Reviewed: Boom Blox – Wii

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Thus far, most Wii games haven’t really found traction in my gaming world. While a few have really impressed me to the point of playing them to completion, the vast majority has struck me as games that could have been pulled off on any of the current consoles. The only real difference was the use of the Wiimote as a control scheme. Invariably, this is where my enthusiasm for Wii games would disappear: when some contrived use of the Wiimote was shoehorned into a game that would function equally well without you waving your arms about like a complete pillock. As such, I think (and this is only my opinion, Wii die-hards) that the Wii is finally finding its legs, delivering games that make inventive or natural use of the Wiimote’s motion sensing capability with regularity. Boom Blox falls squarely (heh) into this category, and is without a doubt one of the most delightful, accessible and challenging puzzle games available on any platform today.

The first question I asked when I found out about Boom Blox was what on earth was Steven Spielberg doing as executive producer of a puzzle game? It was entertaining to imagine he coded the whole thing sometime between Munich and filming the latest Indiana Jones film, but somehow I think his skills don’t run that wide. It might be understandable if he produced a game based on a film of his (much like the role Peter Jackson had with the King Kong film tie-in) but an unlicensed puzzle game seemed like an odd choice. The answer lies in a quote Spielberg gave, and is essentially what drives the whole design ethic behind the game.

Quite simply, Spielberg wanted a game he could play with his kids. Boom Blox fits that bill perfectly, but it is also much more than a mere family-friendly game that will keep the young crowd entertained for hours. At its heart, the game is a pimped out combination Jenga and Breakout, with all it’s puzzles completely reliant on the very robust physics engine the game uses. Exploding Jenga - great at parties!

In short, you’ll alternately have to knock over a structure made of free standing block, or keep such a structure from getting knocked over. Of course, it’s more complicated than that: you’ll be working against time, or you will have a limited amount of balls with which to knock over the structure, and so forth. The method for getting at the blocks will also change: sometimes, you’ll use the Wiimote as an extension of your hand to carefully pull out a block (and hope like hell that the whole tower doesn’t come crashing down in an epic cascade of fail), whereas other times, the pointer is variety of balls – baseball, bowling ball, and so forth. Each ball has different characteristics in the physics engine, and this will make a difference when swinging the Wiimote to throw them at your selected target area.

The control scheme is basic and intuitive, although it is sometimes a chore to move the camera to exactly the angle you want to see the action from. To throw an object, point your cursor to where you want the ball to go, press A to lock it as the target, and swing your arm in a throwing motion. To pan the camera, you pull the trigger and move your hand. The most nerve wracking action is the Jenga-inspired one, where you must carefully point to a block, rotate the camera to a correct angle, and gently ‘pull’ the block out without knocking over the whole pile. It gets pretty funny if you happen to ‘accidentally’ slap someone’s arm down when they are attempting to do this, by the way.

There are a number of game modes, with the one I liked most being the straight-forward puzzle section, where you are given increasingly challenging puzzles with a variety of objectives. I realized that the game was addictive when I retried the same puzzle 23 times in an attempt to knock down the requisite number of blocks in the required number of throws to earn a gold medal. Another time, I was completely stumped on how to solve a puzzle, looking at it from every which angle for more than 20 minutes. A friend walks in, takes one look at it, and suggests what turns out to be the correct solution. At moments like these, Boom Blox vividly reminds me of The Incredible Machine, commonly known as TIM, released back in the DOS/Windows 3.0 era. It poses the same kind of fun, addictive, yet slightly absurd challenge, ranging from the blatantly obvious to the fiendishly difficult.

The game also has a story mode, in which you must complete the same objectives as in the puzzle mode, but now placed in context by a Dr. Seuss-like children’s story, taking place in various setting (medieval, the Wild West, etc.) With block-shaped characters named Buster Maguff (a puppy), Buckley Beaverton and Sherman Woolington, it’s very much aimed at drawing in children with a bare-bones semblance of a plot. Quite obviously, this isn’t overly captivating to anyone over the age of 12, but it’s a nice feature to have in the game.

The Colonel's secret recipe revealed. Multiplayer is where Boom Blox really shines. It features a competitive mode, where you and a partner compete in various challenges, most of which involve knocking over blocks quicker than the other player. There’s also a cooperative mode, in which you work together to do the same. I can honestly say that the fun of Boom Blox increases exponentially when you add more players to the mix – again meeting the stated goal of providing entertainment for a parents and children.

On a technical side, the game is proficient, but does not certainly not the best you’ll ever experience. The colours seem strangely washed out for a game that should scream ‘bright, primary colours’, and the textures are pretty low, even for a Wii game. The design philosophy is very pleasant, however, and definitely falls into the child-friendly designation. As for sound, there is ambient background music, and all the cute critters make appropriately cute sounds. More than that, Boom Blox doesn’t really attempt. In all honesty, however, it doesn’t need to. This game is clearly built around serving the gameplay first, and as such, the lack of technical prowess doesn’t hamper the game at all.

There are some other cons: some of the puzzles feel tacked on and unsuited to the puzzle nature of the game. For instance, at certain times, you’ll have to protect your characters from little enemy blocks that try to attack them. You do this by throwing balls at them, knocking them offscreen. Essentially, it’s an escort mission, and regular readers will know how much I like those…

It should be mentioned that the game also has a Create mode, where you can build your own puzzles, or edit existing ones to your hearts’ content. Combined with the fact that the game has more than 300 puzzles on offer, it makes for a lot of replay value – especially when you start building your own devious levels for multiplayer purposes.

In closing, Boom Blox is the perfect game to get a child or significant other into the gaming scene. It is an extremely good puzzle game: light-hearted, inoffensive, addictive, and above all, loads of fun. This is a clear instance where gameplay triumphs over graphics and the developers should be applauded for not compromising on this vision. I highly recommend it to anyone with a Wii.

Scoring:
Gameplay: 9/10 [Fun and addictive] Presentation: 7/10 [Not exemplary, but is serves its purpose] Sound: 6/10 [Middle of the road – nothing to praise, but no real detractors either] Value: 9/10 [Multiplayer, create mode and 300+ puzzles = a lot of gameplay] Overall: 8.5/10 [I’d say it’s a must own for parents everywhere.] Better/Worse than: I can’t really think of any game to compare Boom Blox with – it’s pretty much unique.

Last Updated: June 4, 2008

Etienne

Once upon a time, in a land long forgotten, I wrote for this site. The details were gobbled up by an errant database, so instead you’re reading this painfully obtuse default bio.

  • “Better/Worse than: I can’t really think of any game to compare Boom Blox with – it’s pretty much unique.” Jenka would be the closest thing to Boom Blox.

    If you enjoyed Boom Blox check out Zack and Wiki. :mrgreen:

    larch’s last blog post..Bamboo Blade (Review)

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