De Blob

Review

posted 10/22/2008 by Sean Colleli
other articles by Sean Colleli
I’ll admit, I’m a hardened skeptic when it comes to Wii games, especially third party titles. Nintendo’s emphasis on simple graphics and minigame collections has been interpreted as carte blanche for third parties to slack off and churn out shovelware. After all, the Wii is still selling like crazy two years on, because the casual gamers eat it up like candy. Casual gamers—the little kids, grandparents, boomers and soccer moms—are easily satisfied with shallow proof of concept demos, and they aren’t picky when it comes to graphics, so they’ll buy just about anything with “Wii” stamped on the box. As a result, we see a severe lack of quality or maturity in most third party Wii games. It’s not fair to either the casual gamers or the longtime fans, but it happens.

When I first heard about de Blob, I thought it was just more of the same; colorful yet simplistic graphics, even simpler gameplay. For months I ignored it, even as the mainstream press paid attention to it. I figured it was getting noticed because the Wii release schedule has been so barren this year. I was wrong. A couple weeks before it released I started doing some research, and realized I’d better get hungry for a helping of humble pie. de Blob isn’t just another minigame, it’s the evolution of an art project created by students in the Netherlands. At first glance it may be hard to differentiate de Blob from the ocean of mediocrity, but I assure you that the game is everything a third party Wii game should be.


It’s original. It’s creative. It’s fun and addictive. de Blob caught me completely by surprise, and hopefully in the following paragraphs I can show you why you must buy it.

In the fine tradition of deceptively addictive games (Pong, Pac-Man, Super Mario, Guitar Hero), de Blob has a simple premise: paint the town red, or blue, or green or any other color you like. The story concerns the titular hero Blob, a gelatinous transparent spheroid with the ability to absorb any color of paint he comes into contact with. Imagine Kirby with pointy ears and a sense of style. Blob is relaxing in a nearby jungle when his hometown of Chroma City is attacked by Comrade Black and the oppressive Inkt Corporation. The Inkys are bent on sucking all the color out of Chroma, using tiny robots to absorb every inch of paint. Chroma’s citizens, the Raydians, are encased in color-sapping shells and put to work in an excessively boring bureaucracy, becoming depressed Graydians in the process.

It’s up to Blob and the Color Revolution to free the citizens and recolor the city. Blob does this by smashing the paint-bots and charging up his color points, absorbing their stolen paint and then smacking into buildings, citizens, and anything else that needs coloring. You start each level in a district completely devoid of color, and you unlock new areas by coloring and completing challenges from the Revolution. The Professor, a stereotypical bumbling academic, highlights landmarks that you must drench with a certain number of color points. Bif, the muscle of the group, targets patrols of Inkt cops for you to squash into puddles of black goo. Arty is the creative free spirit, and she directs you to sets of buildings that need to be colored. Zip is a roller-skating kid who needs some Ritalin, who sets up races that lead to unexplored areas.

These challenges sound like they’d get repetitive, but the dev team managed to add a lot of variety to this basic framework. Paint bots only hold three primary colors: red, blue and yellow. Arty’s challenges usually require you to paint objects purple, green, brown and orange. You’ll have to exercise your paint mixing skills by smashing different colored bots in the right order, to produce the right hues. The Inkt enemies that Bif tasks you to dispatch start out easy, but get more difficult as the levels progress; by the third stage they’re packing ink flamethrowers and require several paint points to squish.
Zip’s races take you below bridges and tunnels and leaping to the tops of skyscrapers, via jump pads that require timing and accuracy to use. The Professor’s landmark targets start as simple one-color jobs, but soon you’ll be amassing numerous shades and in large quantities of paint points to color the bigger buildings. A memorable challenge was the Church of Inktology, which had multiple levels and needed three colors to complete.


Hazards will show up by the second and third levels. You’ll be dodging toxic ink pools that sap Blob’s paint, cause him to infect anything he touches with dreary gray and eventually kill him. Red-hot irons are tiled on the tops of buildings, sizzling blob if he touches them and potentially causing him to evaporate. The most persistent hazard is time, which is constantly ticking down as you play through a level. More time can be collected for freeing Raydians and completing challenges, but the bonus stages have stringent time limits that make them all the more difficult. de Blob starts easy, but don’t mistake it for typical casual fare—by the fourth level it’ll be testing your reflexes and mind, and by the tenth you’ll be doing a real coloring workout.

THQ put some talented people behind de Blob’s development, who polished the gameplay and the production values. Each sprawling urban location has its own unique visual flavor, accented with graphic effects like lively particles and tastefully implemented bloom lighting. Blob and his allies may look simple in appearance, but their animation and art style give them more personality than you’ll see in a photorealistic game. The characters might all be stereotypes, but they’re well done and made me laugh on more than one occasion. Blob himself has some funny little quirks, like patting his belly when he’s absorbed a large quantity of paint.

Even the menus have cool little details, like a trail of paint that follows the cursor, and comic panels that tell the story during load times. de Blob is an animated game that puts as much emphasis on style as on substance.


The visual aesthetic is married perfectly to the audio component, which has a funky, upbeat flavor. You can choose what musical style you want before every level, and the music will change dynamically with your actions in the environment. Each color Blob paints with has a corresponding instrument, which adds a new layer to the music as you paint. Brown is particularly fun, because it drops scratching accents into the tune. The voice work for the characters and citizens is prerecorded dialogue, but distorted so that it sounds like a unique little language. You’ll see what they’re saying in subtitles, but the voice conveys all of the emotion, kind of like in The Sims.

The in-game visuals and audio are accented by humorous little pre-rendered cutscenes that precede each level and set up the theme, usually sprinkled with the same exaggerated animation and voice work.

As with any game and especially debut titles, de Blob has its share of minor problems. The camera occasionally gets stuck and hinders the delicate platforming needed for the later levels, but considering most of the action takes place in a city crowded with vertical buildings, some sticky camera is to be expected. There are some issues with mixing paint that make the puzzles unnecessarily difficult. For example, I’d be running out a timer on a challenge, on my way to paint the last directed building green, and Blob would bump a red paint bot and turn brown, requiring me to go back through the process of mixing blue and yellow. It would be easier if you had to target and attack a paint bot to smash it and soak up its paint, instead of just running into it.

The actual attack controls were great, but led to some unexpected difficulties. Locking on to an inky and then squashing him with a sharp downward gesture was satisfying, but using the same gesture for repeated jumping and platforming was a bit imprecise and tiring. The multiplayer modes could have been deeper and I really would’ve liked to see some online co-op, but it was nice to have a competitive aspect to the game. Overall these are minor issues, however, that only detract from the main experience and aren’t deal breakers by any means. In fact, I’m glad to see some problems—more things for THQ to improve upon in a sequel.

When all is said and done, de Blob is a game that you play to death despite its flaws, because you’re having so much damn fun. Yes, the game is brightly colored and appropriate for all ages, so it’s probably a good fit for the casual gamers. But it doesn’t pander to the casual crowd, and it’s built on a solid central idea that is just a blast to play. De Blob had me hooked from the first minute in, and then proceeded to bring out obsessive-compulsive tendencies I didn’t know I had. The list of unlockables, including trailers, concept art and production videos, is extensive, and it takes quite a bit of effort to get every last goodie. I’d spend forever searching for that last blank building, just so I could get 100% on a level, and when the score tallied up I saw that I’d been playing a single level for over an hour. There’s something very charming about restoring life to a city and freeing its citizens from boredom.


Regardless of what you’ve heard, get de Blob. It’s surprisingly deep, cleverly styled, polished to a shine, and it made me smile more than any game I’ve played in the last several months.




B
de Blob is, for lack of a better term, unique. This art project-turned mainstream game has elements of Katamari, Mario Galaxy and Okami rolled into one seamless package, but it really doesn’t rip any of them off. de Blob relies on its central theme of using color to liberate, which is well developed and a sheer joy to play.