The concept powering Electronic Arts' Boom Blox, a Wii-exclusive puzzle game guided by Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, couldn't be simpler. You're challenged to disassemble, rearrange or completely destroy a series of Jenga-like block constructions by any means necessary: with baseballs, with bowling balls, with lasers and bombs. The list goes on and on and on. You can throw, you can shoot and you can even grab the blocks when applicable. The twist is that you use the Wii remote to interact with the blocky formations, which themselves feature astonishingly realistic physics. The title measures the velocity of your motions and the physics system reacts to your choices for very satisfying results. Done. There's no intricate storyline. No overblown cinematics. Just a few fun play mechanics and the physics system to support them. And that's exactly why anybody, seasoned gamer or newcomer, can play and enjoy Boom Blox within minutes.
Boom Blox features only three unique modes, including play, party and create, the former providing the bulk of the single-player puzzles, the middle the multiplayer offering and the latter the intuitive stage creator. Leading up to this review, we've really focused our coverage on the engaging multiplayer and create modes, but it should be understood that Boom Blox also delivers a clever and challenging single-player romp. Included as sub-categories within the play mode are the explore and adventure options, featuring dozens and dozens of original levels (more than 60 in the explore category alone), all of them presenting unique obstacles sure to keep you strategizing and entertained. Meanwhile, the party mode features dozens more original levels designed for up to four gamers and these can be played competitively or, in some cases, cooperatively. The variety of levels between all of the modes -- especially after you've unlocked the adventure and explore challenge modes -- is impressive, to say the least. And when you take into account the fact that you can also create your own levels, there's no denying Boom Blox's got legs.
The Wii remote's infrared pointer makes possible very pinpoint precision in games, enabling players to easily lock onto objects, pick them up and move them around. For that very reason, other companies have already tried and largely failed to make smart puzzle games which use Nintendo's innovative controller well. Jenga, for example, with its clumsy controls and stupid physics, didn't survive the transition to Wii. But EA has, in contrast, made the most of the Wii remote for starkly different (and welcomed) results. Not only can you simply point at the screen and lock onto objects by tapping the A button, but you can swing the camera around by holding the B trigger, necessary as you endeavor to find the perfect angle for your throws, shots and grabs. Once you're locked onto a block, you can make your gesture without fear of breaking the hold.
Best of all, though, is that the game very accurately measures the velocity of your motions so that if you throw with all of your force, you will in turn add significant power to your on-screen pitches. If you make a light toss, you will lob the ball at the block formations. Believe it or not, there's a lot of strategy to deciding just how much power you want to add to your throws. Suppose, for instance, you find yourself charged with the task of merely moving a block out of the way without accidentally removing it from a platform. In a situation like so, you'd want to make a light throw in order to nudge it. On the other hand, if your goal is to dramatically disrupt a formation of blocks, you'd want to give it your all. And because the game measures your movements with accuracy, you feel like you're really in control, not only of the angle of your pitches, but of the power behind them -- input not attainable on any system but Nintendo's, and we have to give EA full credit for capitalizing on this inherent benefit. As you play, you will have fun with every throw because your motions will be translated so seamlessly.
The developer has coupled the control gains with a complex and dynamic physics system for equally entertaining results. Every block in the game has its own set of realistic physics and all of the blocks react to each other as they would in the real world, with real gravity. Additionally, the blocks react uniquely to different balls, from baseballs to bowling balls, which are thrown their way. If you hit a block with a baseball, you'll likely nudge it forward. If you hit the same block with a bowling ball, it'll fly backward. And if you hit it with a bomb ball, well, it'll simply explode outward in a flash. Now, imagine entire block formations bound by the laws of gravity. If you somehow knock out the bases, entire structures could come crumbling down. You'll even be able to set off domino reactions, toppling block towers into each other, with a well-placed throw. And because the blocks are bound by genuine physics, everything matters, from the angle of your shot to the power of your throw. If you're good enough, you'll learn how to ricochet shots off multiple structures or hurl the ball at a formation's weak point, toppling it in a single throw.
The blocks themselves feature different attributes. Some explode. Others will cause chemical reactions if they come into contact with another. More still disappear after they are hit with balls. The list goes on. And, of course, there are the bomb characters, who also have major roles to play. Some will always try to ignite bomb blocks. Others will always try to dispose of other block characters. Again, the list goes on. The selection of characters is commendable and each features an original personality which adds color to the game. You can also throw balls at them, knocking them off the arena for no particular reason, which is always enjoyable. Not only do these characters change the dynamic of the single and multiplayer levels, but you can also use them in the create mode as you design your own stages.
Wii is both the best and worst system for a game of this type. The best because of the the tactile control experience and the worst because of the system's technical limitations. Boom Blox is not a visual stunner. The game does run in both 16:9 widescreen and 480p modes and it also features its own original, colorful, safe style complete with cardboard cut-out backdrops and a variety of themes, from tropical to western. Yet, the textures which skin the environments and objects generally lack crispness. The bigger issue, though, is that Wii lacks the under-the-hood horsepower to properly furnish Boom Blox's physics system. With big explosions and dozens of individual block physics calculations taking place, the action slows down. This limitation is even illustrated as you create your own levels -- an on-screen meter maxes out when you fill the stages with too many blocks (and in turn possible physics calculations). It's an inherent hurdle that EA has done its best with and while slowdown is noticeable at times, there are still some amazing stages to be seen and built.
Boom Blox truly shines as a multiplayer game with up to four players -- a truth demonstrated over and over again at gaming events, where the title was oftentimes surrounded by gamers who kept coming back for more. The multiplayer bouts also couldn't be simpler. You and up to three friends take turns making throws, each person attempting to amass the most points, which are gained by knocking down blocks. Picture a giant Jenga-like puzzle, each block featuring a unique point value. The big ones tend to offer more points. Now, your object is to look for the weak spots, trying desperately to trigger a reaction before your opponents can. Sometimes your pre-calculations will go as planned, playing out just as they did in your mind. Other times, you will find that you miscalculated, or that your throw was too light, and instead of toppling a structure, you've instead set up the perfect throw for your friend. It's just a lot of fun and we guarantee that you will laugh and tease your friends whether you're winning or losing. Bear in mind too, that there are other multiplayer modes which involve grabbing and shooting items.
Finally, once you've exhausted every other mode, Boom Blox includes a surprisingly robust and deep stage editor. You can at any time transfer pre-existing levels into the mode and edit them, but you can also design your own from the ground up using tiles and objects you've unlocked from the single-player experience. The editor powering the create mode is very intuitive and you really can do a lot with the system. Not only can you lay down a variety of different blocks and characters, but you can scale them to different heights and widths, copy and paste them about the stage, paint them with different block attributes, and more. When you're ready, you can choose to play the levels you've created, quickly jumping in to demonstrate their functionality and then jumping right back out again to make further edits. It's quick, easy and painless, for the most part. And the editor really has legs for two reasons: first, you can create stages specifically for multiple players and second (and perhaps best of all), you can trade your creations with friends over WiiConnect24. The game's got ridiculous replay value.
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