Too many third-party developers take exactly this approach with their multiplatform games, a fact that doesn't necessarily better or worsen the experiences on the similarly powerful PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, but unfortunately one that does usually degrade ports to Wii. You end up with exactly the same title, except it's uglier -- hardly appealing to your average Nintendo fan. That's why smart publishers have started to create ground-up software for Wii, which is, incidentally, the most popular current-generation system in the world. Of course, not every original effort is a masterpiece, but generally, games designed to take advantage of Wii's strengths while considering its weaknesses oftentimes prove to be the cream of the software crop. Take, for example, a third-party console exclusive like Zack & Wiki and compare that to your average port, such as the low-rated Alone in the Dark. You can spot the gaps in quality at a glance.
So I'm always delighted to hear about original Wii efforts, and yet, the cynic cemented within me remains ever the skeptic. Such was the case when publisher THQ announced de Blob, an exclusive Wii platformer based on a free PC game. The Blue Tongue-developed effort features a simple premise: control a jiggly, gelatinous, paint-splattering ball around stylized monochromatic worlds and restore color to the structures and inhabitants one splash and splotch of ink at a time. Early versions of the title showed promise, but lacked polish -- an issue that has been obliterated with the finished product, which oozes presentational shine and sparkle. It is, simply, one of the most well put together, clean and smooth third-party Wii games to date. It's funny. It controls well. And it's packed full of entertaining and satisfying jump, roll and paint-based challenges. So if you find yourself the skeptic, as I was, go ahead and throw your cynicism out the window, for de Blob is exactly the type of project that you want to see on Wii.
Is there a caveat? Yeah, there is. For everything that de Blob does well -- and there's a lot, as I'll get to -- I still feel like this is a franchise with room to grow, and one whose first game only scratches the surface where head-scratching puzzles and difficulty are concerned. The game is neither short nor easy, but I feel that Blue Tongue missed a couple of opportunities to both take further advantage of the Wii remote in a compelling manner and to create genuinely taxing obstacles for the determined hardcore crowd. Not a single potential drawback described in this paragraph is a deal breaker, mind you, but together, it is these issues combined and virtually nothing else that keep de Blob from an even higher score -- one I hope a sequel will be able to obtain.
de Blob is a game about adding color and that is exactly what Blue Tongue has done with the overall presentation, starting with absolutely pristine pre-rendered cinematics (in great supply) that tell the humorous story that precedes the platforming action and continuing with an amazingly slick interface, a bevy of unlockables (concept art, pre-production movies and cinematics) and more. There are 10 truly enormous worlds to explore and each is preempted by a brief load time, but you won't notice it since you are given interactive storyboard sequences and the ability to draw on-screen with the Wii remote while you wait. It is this kind of seemingly simple attention to detail that proudly trumpets the title's mechanical and technical finesse. Even the crystal clear funky jazz soundtrack boasts intelligent design, as it changes dynamically, sprinkling in different instruments as Blob acquires new colors and paints the worlds he frequents.
You control the character very tightly with the nunchuk's analog stick, rolling in any direction. Slam down with the Wii remote and he'll jump. Lock onto special targets with the Z button, gesture downward with Nintendo's controller and he'll zip satisfyingly between trigger points located between skyscrapers. Use the same technique and you can lock onto enemies, ridiculously stubby soldiers from the INKT Corporation (led by Comrade Black, who's bent on sucking all color from Blob's home of Chroma City), and stomp them out. This feels very good because there's a tactile sensation to crushing enemies with a downward motion. On the other hand, I'm not convinced that mapping the jump function to a gesture was necessary given that it's so commonly used and that it's less reliable than a button tap. Admittedly seldom, you may occasionally miss a leap because you didn't motion dramatically enough with the Wii remote, a small disappointment that could've been altogether avoided via a customizable control configuration.
Although you can manually manipulate the camera either by holding the C button (which will center the viewpoint) or by pressing in any direction on the D-pad, you will rarely find it necessary, for the auto-camera in place usually works very well, something of a surprise.
At its core, de Blob is a platformer and you will therefore regularly roll and jump from one structure to the next, but really, this is a game about painting. All hues of the rainbow. And you will need to generously color the gray cities and backdrops even as you remain mindful of an on-screen countdown timer and points display. The more you paint, the more points you earn, which in turn unlock new gateways to other portions of the cities. You can get lost in a city, splattering different shades of color on various structures, trying to combo points by zigzag-jumping between walls, or taking part in dozens of timed in-level challenges in order to earn even more points. All of these activities are engaging, and watching as your colors change the landscapes before you is an experience close to hypnotic, especially since your splatters not only add hue, but oftentimes add unique graffiti-style texture to anything that Blob rolls over or across. If the game were merely a time-wasting paint tool, you could probably have fun with it, but there's variety in the tasks. You will battle enemies, mixing different colors in order to find the correct shade that defeats them. You will paint a series of buildings unique shades before a timer runs out. You will make a dozen precise platform jumps before a countdown timer runs out. And you will fend off bosses along the way, too. There's great fun to be had from all of the activities referenced above and more that I haven't mentioned.
Through the first half of the game, though, the challenges are largely straightforward. Simple. Perhaps even designed to be enjoyed by all types of gamers. Entertaining yes, but not always incredibly hard. During the latter half of the roughly 10-plus-hour game (of which there are 10 enormous stages and dozens of sub-missions), you start to see some more difficult, color-based hurdles. For example, a series of blocks piled atop each other, all of which must be painted different colors. Somehow, you have to figure out a way to paint them in the correct order lest you accidentally color a block yellow that's supposed to be purple. It's exactly these types of puzzles that really get you thinking, and, frankly, I wish there were more of them in the game -- the difficulty really takes shape as you're stuck thinking about the best method to tackle a puzzle even as a countdown timer looms in the corner of the screen.
de Blob is a game whose graphic look seems perfectly suited to Wii and it really is an excellent style. I love the contrast between the monochromatic cities and the colorful main character who drenches them in bright primary colors. I think it's worth stating, though, that Blue Tongue has matched all that style with a technical showpiece for Nintendo's little system. The platformer boasts an exceptionally clean, polished look complete with well-rounded architecture, beautifully animated characters and objects, some of the best particle effects I've seen in any Wii game to date, gorgeous graphic effects like depth of field blur, shimmering water transparencies, heat distortion and bloom, and more. All of this at an astonishingly rock-solid fluidity of 60 frames per second. And the game runs in 480p / 16:9 widescreen modes, too. I'm sure some will dismiss everything that's going on in the title because of its seemingly simple presentation, but make no mistake, there's a lot of tech to match the visual style, and I tip my hit to Blue Tongue for taking the time to deliver a final product with so much polish.
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