Wii

North America

Boom Blox

by Jonathan Metts - May 18, 2008, 12:19 pm PDT
Total comments: 23

9

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.

Score

Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
7 7 8.5 9 9 9
Graphics
7

The visual style is simple, colorful, and bland. Even so, the game occasionally chugs during camera movement or explosions. Visual performance has likely been sacrificed for physics calculations, and that is completely understandable.

Sound
7

There are a few interesting pieces in the soundtrack, but the music tends to get old during long play sessions. The falling blocks and exploding bombs have quite satisfying sound effects, but some of the character sounds are utterly annoying, including a beaver that evokes the dreaded Hamster Dance of online yore.

Control
8.5

Combining the pointer and motion-sensing abilities of the Wii Remote proves to be intuitive and fun. The pointer is sometimes overly sensitive, especially in the level editor, where the challenges of interpreting depth with a two-dimensional interface are most apparent. A restrictive camera during gameplay keeps the control accessible for new players, but it also makes some levels more difficult than they should be.

Gameplay
9

Yes, there are some sets of levels that are boring, frustrating, or both. Most of the game, however, is perfectly tuned. The robust physics engine has been exploited for an impressive variety of entertainment. Once you get tired of throwing balls at towers, it's easy to switch to something completely different that’s just as addictive.

Lastability
9

The game is not only fun, it’s also huge. Hundreds of levels, hundreds of achievements, hundreds of unlockables, and a fully-featured level editor will keep you playing for a very long time, and that's not even considering the multiplayer appeal. Everyone will want to play, and unlike Wii Sports, you won't mind playing with them for hours.

Final
9

A Wii-exclusive puzzle game from Steven Spielberg could have ended up as Close Encounters of the Turd Kind. As it turns out, the man has a gift for the abstract and has conceived a wonderful game that could be played with physical objects but is far more interesting and practical as a video game. EA's talented studio has brought Spielberg's ideas to life with a flood of ingenious level designs supported by the technical prowess of the controls and physics. The upshot is one of the best Wii games yet.

Summary

Pros
  • Both single-player addiction and multiplayer mayhem
  • Brilliant and diverse level designs
  • Controls and physics unite in the name of fun
  • Powerful level editor with online sharing
Cons
  • A few level types are duds
  • Camera control limited to rotation about a fixed point
  • Video menus are unnecessary and poorly implemented
Review Page 2: Conclusion

Talkback

MorariMay 18, 2008

I've been having quite a bit of fun with Boom Blox since purchasing it. I haven't gone through all of the Adventure Challenges and the secondary Explore Mode puzzles yet, but have spent a significant accumulation of hours in mulitplayer and cleared everything else with Gold Medals. I do wonder how long it will remain entertaining, as most of the puzzles have a one or two throw solution. It might have been interesting to have put the option in for a randomized puzzle. I haven't dabbled with the Editor much, but wasn't too pleased with its functionality from my initial impressions. It was definitely clunky and limited. That isn't something I'm used to having come from a deep history of PC game editors which are usually the exact same tools the developers themselves used.

The lack of a zoom is probably my foremost complaint. It isn't often that it poses a huge problem, but there are certainly enough such instances to warrant bringing it up as a negative point. I also feel that about half of the gamemodes are throwaway features. The shooting levels for example are simply horrid in multiplayer. I also felt that the Disassemble mode didn't provide quite the challenge it should have in comparison to the ever-so-fun Free Disassemble. Above all else in regards to gamemodes is the lack of a multiple Adventure Mode. Many of those levels provide giddily unique experiences that would have been welcome with a second player.

Oh, and where's my head-tracking? Bastards.

Quote:

It was definitely clunky and limited.

I'll give you clunky, but limited?  You can make almost anything once the objects have been earned in the single-player mode.  If anything, I think the editor is a little too complicated and offers too many tools, to the point that it's overwhelming, and it's hard to find the object you want on the seventh page of a retractable menu.  Maybe they could have provided a simplified editor in addition to this full one.

MorariMay 18, 2008

I meant limited in the fact that you can't produce any complicated objectives. There are a few kinds of scenarios in Adventure Mode that seemingly can't be manufactured by the end user. This is a shame, because I think that the game shines most throughout the varied goals in that mode.

I can see your point though. It was a hassle to contentiously flip through several pages to find the right piece. The premade sets (such as the dominoes) would have also benefited from actually displaying what they were without having to hover over them.

Did you (or anyone reading) notice any problems that the game had recognizing the remote? I'm encountered curious behavior on multiple occasions where the pointer would simply freak out on screen, moving around erratically despite the remote itself sitting stationary. This isn't localized to just one remote either. It seems to usually to place in multiplayer right as your turn begins.

GoldenPhoenixMay 18, 2008

Yeah for Johnny showing some Boom Blox love. It is too bad that sales apparently are horrendous unless the game sells consistently like Carnival Games (which never sold a ton each week but had consistent 20-30k sales weekly)

I actually just played this at a friend's house yesterday. It really is a lot of fun! Impressive, EA--even if you inexplicably have slow-down in this game. (I don't buy the physics answer--they have similar chugging in other Wii titles)

GoldenPhoenixMay 18, 2008

Quote from: TheYoungerPlumber

I actually just played this at a friend's house yesterday. It really is a lot of fun! Impressive, EA--even if you inexplicably have slow-down in this game. (I don't buy the physics answer--they have similar chugging in other Wii titles)

Well at least the slow down doesn't affect the gameplay much, it is more "visual" then anything, and is after you throw the ball. But yeah I have a feeling that it just wasn't fine tuned enough. Although I haven't tried create mode I hear they have a "physics limit" when it comes to block placement.

NWR_pap64Pedro Hernandez, Contributing WriterMay 18, 2008

Despite the hype, the game doesn't appeal to me. Really, I see game footage, screenshots and read impressions and reviews and all I see is a bland game about exploding blocks. This might very well be one of those games I have to play to "get", and I think that's going to hurt Boom Blox in the long run.

Think about it; why do games like Wii Sports, Wii Fit and even Carnival Games are big hits? Because people easily understand the concept behind them and thus are enjoyed greatly.

Boom Blox, on the other hand, doesn't know how to explain itself? Is it a game about cute block animals? Is it a Jenga clone? Do you destroy stuff for the hell of it?

Hopefully, the game has enough word of mouth to make it a hit, which I truly want because this is a game designed exclusively for the Wii by both a powerful director and an influential company.

Quote from: pap64

Despite the hype, the game doesn't appeal to me. Really, I see game footage, screenshots and read impressions and reviews and all I see is a bland game about exploding blocks.

This is my reaction to the game, I don't see how it's as good as (most of) the reviews say it is. I don't rent games much, when I do I'll probably give this one a shot, but it doesn't look like something I'd be into.

I've seen people playing this game, I sat in the GDC presentation, and I've watched videos up the wazoo... but for some reason this game never really "grabbed" me like it did the rest of the NWR Staff who got excited for it. I've never actually play it though...

Yeah, walking around Nintendo's media summit this game ALWAYS had a crowd around it, and always had laughter and smiles coming from that area. Yeah, maybe it's a game that's hard to sell on concept, but somehow magical once you get people to try it out.

I mean, I've been excited at times (ZOMG THE CHICKEN LAYS BOMB BLOX MEGATON!!!), but for some reason.... hmm... well, anyways, my copy of this game is on its way to my mailbox. <3 Internet impulse buys.

I had absolutely ZERO interest in this game before I played it yesterday.

D_AverageMay 19, 2008

I'm definitely picking this one up, but I'm going to wait a few weeks.  Perhaps the price will drop as Okami just did.

EnnerMay 19, 2008

I guess the game is a victim of the New-Shoes effect.

For me though, the concept of blowing up blocks with physics and other blocks sound like a nice concept. It's good to see that the game is being favorably reviewed.

GoldenPhoenixMay 19, 2008

The game is NOT just about blow up blocks, that is only one aspect in MANY different gameplay styles. I really hate it when I hear that used to describe the game because that is not it if an individual knows anything about the game. It is a puzzle game that utilizes blocks and physics to create different experiences. Diversity is a good thing not a bad thing.

Does this game require the nunchuk? I have a friend who hates the nunchuk (he's left handed and thinks he's supposed to hold the remote in his left hand and hates using his right thumb on an analog stick to move someone and I have not yet been able to convince him that he is doing it wrong) and when I rent the game I want to be able to play multiplayer.

GoldenPhoenixMay 19, 2008

Quote from: insanolord

Does this game require the nunchuk? I have a friend who hates the nunchuk (he's left handed and thinks he's supposed to hold the remote in his left hand and hates using his right thumb on an analog stick to move someone and I have not yet been able to convince him that he is doing it wrong) and when I rent the game I want to be able to play multiplayer.

Nope no nunchuck is required.

EnnerMay 19, 2008

But... block blowing is fun ;_;

Kidding aside, there are a multitude of game modes of blocky madness and frustration. Lack of foresight on my part that some people would like to know what other things there are to do besides the explosions and the falling blocks.

GoldenPhoenixMay 19, 2008

Quote from: Enner

But... block blowing is fun ;_;

Kidding aside, there are a multitude of game modes of blocky madness and frustration. Lack of foresight on my part that some people would like to know what other things there are to do besides the explosions and the falling blocks.

Speaking about frustration I'm getting my butt handed in the Kitty vs Ghoul adventure story.

I'll probably pick this up.  It sounds like a lot of fun, though I gotta say that it needs a better name.  "Boom Blox" just sounds dull, regardless of how great the game actually is. 

MorariMay 19, 2008

Quote from: insanolord

Does this game require the nunchuk? I have a friend who hates the nunchuk (he's left handed and thinks he's supposed to hold the remote in his left hand and hates using his right thumb on an analog stick to move someone and I have not yet been able to convince him that he is doing it wrong) and when I rent the game I want to be able to play multiplayer.

It doesn't necessarily sound as if he is doing it wrong if he's left handed. The remote and nunchuck have a wonderful polydexterous design specifically to accommodate all people. Of course if he's already used to using normal controllers, which have righthanders in mind, then perhaps he should try switching it around. In any case, your friend needs to stop whining about dumb things. :P There aren't a lot of good games out there that operate with just the remote. Boom Blox is much easier to do with it, as the click and pull camera of the remote only control scheme is far from elegant.

In certain games it makes sense, but I completely understand why he doesn't want to control Mario in Galaxy (a game he hates because of this issue) with his right thumb when he's been using his left one for so long. I've been trying to convince him he's doing it wrong for a while now. There aren't many good non-nunchuk games on the Wii, but he is mostly interested in the VC anyway.

NinGurl69 *hugglesMay 19, 2008

"I've been trying to convince him he's doing it wrong for a while now"

Unacceptable.

If every right-handed gamer has learned to use D-pads and joysticks with his or her left thumb, I think a left-handed gamer can learn to point at the screen with his or her right hand.

It's all Wii Sports' fault, that game taught him to use the remote in his left hand.

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Boom Blox Box Art

Genre Puzzle
Developer Electronic Arts
Players1 - 4
Controllers

Worldwide Releases

na: Boom Blox
Release May 06, 2008
PublisherElectronic Arts
RatingEveryone
jpn: Boom Blox
Release Jul 17, 2008
PublisherElectronic Arts
eu: Boom Blox
Release May 09, 2008
PublisherElectronic Arts
Rating3+

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