de Blob was a surprising 2008 third-party Wii game that actually didn’t suck. It was a colorful, vibrant and family-friendly platformer and now its sequel makes its HD debut on both the Xbox 360 and PS3 along with the Wii version. Does the lovable Blob hold up on the big boy systems?
You play as Blob, a ball of unexplained absorbent goo that rolls around the city. Comrade Black and his INKT Corporation flunkies invade Prisma City and suck out all the color, leaving the city a black and white skeleton with all of its inhabitants brainwashed into Graydians. It’s up to you to bring color back to the city and take down Comrade Black.
The gameplay of de Blob 2 is a little hard to explain. In the most basic description, de Blob 2 is a platformer with very light puzzle elements. However, developers Blue Tongue give their own spin on the genre via the paint mechanic. Blob is sort of like a sponge. You roll around the city and dip yourself in paint pools or crush Paint Bots, which changes your neutral gray to all sorts of colors. When colored, you paint anything you touch in that color. Usually, you must paint certain buildings and hit switches using specific colors to advance through the 12 stages. You can also mix primary colors to make secondary colors in order to pass certain objectives.
In addition to this, water washes out whatever color you are, turning you neutral again. Sometimes you want to use this water to make a fresh coat of paint but other times, pools or capsules of water are used as obstacles that you must avoid in order to retain your color and get to the objective. Along with water are other obstacles such as plates that automatically strip you of your color, electrified and spiked plates. There are also jets of fire as well as ink pools that require you to find water before you die to put yourself out or wash off the ink, losing your color in the process.
There is some light puzzle-solving in de Blob 2 in the form of avoiding these obstacles and navigating the maps to find and use specific colors to hit switches and open new areas. Another form of puzzle-solving is figuring out how to paint a multi-story building block that requires several different colors. You can only paint one color at a time and you automatically paint everything you touch including over your old paint so while it’s nothing too strenuous, it requires you to think ahead and plan out your route. You occasionally get temporary power ups to accomplish your goals such as the Rainbow power up that automatically paints things the correct color and a Haz-Mat powerup that makes you invulnerable to environmental hazards such as fire and pools of ink or water.
There are also some enemies in the game such as Leech Bots that suck your color out and UFOs that drag you into ink but introduced later are more advanced enemies that may require specific colors in order to kill them, enemies that have an inkthrower (think a flamethrower but with ink) and enemies that shoot ink rockets at you if you jump anywhere near them (by far the cause of the most deaths in this game). Combat is way too simple until these advanced enemies are introduced. You lock on with Left Trigger, can jump on them with A and charge at them with Right Trigger. When large groups of enemies are thrown at you, this mostly amounts to holding the Left Trigger and mashing A while prioritizing and charging at rocket Inkies when they’re present. Combat is not very interesting, that’s for sure.
Everything you do requires Paint Points, whether it be painting buildings, jumping on enemies, using the charge move or using the color sinks to advance to the next area. The catch is that Paint Points also act as your health. This requires a bit of management because there’s nothing worse than entering an area filled with enemies with not only no way to attack them but also no health. While the game is not very difficult (the first half of the game is actually mind-numbingly simple), improper management of your Paint Points can lead to some quick and cheap deaths at the hands of some of the more advanced enemies if you’re not careful.
I should probably add here that the checkpoint system is absolutely terrible. Again, you’ll rarely find yourself dying in the first half of the game but some of the later levels can get a little more challenging and the checkpoint system does not do a good job of auto-saving after some tough sequences. This causes you to have to replay difficult and/or long sections of the game repeatedly just to get back to where you died originally. This only happened a few times but it was quite frustrating nonetheless.
It doesn’t help that every level is timed. The game usually starts you off with 15-20 minutes per level but the time restrictions are fairly lenient because you pick up time bonuses for completing objectives such as rescuing Graydians by painting buildings and rolling over them with color. However, if you don’t make a conscious effort to pick up these time bonuses, you can sometimes find yourself with not enough time to complete the level and no buildings in your immediate vicinity to paint and rescue Graydians. I once had to restart an entire level because the save system brought me to a point where I had only a minute to complete it with no way of getting more time. However, time is not a huge issue if you are making an effort grab these time bonuses while you can. If you do, you can usually complete levels with plenty of time to spare.
After you complete a level, you have a choice to stay in the area where you are free to explore without the timer or to advance to the next level. There’s a couple of reasons why you might want to stay. There are some side-challenges such as smashing all the crates, painting all the trees or rescuing all the Graydians that you may not have time for while you’re on the clock. As well, there are a ton of collectibles in each level. Other than Inspiration, which you use to upgrade Blob, these collectibles don’t do anything except net you achievements as far as I can tell but if you’re a completionist, you have a lot to keep you busy outside of the main game.
The game interestingly takes place on both a 3D and 2D plane. The exterior areas are in 3D but the many interior and underground areas turn the game into a traditional 2D platformer with the twist of de Blob’s paint mechanics. These 2D sections of the game are surprisingly more fun than the 3D parts and are very frequent, which is a good thing because the core mechanics, while fun, can get very repetitive by the end of the game. The controls feel a lot tighter on a 2D plane and there are more puzzle-elements thrown in to mix things up. I would love to see a 2D XBLA version of de Blob consisting of only these types of sections.
There is jump-in, jump-out co-op for the campaign but this is rather useless. Similar to Super Mario Galaxy, Player Two only gets a cross-hair while Player One plays as Blob. Player Two can use Paint Points to shoot Inkies, collect more paint and do various side-kick tasks but that’s it. This co-op feature is barebones and pretty pointless.
Blob Party is the true co-op mode. It gives you a bunch of new levels separate from the single-player mode that has you doing the same things such as painting buildings and pressing switches but actually involves co-operation between the two players, making it slightly more challenging. The downside to this is that it is only local split-screen for some reason. There is no way to play this mode over Xbox Live and playing on split-screen makes the game chug at times while the framerate takes a hit.
In terms of presentation, this is simply a Wii-game turned HD and it makes no effort to hide it. Everything is noticeably Wii-ish from the mix of gibberish and mumbling voice acting combined with text-based dialogue (Nintendo fans you know what I’m talking about) to the simple character models and environments. Even the jump pads are called Z-jumps, which clearly refer to the Wii’s Z-button even though the HD systems’ controllers don’t have a Z-button. And the crappy jump-in, jump-out co-op was clearly designed for the second player to use a Wii-mote to aim like in Super Mario Galaxy.
The graphics feature extremely low polygon counts in the character models and the environments are flat with very few details. While it may be great looking for a Wii game (I did not play the Wii version), the graphics are not up to the standards set on the Xbox 360 and PS3, even in downloadable XBLA and PSN games. Admittedly, the simple and cartoony art style work well for the wacky kid-friendly nature of the game and some of the cutscenes are genuinely funny but I would have liked to see more attention spent in the presentation department for the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions to take advantage of the much more powerful hardware. The game does offer stereoscopic 3D but since I do not have a 3D TV, I could not try this feature.
While there is no real voice acting, the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic. The music ranges from elevator music to funk to Latin salsa and actually has some interactivity. Each color adds a new instrument to the soundtrack so you can actually, to some extent, make your own music. For example, blue adds an electric guitar, red adds a sax, orange adds a trumpet and brown adds DJ scratches. Many times I found myself using specific colors when I could just because that instrument fits with that particular level’s music better. In addition, the faster you paint and the more things that are painted in the area, the faster and more energetic the music gets. The music may start off with a slow, sleepy tempo with sparse drums but as you progress, it may gradually turn into an upbeat swing track.
All in all, de Blob 2 is a good family-friendly platformer but I was hoping for more in terms of its presentation and features with its transition to the PS3 and Xbox 360. No online support for the co-operative Blob Party mode is inexcusable in 2011 for a $50 game on these systems. There’s not even a leaderboard for all your hard work in the campaign. It’s a little on the easy side (especially in the first half of the game) and it holds your hand throughout the entire experience, telling you exactly where to go next but this combined with the cartoony art-style makes this absolutely perfect for kids. At the same time, the solid platforming, basic puzzle-solving and fun 2D sections, reminiscent of old-school platformers, make this a good game for adults too, as long as you don’t mind the repetitiveness.