Friday, September 5, 2008

Boom Blox [Wii] - Review

Another blockbuster from Steven Spielberg?

Boom Blox is a puzzle game developed by EA for the Nintendo Wii. The interesting thing about the title is that film director Steven Spielberg approached EA with an idea for a game. Against expectation it is a relatively simple family game rather than some grand action/adventure game. When this game first launched here in May I had picked it out as a definite purchase for the Wii. We are all acutely aware of the shortage of quality software titles on the Wii so I decided to hold off on buying it till there is a lull in good games and I could come back to this. So with nothing worthwhile on the market for PS3 or Wii recently, I went back and got Boom Blox last week.

The gameplay is like a mixture of Jenga, dominos, a shooting game like 'Duck Hunt' and Lego. There are three distinct game variants - throw, shoot and grab. In the 'throw' games you use the Wii Remote to throw objects at the onscreen objects to accomplish different things. There is a reverse version of Jenga where you throw balls at a tower of blocks with the aim of toppling the tower. Shooting games are pretty self explanatory really. The 'grab' games are perhaps the most fun. There is a game that is basically Jenga where you use grab blocks out of a large pile and try to avoid toppling the tower. Three game types doesn't sound like a lot but there is a massive variety of games within each type. The developers have thrown in plenty of little details that will make each level play differently. For example purple colour blocks will disappear when hit meaning blocks above will fall into the empty space, or hit two green blocks into each other and watch the resulting explosion fling surrounding blocks around the screen. These little details let the player bring much more strategy into play than one would expect.

You can play all these games as mini-games, trying to get a bronze, sliver or gold medal in each one. Or you can play the adventure mode where the developers have attempted to wrap a story around each game. It is a nice idea but the narrative isn't exactly deep or engaging and to be honest you don't buy this type of game for the quality of the story. The single player mode is not as fun as I was hoping it to be. In fact I was quite disppointed in it to be honest. However, you can overlook this rather large failing with the exceptional multi-player gameplay with two, three or four players. You can opt to play competitively or co-operatively with the latter being more fun in my opinion. Suddenly games that are fun alone become even more fun as you try to knock over your opponents towers or leave a precariously position tower for your opponent to remove a tricky block. I can't wait to break this game out when I have a few friends over as I suspect it will be a big hit with four players - fast, frantic and highly competitive.

The game is deceptively simple. The graphics (even for a Wii title) are unlikely to win any prizes. They are nice and colourful, while the backgrounds are surprisingly good. There is some added personality in the game with the addition of animals who watch the action from the sidelines and they have some nice animations. The sound too is equally functional rather than amazing. There is some nice tunes, especially those that have the animals chanting along and there are good solid sound effects for the falling blocks. The most impressive aspect of the game is one that can be easily overlooked - a very advanced physics engine. Everything that happens in this game happens as you would expect it to happen in the real world. The blocks fall very convincingly, causing chain reactions where you expect them. There is never a time when you think that something that has happened was scripted, you are always in control.

A good deal of effort has gone into improving the longevity of the game. Firstly, there is over 100 levels of co-operative and competitive levels to work through, added to the 300 or so single player levels. Very impressive. If that isn't enough there is a quite impressive level editor. Here you can alter existing levels or create your own from scratch. You can play the single player game to unlock more objects to use in your own creations. There is a handy meter on the side to say when you have enough objects in the level, otherwise the physics engine would be overloaded. It is here that the game shows off some more technically impressive functions, sharing created levels with friends over WiiConnect 24. It is good to see a third party developer take a lead here rather than wait on Nintendo so show everyone how it is done. Kudos to EA for going the extra mile and hopefully it will encourage other developers in future.

Simple graphics but this is not title that requires state of the art graphics. Most of the power of the Wii is probably busy calculating where all those blocks are supposed to fall. Colourful and cute like most Wii games.

Functional and solid. The soundtrack is unremarkable apart from songs when the animal spectators chant along.

Possibly the best implementation of the Wii Remote since Wii Sports. It is especially good at calculating the speed of your throw from the force you use physically. The grab tool is also very accurate.

I know EA gets a lot of criticism (some deserved) but for making this game they deserve a lot of praise. As a multi-player title it is a lot of fun, one of the best multi-player games on the Wii which is high praise as the system has a lot of good party games. If you want a fun game that you can hop on and play in short bursts or fancy a lengthy challenge then this is the game for you. If you intend playing solely on your own then I'd recommend renting first.

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