A character with many shapes shines in a game that stands alone.
In 1989, Absolute Entertainment released a unique title called A Boy and His Blob: Trouble in Blobolonia for the NES. The game featured a boy armed with an arsenal of flavored jellybeans he fed to an amorphous blob, who changed into one of many different useful objects upon eating a particular flavor. The game came and went quickly without much fanfare, as it was not a particularly great game, even if it was unique. Fast-forwarding to 2009, Majesco has published a WayForward-developed re-imagination of that classic NES title which captures the spirit of the original game but wraps it in a fantastic new package. Lush, hand-drawn 2D graphics and clever puzzle design give the game a style unto its own.
From the moment you step into the game's world, you'll find yourself feeling your way through the environment with no hand holding, clunky tutorial, or on-screen guide. The game lets you make mistakes, but does not punish you for them. Much like a game from the original Blob title's era, the story is shown, not told, to you. The visuals draw a vivid and clear narrative that pulls you through the levels, one after another.
Taking a cue from Saturday-morning cartoons, the game contains mainly hand-drawn sprites and environments. The backgrounds are lush static landscapes, and in the foreground there are vines hanging from trees that sway as you walk past, insects that crawl on the ground completely unaware of your presence, and occasionally weather effects like rain or wind. This is a game that visually succeeds by not trying to do too much, and emphasizing what it does well.
The game features a very small but effective amount of voice acting. After you use the jellybeans to transform the Blob into an object, a press of the C button calls the Blob back to his native form. Depending on how far away you are from the Blob, and how many times you press it, the boy will call out an expression such as "Blob!" or "This way!" with various levels of urgency. It feels very natural, as if the boy really is communicating with the Blob. There seems to be a tangible relationship between the two characters. A press of the D-Pad causes the boy to give the Blob a hug and illustrates well the charm of the game.
The world has four hub worlds, each of which contains ten stages. Each world is composed of a different environment, from lush woods to the Dr. Seuss-inspired home planet of the Blob. The levels steadily get more difficult, but rarely reach the point of frustration until near the very end of the game. The difficulty level in the final stages is pretty high, but that’s to be expected near the end of any 2D platformer. The game is very forgiving with checkpoints; most of the time, an untimely death will merely bring you back to the last bit of solid ground you stood on. As the game progresses, there are some interesting flying and aiming gameplay segments that can be challenging. The bosses are also fairly challenging, requiring trial-and-error to determine the best strategy. Some of the bosses do feel a bit cheap, and they are probably the most frustrating part of the game. Luckily, there are no lives in the game, so dying merely sets you back a few seconds or the start of the boss battle at most.
Most of the game consists of trying to figure out which jellybeans you should use to progress. Each stage gives you an unlimited supply of a pre-set selection of jellybeans, so you don't need to worry about running out. There are fifteen different flavors of jellybean, and each one transforms the Blob into a unique object, such as a ladder, parachute, cannon, or rocket ship. In some areas you need to use the Blob as a parachute to avoid landing on a spiked floor; in other areas you may use the Blob as a bowling ball to detonate some bombs before jumping to the next platform. If you've played a game where you have to push a block onto a switch to open a door, you'll feel right at home here.
A Boy and His Blob is fairly lengthy, but half of the content is completely optional. Each of the forty stages contains three treasure chests that you can have the Blob collect. If you collect all three, a corresponding challenge stage is unlocked. Each challenge stage in turn unlocks a bit of concept art, or in some cases developer videos. The challenge stages are generally shorter, focusing on one specific jellybean. The biggest difference, however, is that unlike the regular stages, dying in a challenge stage puts you back at the start of the level.
The game comes preset with two options for control: the Classic Controller and the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combination, both of which work essentially the same way. One oversight is that although the game is very old-school in its 2D platforming design, the player is not given the option to use the D-Pad. This isn't a problem most of the time, but when trying to climb a ladder, having to use the less-precise analog stick can be a bit frustrating. The bigger control problem occurs when trying to select a jellybean. The game asks that you hold down the Z button to bring up a dial of jellybeans and push the analog stick in the direction of one of the jellybeans. The game seems to be very picky about where on that dial the analog stick lies, which means that sometimes it feels unresponsive. Luckily, the game is paused when you are selecting a new jellybean, so this doesn't cause unexpected deaths.
A Boy and His Blob looks and plays great, and at forty stages it doesn't wear out its welcome. The main game is just long enough to be satisfying, but there's enough bonus content that you'll be coming back to unlock extra stages and concept art. It's truly meant for all ages and is a must-own title for the Wii.