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A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia

by Nate Andrews - April 16, 2012, 1:39 pm PDT
Total comments: 2

No hugs here.

In retrospect, playing WayForward's 2009 re-imagining of A Boy and His Blob before stepping back to examine the original NES game might have been a mistake.

Unlike the visually tender, hand-holding adventure found in the former, David Crane's 1989 creation is far from transparent in conveying how and where the boy should work with his new blob friend. Though both games employ a unique mechanic—feeding the amorphous alien creature different flavors of jelly beans to transform it into a variety of useful and comically alliterative forms—the original is more vague in communicating the properties of each of the blob's shapes, and how they relate to the structure of the environment. Parsing the individual properties of each and determining just what works where in the single-screen environments requires player experimentation, failure, and a healthy reserve of patience.

You're given instant access to the dozen-plus of jelly bean, but also a limited allotment of each. Some, like the ladder-creating licorice variation, are more plentiful than others, like the ketchup-flavored bean, which warps the blob to exactly where you throw it. Like Crane's Pitfall!, Trouble on Blobolonia has the boy and blob pair navigating a series of interconnected screens, using the blob's shapeshifting ability to overcome the environment's hazards (and the physical limitations of the boy) and collect treasure.

Given this structure, Trouble on Blobolonia is more an exercise in problem solving, compared to the tight focus on basic platforming found in the newer game. Through trial and error, the player has to learn to use this cute, organic multi-tool to work through the simplistic but undefined design of the world, a necessity that somewhat dulls the imaginative properties of the gameplay. While successfully deciphering and using the malleability of the blob can be particularly satisfying, the game's rigid margin for error and general opacity of design rarely allows for such moments to flow.

Trouble on Blobolonia's structure is almost opposite that of something like Mega Man, where the design of a level explicitly complements the abilities of the character, and powers are parceled out with time to adjust to and use each. Instead, A Boy and His Blob simply presents the whole assortment of jelly beans—the powers of which don't always directly correlate to the environment—leaving the player to improvise, and hopefully learn. With one-hit deaths and a limited number of player lives, failing to do so and understand the limitations quickly can create a cycle of frustration.

While inventive, and occasionally enjoyable in its diversity, the principle mechanic of A Boy and His Blob is bogged down by a structure that opposes and limits its effectiveness. The existence of an interpretation like WayForward's, however, proves the unique system has potential to be a functionally sound and quite special experience if given an appropriate, supportive structure.

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Talkback

LudicrousDa3veApril 16, 2012

The original is rather obtuse... you're right on the money. On its own merits, I think it holds up really well, just a different time and school of thought. Remember, this was the same cat that brought us Pitfall; go back and play them back to back(or better yet, Pitall II), and you'll see this guy's signature.
  All that said, and with all due respect to David Crane, Wayforward's game has more heart, and really shows what the games should be.

viciouskillersquirrelApril 17, 2012

There are several ways of playing this game - the way it was intended - use the treasure in the subway and underground on a long and roundabout trek to get back to the surface, followed by a rocket trip to Blobolonia and beat the game that way, or do what I did as a kid and skip half of the underground (especially the finnicky underwater sections) by opening a hole above one of the later chambers and suicide diving onto the floor of the cavern below. Yes, you end up with less treasure/jellybeans/vitamins but it also meant the difference between gettibg a Game Over in the caverns and getting to Blobolonia at all.

Reading this article hit me right in the nostalgia glands, but I cannot imagine the frustration you must have gone through to beat this game in 2012.

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