All baby cows have been lost!
Boom Blox is the rare Wii-exclusive game that really could only be done well on the Wii. Even Nintendo seldom produces a Wii game that exploits the system in a novel way; to see such an effort from Electronic Arts is, frankly, astounding. The game is unusual in how it combines both the pointer function of the Wii Remote with motion sensing, and it's refreshing in the sense that no silly gestures are required to play the game. There is no artifice whatsoever in the controls for Boom Blox, and aside from the trivial character designs, there is actually no artifice in the entire game. It is a collection of toys and pre-designed levels to play with those toys. The same could be said for many games, but there are no attempts to hide it in this one.
Explaining the gameplay in Boom Blox is a complex matter, simply because there is so much variety in the game. Most levels fall into one of three categories: throwing, grabbing, or shooting. Throwing involves pointing a cursor where you want to throw, then swinging the controller to set the throwing power. You throw baseballs, bowling balls, bombs, etc., with goals like knocking down a tower, knocking point blocks into a multiplier, or defeating enemies as they approach something you want to protect. The grab tool is remarkably sensitive; once you point at the object to be pulled, the Remote's accelerometers take over, and you have to start combining physics with a steady hand.
Most of the grab levels involve pulling blocks out of a tower, but there are other variations as well. Finally, the shooting levels use only the pointer and are just like every other shooting gallery-type of game on Wii. Boom Blox avoids total redundancy in this area by providing some interesting physics-based levels in which you sometimes have to solve puzzles by shooting certain blocks. Unfortunately, most of the shooting levels are not that clever, making this the least interesting mechanic in the game.
The game makes a poor first impression with its bloated menus. Hovering the pointer over any level brings up a video preview that takes up half the screen, often obscuring the level icon and your pointer. There's also a slight lag while the videos load from the disc, so the first few minutes of navigating these menus can be confusing.
Another, more important problem is the game's camera. EA adopted a simple rotating view that is easy to control with just the Wii Remote. It works pretty well for much of the game, giving you plenty of good angles to set up your moves. However, there will definitely be times when you'd like to pan or zoom the camera, and these options simply aren't available (except in the level editor, if you plug in a Nunchuk). A related issue is that certain levels have a locked perspective, where you can't move the camera at all. This makes it very hard to throw deep into the field, and it degrades your accuracy so much that victory often feels like a matter of luck. Such levels are infrequent but memorably frustrating.
For the most part, Boom Blox is a work of sheer genius. The physics modeling and level designs are perfectly married, and there is a huge quantity and variety of levels to play. The single-player modes are driven by an achievement system that requires you to earn at least a bronze medal before opening the next level. Collecting sets of silver or gold medals in a "stack" of levels will open up expert levels and new objects for the level editor. The challenge of improving your performance, plus the fact that levels load quickly and can be retried instantly, lead to Gotta Try Once More Syndrome that will keep you playing for hours at a time, oblivious to the actual passage of time. Levels range in difficulty from very easy to nearly impossible. There are dozens of game type variations, including a few stinkers, but most are excellent.
Multiplayer is also a blast, and sessions can easily stretch out for hours. The control mechanics are easy to explain, but they take some practice to use with finesse. Some of the gameplay types from the single-player mode take on new life in multiplayer, as players take turns making their moves. Often, it is possible and desirable to score points for yourself while also making the board more difficult for the next player. The Jenga-style grabbing levels are particularly fun in multiplayer, and even the shooting galleries can be enjoyable (though visually confusing) with a friend. All competitive levels are available from the start; oddly enough, the cooperative levels have to be unlocked one at a time. This effectively creates a cooperative campaign mode, but it's off-putting since the cooperative levels are placed right next to the competitive ones. If at least one player has been through the single-player mode, cooperative becomes less interesting simply because most of the levels are recycled. Across both multiplayer modes, the only real disappointment is that there aren't very many levels as compared to the extensive single-player content.
Perhaps the creators of Boom Blox would suggest that we amend that situation ourselves with the level editor, which can be used to design both single-player and multiplayer challenges. There is no doubt that the editor is deep and powerful, and in fact there are so many options that it can be intimidating for a new user. A couple of tutorial videos ease you in, but actually creating a new level from scratch is very difficult and time-consuming. There are two good reasons for this difficulty: the camera and pointer sensitivity conspire to make placing objects rather frustrating, and it's hard to predict what the game's physics engine will do with your level as you build it. Don't be surprised if your first creation immediately crashes under its own weight as soon as you test it.
The number of options and useful tools are certainly appreciated, but it soon becomes obvious that if the Boom Blox developers had to use this same editor to create their levels, the game wouldn't come with over 300 clever constructions already built for you. However, the level editor becomes much more practical with the ability to edit any of the pre-built levels, since most of the work has already been done. It's easy and fun to change the level's "toy" from a baseball to a laser gun, or to double the number of enemies. You can even change the requirements for the gold medal in your version; of course, beating your own level won't unlock anything. Another great feature is that you can send your customized levels to Wii system friends via WiiConnect24 – there is no game-specific Friend Code. Your friends can even tweak the level further and send it right back to you, creating potential for collaborative design efforts.
With no real narrative and not much personality, Boom Blox is exactly the sum of its parts, no more and no less. Fortunately, most of those parts are ingenious and surprisingly addictive. The game is special in how much it appeals to all types of gamers, from casual to core, and in how well it works in a party atmosphere as well as lengthy solo play. Especially strange for an EA game is how complete the game feels (making sequels unlikely), and how deeply specific it is to a single platform. But regardless of Wii exclusivity or even how well the motion controls are implemented, Boom Blox is ridiculously fun and diverse enough to be worth anyone's time and money.