Developer: Abstraction Games/WayForward
Platform: PS4, Vita, PC, and Xbox One
Release Date: January 19, 2016
ESRB: E for Everyone
This review is based on the PS4 version of the game
Many of the minds behind Shovel Knight helped create one of the Wii“s hidden gems back in 2009, under WayForward at the time. Then-Director Sean Velasco aimed to streamline the concepts presented in an NES game he enjoyed, and bring the experience into the modern era. Thus, A Boy and His Blob“s remake was born... and it was received quite positively. More than one person I know remembers the game fondly. And now, thanks to the efforts of Abstraction Games, folks with PlayStation 4, Vita, PC or Xbox One can experience the game again... or for the first time, like me!
During the game“s initial release, I bought it for my now fiancÃ©e. Because there was only a single save file, I didn“t want to hinder her progress by playing the game myself. Thankfully, the ability to create multiple users on modern consoles alleviates that issue for the new release. All I could tell you about it at the time was how much my lady loved it. Before I even get to talking about my personal experiences: the presentation and mechanics alike are definitely something that will appeal to people of all ages and skill levels.
A Boy and His Blob tells the story of a boy... and the adorable alien companion he discovers. There“s trouble on Blobonia, you see, and the titular protagonists must band together to help save it! The plot isn“t exactly labyrinthine. Much of the story unfolds in scenes that take place at the beginning of the levels you“re playing. The Blob can transform into things using an infinite supply of jellybeans the boy feeds him. The two friends journey from the treehouse base where things begin, then through a city and caves. After pushing forward, you'll finally travel through space to take Blobonia back from an evil king. Altogether there are over forty story levels, plus corresponding (optional) Challenge Levels that unlock concept art... as well as Achievements/Trophies specific to the current gen port.
If you“ve already played the Wii original though, you knew most of this. Abstraction Games“ efforts don“t bring anything â€œbrand newâ€ to the table, outside of rewarding several Achievements for something that adds an extra layer of challenge to the final levels. You“re given Achievements if you manage to save all the blobs in the Citadel -- something the original game never really gave you credit for. Outside of that, remapped controls, and uprezzed visuals from the 480p original output, there“s nothing that should compel folks who own the original game to run and grab this one immediately. If you never got around to it in 2009, though, read on:
A Boy and His Blob predates modern contemporaries like Child of Light and Ori and the Blind Forest, but its world still feels alive -- like it“s right out of a cartoon. Every last frame of animation was handled with care. The boy“s facial expressions and movements change subtly depending on what the Blob has transformed into. When he hugs his friend (yes, the game has a button specifically devoted to hugging! It serves no purpose otherwise), you can almost feel the comfort!
Enemies are often repeated, but their designs take after a certain animal or personality trait that makes them stand out. There“s a â€œdog blobâ€ that gets mad at you before it charges you, and so on. There“s even actual animal and plant life that moves about the level with you and serves no purpose. Different colored butterflies will accompany you; you“ll run into the occasional snake or frog... it“s the little things that make the real difference. The soundtrack pays homage to the original, but feels just as vibrant as everything else you“ll take in as you play. Music selection isn“t super varied -- you“ll probably hear about twenty unique tracks in the game, and many of them are story-based.
The philosophy WayForward attempted to execute here is really simple, at its core. This isn“t a thirty hour epic quest that“s meant to break ground and be hailed as something revolutionary. It“s something that“s meant to be inventive, and reach out to all types of players to offer a unique brand of puzzle solving. The Blob is extremely versatile... because he“s a blob. He can transform into a hole, allowing the boy to drop down somewhere -- a ladder that he can climb, a trampoline to take him even higher, a jack to lift up heavy objects, even rockets and parachutes during the later portions of the game. Each transformation is introduced by a sign indicating you need it to move forward...then the signs start to go away, once the player learns each transformation“s use.
A Boy and His Blob is perhaps one of the best examples out there of how to best teach someone new to video games what they“re capable of. The learning curve is steady and fair. Each level has three chests to find in it. Finding the chests unlock the corresponding Challenge Levels, which usually involve a â€œHard Modeâ€ of any one or two transformations. The story levels are about trial and error, while the Challenge Levels can only be attempted all in one go. You will die a lot, but there are no penalties and checkpoints are fair. Treasure chests are permanently kept from the moment you acquire them, too.
The Challenge Levels, unfortunately, are where the game“s flaws will start to present themselves. Since I didn“t play the original game, I can“t comment as to whether or not the somewhat sticky controls are more on WayForward themselves or Abstraction Games, but sometimes the precision that some of the harder portions of levels takes will elude you because the Blob acts a little stiff during certain transformations. Sometimes you“ll be thumbing through which jellybean to pick and get stuck for a half a second (because you“re not using the Wii Remote, I suppose).The controls work 95% of the time, but that 5% will grate at you if a level is proving to be too difficult.
And goodness, does the difficulty ramp up for the second half of the game“s Challenge Levels. Whoever designed the hard stuff for the planet Blobonia was having a bad week. The levels that took me just a few tries to complete at the beginning of the game were causing me to yell a string of inappropriate words by the end. The story levels are consistently fair, but those challenges seem to take a turn for the cheap after a certain point.
Challenges aside, A Boy and His Blob is easy to recommend to anyone. It“s adorable, it“s accessible, it looks amazing, and each level offers unique, teachable gameplay. Even if you start out the experience knowing painfully little about how puzzle-platformers work, the level design will teach you everything you need to know about the genre... good and bad. While the port doesn“t offer anything brand new to returning players, I“m immensely happy that it“s getting in more people“s hands.
+ This game is appropriate for all ages and any skill level.
+ Beautifully animated world that goes above and beyond to make itself feel alive. Definitely where modern contemporaries drew inspiration from.
+ Transformations are unique, and most are used consistently.
+ There's a hug button. Can you think of any other game with a hug button??
- Controls are sometimes stiff, making particularly precise moments or momentum difficult to achieve on the first try.
- Later Challenge Levels get downright unfair, leaving the impression that many will attempt, but few will finish.
- Nothing sets the port to modern consoles apart from the original release, except for achievements.
Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10)
A Boy and His Blob reaches out to players of all ages and skill levels, offering a beautiful world and a unique take on puzzle-solving.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a downloaded copy purchased by the author.