de Blob 2 Review
|REVIEWS - VIDEOGAME REVIEWS|
For once, the protagonist's colourful background is a welcomed, child-friendly addition...
The world was first introduced to de Blob back in 2008. Playing as ‘Blob’, a round and mischevious character, players were tasked with painting colour into a world turned grey by the evil ruler of the INKT corporation, Comrade Black. Blending platforming with its own quirky paint based gameplay, de Blob was one of the Wii’s strongest indie titles. Now the blob is back...and this time he's gone multi-platform.
de Blob2 takes place a few years after the events of de Blob, but you needn’t have played the first to enjoy the second. In fact, due to de Blob being a Wii exclusive, de Blob 2 will be many players' first experience with the happy, Technicolor world of Prisma City. On the surface the story is pleasingly simple; Comrade Black is back, and he and his evil gang of Inkies are once again intent on removing all colour from the world, before imprisoning its lurid inhabitants.
When you first enter the world of de Blob 2, it is one drained of colour thanks to the INKT Corporation, a group of one eyed, cutsey ink blobs that bear more than a passing resemblance to the Nazis. To liberate the city and its inhabitants, Blob must bring colour back to the world, whilst also attempting to banish the INKT Corporation in the process.
Painting is what de Blob 2 is all about. You free citizens, kill the Inkies and generally brighten the place up by soaking up paint from fountains and tick-like ink bots and splashing it over every available surface. These ‘restoration’ mechanics bear a striking similarity to Flower - in particular the ‘transform’ moment when you revitalise an area - and at times feels exactly the same, right down to the sounds.
The controls are pleasingly responsive, making both jumping and rolling around the landscape a satisfyingly tactile and squidgy experience. The game's simplistic nature means that you will rarely need more than three buttons from your controller, but the ones you do use are intelligently laid out and the experience has a sharp and intuitive feel.
The levels in de Blob 2 are fundamentally similar, typically involving painting buildings, freeing a specified number of citizens or simply killing Inkies. This can get a little repetitive at times, particularly towards the end of the game, when the tasks become quite long and drawn out, but seeing the world turn from a dull grey backdrop, into a busy and vibrant city, ultimately keeps you playing. If you're anything like me, you will end up wanting to colour every single piece of the environment, just to see the area in its full glory.
One of the best aspects of de Blob 2's gameplay is that, when you enter certain buildings around the city, the game turns into a 2D platformer, reminiscent of Sony's critically acclaimed Little Big Planet. This is not a bad thing though, as de Blob 2 establishes a healthy balance in regards to this 2D appeal; and the puzzles and traps within them are kept fresh with a good variety of different environments and power ups. Furthermore, these 2D side-casts provide a break from painting buildings, and help to keep the main game from becoming stale and repetitive - at least for a time.
The paint in the game is initially based on the primary colours: red, blue and yellow, but after a short 'breaking-in' period, you begin to experiment with those oh-so-tricky secondary colours; including such favourites as green, orange, purple and a rather uninspiring brown. While this seems basic at first, simply fetching the correct colour and applying it where required, later levels intelligently place paint supplies and demand more and more complex combinations and patterns. This evolution is gradual, and keeps the game challenging; but again, this is to a point.
While de Blob 2 does a lot to keep you interested in the story, the gameplay itself is not the most challenging, and players looking for a real test will definitly be left wanting. There are a number of reasons for this, all of which hinder what otherwise is a great game. For example, it soon becomes obvious that de Blob 2 is a game aimed at younger audiences - when you come to pick the difficulty, your only options are easy and medium, neither of which will provide much of a challenge to experienced gamers. The combat in particular is exceptionally easy: enemies are targeted by holding L1, and Blob bounces on them with a press of X, so merely keep holding L1 and mashing X, and Blob will bounce merrily onto every enemy on screen in an instant.
The challenge of the game is taken away further when the main missions in an area are complete. Instead of letting you roam the level and discover things left to paint, de Blob 2 carefully maps out all the remaining things to paint, collect and squish, and collects them into a series of extra challenges, effectively eliminating most of the replay value and trivialising the awards for 100% completion. The game's upgrade system also suffers, especially as the game guides you to all the collectables, experience points (‘Inspiration’ as de Blob 2 calls it) and powerups. Basically, while upgrades are indeed plentiful, the uninspiring challenge of collecting them seriously downgrades their worth.
The amount of instruction and hints given to you by the game is also bordering on obsessive. You will never, ever, be left wondering what it is you need to do next, or even how to do it. All of the puzzles and missions are carefully explained to you, and as you progress through them you are reminded consistently of your goals and progress. This isn’t a major flaw, as the instructions aren’t very intrusive, but it would have been nice to have at least some puzzles that you feel like you have actually solved, instead of merely following simple instructions.
There is also a limited 2 player mode - similar to that of Mario Galaxy - where the second controller directs a small reticule on the screen, one that can repaint the surroundings with blob. However, while this is a pleasing distraction for a friend, it is also a bit of a game-breaker. Playing the game on your own, you can simply pick up another controller and use it to pick up any power ups you can’t reach. You can even re-paint Blob himself, making a lot of the puzzles much, much easier.
The presentation of de Blob 2 is where the game really shines. The resolution bump granted on the PS3 and Xbox really does the game's bright, vibrant characters justice. When the environment is fully coloured, you are hard pressed to find a single space that is not busy and interesting. Cars scoot around the city; pets hop around the excited inhabitants; even signs, trees and lampposts have a certain hypnotic effect with their brilliant colours.
The 2D parts of the game are also well designed and have a lot going on within them. Rarely is there simply a blank wall behind you - more often it is an amusing scene featuring Inkies or civilians - all of which provides a pleasing distraction and adds real depth to the game as a whole.
The game also explores a number of themes that are considerably unique, especially in a game aimed predominantly at children. Despite his fairly simplistic beginnings, Blob soon has to deal with an invasive cult, a people's revolution, a banking crisis and a student uprising. On more than one occasion I did wonder whether de Blob 2 was a medium which its frustrated designers had used to vent their individual grievances; the evidence is certainly there. But whether or not these similarities to the real world were intended or not, the extra description and effort put into these segments makes them some of the most enjoyable in the game.
Two major highlights in the game for me were the cut scenes and the soundtrack. The cut scenes are flawlessly polished, beautifully animated and surprisingly funny; and would look completely at home in the latest summer blockbuster. I was not expecting to laugh out loud at a game aimed at such a young audience, but I soon began to revel in their animated delights and, before long, I was more concerned with de Blob 2's cutscenes than I was with my current level.
On top of this, the soundtrack featured is an absolute treat, regardless of age or taste. At the beginning of each stage, you are given a choice over the musical style of the next level, with each option given cutesy titles like ‘bouncy’ or ‘chilled’. Do not let these names mislead you however, as each type is an entertaining and vibrant mix of seamlessly jazzy pop with a modern, techno feel. It is a little hard to describe de Blob 2’s musical score without actually experiencing it for yourself, but suffice to say that the sounds alone are a reason to play the game from start to finish.
de Blob 2 is clearly a game aimed at younger audiences. The difficulty of the gameplay and the puzzles really reflects this, and can hold it back at times. Worse still is the way the game can feel like a tutorial throughout, with constant reminders polluting your screen right through to the last level. It is also slightly too punishing at times with its checkpoints, making players repeat long sections of the game.
However, these gameplay flaws are compensated by the high levels of polish applied to every aspect of the game. Aiding its visual style, this polish makes even the most mundane experiences - such as having to repeat a section - somewhat bearable because it means you get to see the area burst into life following Blob's artsy touch. From start to finish there are new and interesting things to see, and surprising transformations in the landscape to witness. At one memorable moment the level for a frozen lake gradually falls, exposing more and more buildings and streets for Blob to explore and paint.
If you have young children, then you really should check this game out as they are almost guaranteed to love it. More experienced gamers are advised to proceed with a little more caution - if you are looking for a big challenge, then you won't find it here. If however, you are looking for an amusing game with lively characters, an engaging story and a lot of fresh ideas, then de Blob 2 is the perfect game for you.
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