"The main hook in the campaign and arcade modes is the ability to attract debris to your ship and use it to your advantage. Anything you destroy within a stage (except for the boss) can be pulled to your ship and will stay with you until it has received too much damage and fallen away or until you clear a given mission. The whole process occurs automatically without any special button presses."
In an age when shooters are a dime a dozen, Blast Works attempts to stand apart from the crowd by offering two significant twists on the genre standards. The first is a system wherein you accumulate debris as you fly through the skies and can use it to deflect shots and to attack your enemies more effectively. The second twist is that you can create your own levels using the included editor, then share them with others online. Both of those innovations sound great on paper, but do they live up to their potential? Not really.
The 'regular' game--the part where you're doing the usual thing and trying to stop an alien invasion--takes place over the course several campaigns. You fly from left to right and destroy everything you encounter, including a rather hefty boss. Repeat the process three times and you'll clear a campaign, which is cool because then you're allowed to advance through additional ones and potentially unlock bonus content that includes TUMIKI Fighters (the game that inspired this release) and Torus Troopers (a fun project in its own right).
The main hook in the campaign and arcade modes is the ability to attract debris to your ship and use it to your advantage. Anything you destroy within a stage (except for the boss) can be pulled to your ship and will stay with you until it has received too much damage and fallen away or until you clear a given mission. The whole process occurs automatically without any special button presses. You just swoop in from whatever angle suits you and the desired object will stick to you like gum to hair. Sometimes you can pull in mini-bosses or other aggressive ships and they'll start firing bullets at your enemies. The screen can quickly fill with shrapnel--friendly and otherwise--but that's not all; you can eventually gather so many scraps that your mobile pile of wreckage consumes nearly the entire screen. It's really a sight to behold and the hardware doesn't balk in the slightest. Even when you're a mobile junkyard, the action remains suitably frantic and your ship is as responsive as ever.
Of course, that's not necessarily saying much. Your ship never moves as quickly as you might like, even without baggage. Too often, you'll watch especially tantalizing rubbish drift down the screen before you can snag it, or you'll see a swath of bullets headed your way and can't dodge in time. The controls, which require holding the Wii Remote sideways like an NES controller or using a Classic Controller adapter if you prefer, aren't the problem. Questionable design is to blame.
Fortunately, this isn't a shooter where lightning-fast reflexes are regularly required. Instead, the focus is on maximizing the damage you can do with your pathetic arsenal. Your ship can fire standard bullets only and has no shields. One collision equals one life lost. Therefore, your success depends on which ruined ships you've attracted at a particular moment and how well you're utilizing them. Sometimes you'll have spread shots or even heat-seeking missiles, but more typically you'll just have several assorted cannons firing in various diagonal directions. If you really want to count on doing any damage, you have to rely on your standard shot to take down the big boys while any attracted wreckage absorbs damage on your behalf or obliterates the pesky drones you can't reach. Even that strategy isn't entirely reliable, however, since any evasive maneuvers cause your shots to follow suit.
This is frustrating if you don't know how to handle it. There are some enemies--particularly bosses--that must be shot in specific places or else they won't receive any damage. Meanwhile, they're pelting you with ammunition. So you might have your attacks lined up perfectly, but suddenly you have to dip below a laser before resuming your assault. As you drop, so do your pellets. It's like trying to aim a stream of water from the end of a hose. The whole situation can be avoided by pressing the '2' button to steady your fire, except then your helping debris will all be absorbed into your plane until you release it. Essentially, you have to decide whether you want decent control over your bullets or assistance from your peripheral buddies. No one should have to make that choice.
Aside from such hiccups, Blast Works is generally enjoyable. The bland graphics won't win any awards, but they get the job done and you can usually tell where bullets are even when the screen is at its most cluttered. Sometimes you might lose your ship in the midst of the hulking assortment of scrap metal that has become attached, but this is only an issue when you let yourself grow careless around enemy shots. Complementing the visual design is a similarly forgettable soundtrack with pulsating tunes that stop just short of techno. They won't stay with you when you stop playing unless they do so in the form of a headache.
The game's level editor could have rendered each of the above complaints null and void if it were executed well, but the tools provided just feel too cumbersome. Even getting started requires going through several menus, which you'll quickly find is a trend. Though you can customize the heck out of your shooter (you can even create custom objects and define the paths of bullets), doing so proves a tedious affair that requires several minutes just to yield even the start of something great. You also need an Internet connection to get the most out of things, since that's the only way to borrow resources other players have provided (and to share your own creations with the waiting world). On top of all of that, it takes 127 blocks just to set up a file to record your progress, with 27% of your space spent right from the start.
Some players will love building their own stages in spite of the hefty time investment required. The tools are definitely here to create some memorable zones. Other folks will quickly tire of the process and will prefer to play the campaign mode. However, the flaws there mean that the experience grows tiresome ahead of its time and then such gamers are left with a game that showed a whole lot of promise but for the most part didn't quite live up to any of it. Blast Works is something special for the right individuals, but for the rest of us it's disappointingly average.
Staff review by Jason Venter (July 13, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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