A Boy And His Blob

While James Cameron and his ilk are inadvertently pushing gaming into ‘real’ 3D, Nintendo seem to be taking the road less travelled with several of their recent and upcoming releases rocking impressive 2/2.5D credentials. Including New Super Mario Bros, Metroid: Other M, Donkey Kong Country and Kirby’s Epic Yarn it seems their first-party productions are focussed on turning the Wii’s limitations into an impetus for originality. Even if that’s the borrowed originality of the indie developers who have been making 2D cool again with WiiWare offerings like LostWinds, And Yet It Moves and NyxQuest (which were, in turn, homages to the games Nintendo were making 20 years ago so perhaps for sanity’s sake we should just drop the whole trite comparison).
A Boy And His Blob falls somewhere between both camps as a third-party reimagining (Wii-imagining?) of a NES classic. Sporting delightfully Ghibli-esque visuals and a vulnerable Limbo-shaped boy as the hero there’s a familiarity at play in Blob which walks the treacherous line between nostalgic and hackneyed.

And so it begins. An animated sequence plays out, presumably a montage of cutscenes from the game (it is in fact the only example of such in the game). It’s exciting, beautifully animated and all the more enjoyable knowing how it matches the game’s visual-style. The title ‘A Boy And His Blob’ overlays the screen and fades as a boy is startled by a shooting star outside his window, he gets out of bed and stands there.

For ages.

This is because the game has started and you’ve been too wrapped up in it to notice; it’s the complete opposite of losing interest. And this is how the game goes on. Enraptured as fireflies light your character’s way and miscellaneous forest detritus temporarily obscures your view in the foreground, Blob is filled with the kind of magic that makes it deserving the adjective most rarely given awarded to Wii games: stunning. Not in a Black Ops, beautifully realised head-shot way, but in the simple, elegant kind of design that makes Shadow of the Colossus still stunning today – HD remake be damned.

You’ll be so wrapped up in the overall level of stunning at work it’s unlikely you’ll mind that you’ve done nothing more exerting than hop enemy blobs and run past currently useless treasure chests for the first few minutes. That is until you reach the destination of the shooting star’s crash site and an endearing scene plays out between the boy and his blob, all with in-game animations and the same few voice commands.

Blob is not a game heavy on the story. With your symbiotic, ET relationship established you embark on the natural mission of getting back to your treehouse, preferably managing to crush some enemy blobs with various implements on the way. There is no hand-holding or ‘practise looking at these fish’ tutorials, and while the game will go on to literally sign-post the shapes Blob must take for longer than a steady learning-curve demands for those first few minutes it’s just you and your blob. Even any kind of HUD is eschewed and you’ll have to find the button yourself to make a simple selection of Blob’s current shaping-changing beans to appear.

In case my tiresome new games journalism affectation has made it unclear, Blob is a joy to play. The puzzle-platforming of a fragile boy making his way through an increasingly harsh and industrial world may be particularly familiar by now, but the execution and modest appreciation for each little moment will mean the Miyazaki comparisons are more often on your tongue. One could wax lyrically about the child against a strange, enchanting world narrative or the balance between benevolent supernatural creatures and their inkier counterparts but all it will take is a few minutes playing for you to make that ideal box-art observation: ‘It’s like playing a Ghibli movie!’

Like all the best games, A Boy And His Blob is not perfect. The clumsy controls give the boy a suitably Limbo heft at first, but as each level’s treasure chests unlock a more difficult, checkpoint-free bonus level it begins to feel WayForward have attempted to give the game a difficultly level that warrants Mario replayability when that isn’t the kind of game they’ve made. Nevertheless, these bonus levels kept me enraptured as each of the main level’s treasure chests produce a part of the bonus level’s artefact, which in turn unlocks art cards and production videos represented by small objects around your hideout. While these sound like the notorious filler of most titles’ padded gamelife, here they are welcomely tangible evidence of achievement in a game where the design is sumptuous enough to warrant a little of such self-indulgence.

If you’re a gamer wondering why you bought into the Wii this generation it’s probably because you haven’t played A Boy And His Blob. It will restore your faith in Nintendo as a format producer capable of drawing in the talented and imaginative studios making games like these. 2.5D is dead. Long live 2D!

Friday night, post-work gaming time accrued:

3 hours 16 minutes

Will you still love me tomorrow?

It’s the wallpaper on my desktop.

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