtle touch that gives the whole game a little bit of weight.

There's an unassuming thoughtfulness to A Boy and His Blob that, in an odd sort of way, has the feel of some of the better children's programming you might see on public television. It's not educational per se, but it values subdued atmosphere and elementary puzzle design over flashy, merchandise-friendly mascots with prepackaged catchphrases. Like public television, some might find it a little too sincere and slow-paced, but even if it doesn't suit your tastes, it's hard to deny the craft at work in A Boy and His Blob.