de Blob (Wii) review
"The developers wisely threw in some hazards and puzzles to mix things up a bit, but these don't help nearly as much as they should. Early on, there just aren't enough enemies to challenge you. Even when more of them enter the picture, defeating the various nasties and their machinery drains your paint meter at an alarming rate. Then you have to go refill it before you can fight some more. You're seldom in actual danger, meaning that foes are more inconvenient than they are difficult."
Somewhere deep inside each of us lurks the urge to smear the world with color. de Blob, one of the most recent Wii platform titles from the prolific folks at THQ, recognizes that basic human need and builds an entire experience around it.
de Blob begins as INKT Corporation soldiers descend upon some faraway planet like aliens in a bad Will Smith movie. They suck the vivid hues out of every blade of grass, each billboard and boulder. Soon all that remains is a dull environment comprised of black, white and gray. The blobulous inhabitants that formerly danced and smooched one another on love seats now work in factories or languish in carbon-toned prison cells. Despair reigns.
That's where you enter the picture. You're one of the last surviving members of the resistance force and so not cool with the recent turn of events. Now you're going to do something about it. Armed with only your unusual ability to ooze paint, you'll slide, bounce and otherwise launch yourself through one drab landscape after another, transforming each one into a delightfully tacky confection of primary and secondary colors while the devious INKT Corporation rallies against your efforts.
Even before you start playing, you'll likely notice is that de Blob is a beautiful game. Few others can even touch it. Even the menus are impressive, and the gray-scale wastelands that you'll explore are simply superb. Everything has the exaggerated look of a Nickelodeon cartoon, from the gibbering goons from the INKT Corporation (think of Ubisoft's rabbids creatures, if you've played those titles) to the uneven architecture that towers toward a blank sky. Nothing appears out of place or awkward and the attention to detail is consistently excellent. You're able to slide freely around the wondrously cluttered world without the usual technical distractions of flicker, poor draw distance and load screens.
The soundtrack is also great. Without being over-the-top kooky like the endearing score from Katmari Damacy, the funky compositions really help a person to get into the painting groove. Not only is there good variety, but the music changes tempo from subdued to frantic on the fly as situations warrant it. That's always a nice touch. Both visually and aurally, then, the game is a masterpiece.
Because of that excellence, the early stages are fun and generate excitement for the ones to follow. Play mechanics follow the same tested and true formula that gamers have grown accustomed to in countless other titles throughout the years. You enter a level and have a limited area available to you, which then expands as you gain points by painting structures and freeing your comrades. Once your score climbs high enough, you can flip a switch to open the way to the next area within that stage, where you repeat the process as needed until finally reaching an exit pool at the end. Then you get to do it all over again the next time around.
The problem, of course, is that this quickly becomes repetitive. Early stages aren't such an issue because the experience is new and they're over before you have the chance to tire of anything, but it isn't long at all before you find yourself in large worlds filled to the brim with precarious architecture. Negotiating them takes time and the process of painting over things starts to lose its appeal. The developers wisely threw in some hazards and puzzles to mix things up a bit, but these don't help nearly as much as they should. Early on, there just aren't enough enemies to challenge you. Even when more of them enter the picture, defeating the various nasties and their machinery drains your paint meter at an alarming rate. Then you have to go refill it before you can fight some more. You're seldom in actual danger, meaning that foes are more inconvenient than they are difficult.
The challenges scattered throughout each stage aren't all that impressive, either. Glowing arrows point to tasks, such as painting a bunch of buildings a certain color or racing between checkpoints or gathering up a whole bunch of paint so that you can then smash an INKT Corporation landmark. These are timed events and are rated on a three-star difficulty level. Failing to clear one doesn't have a particularly severe penalty. You lose time and don't get points, but you can just try again and you'll probably succeed on the second attempt (since any buildings you re-colored have remained the desired hue, or because you're now more familiar with the path you have to take in the event of a speed run). Generally, the biggest challenge comes from events that force you to mix paint colors, then populate an area with so many paint pick-ups that you accidentally grab the wrong color on the way to spread some graffiti.
Such gameplay could still work well, but it's going up against a few other issues. The first is that there's too much item collection required if you want to receive all of the rewards for completing a zone, to the point where it almost feels like that's all you're doing. Even tagging buildings feels like the same general activity, and there's nothing quite as frustrating as missing a an object or two and not being able to find it. Everything resets when you exit a level, too. If you freed 330 of your fellows and there were 332 of them in a stage, or if you painted 98% of the objects on a map, you have to start from scratch the next time you enter. When stages can take a half-hour or more on each attempt, that's a problem.
Then there's the control scheme, which never quite feels right even when you've been playing for hours. The analog stick works great for most movements, but jumps are produced by swiping the Wii Remote downard. This is counter-intuitive. It's nice that you can perform airborne attacks by repeatedly tapping the 'Z' button and swinging the wand like a hammer, yes, but that's not really worth the resulting loss of accuracy. Jumping around stages becomes a hassle, especially in cases where failing to make a precision leap causes you to slide helplessly to the bottom of a series of ledges you just climbed a second before. Swearing is bad, m'kay?
de Blob grows more ambitious and interesting as it goes, and its core concept is freaking great. Unfortunately, things don't get good enough fast enough. The player who is weary of collecting items throughout years of gaming will tire of the experience long before the 'best bits,' as will the action junkie. The game's production values are amazing and do a lot to prop up the eventually tiresome gameplay, but for long-time gamers that probably won't be enough. Definitely check it out in spite of that because you might love it anyway (and any kids in your household could adore it), but start with a rental. It'll keep you from seeing red if you decide the game wasn't worth the green.
Staff review by Jason Venter (October 19, 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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