Review: Blast Works (Nintendo Wii)

Blast Works
Publisher: Majesco
Developer: Budcat Creations, LLC
Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Release Date: 06/12/08


In 2004 a freeware side scrolling shooter was released under the name Tumiki Fighters. It was a neat little shooter whose hideous blocky graphics were more than made up for by its innovative and quirky gameplay. Your tiny shooter could add weapons and pieces from enemy fighters and merge them with itself. It was very under the radar and most gamers had never heard of it, much less played it outside of the diehard Shoot ‘Em Up fanbase, which is admittedly very small in North America.

Somehow this freeware title not only received a sequel, but a fullscale commercial release. From free to $39.99. Not bad, eh? A lot of people were deservedly skeptical on the cost. After all, it had been years since a shooter had received that high of a price tag. R-Type Final and Gradius V were cheaper than that when they hit US shores. Same with Castle Shikigami III. In this day and age where you can buy a HD remake of Ikaruga or Triger Heart Exelica (which sells for over $100 back in Japan) for a ten spot, what would possess gamers to pick up Blast Works?

How about a design your own shooter mode?

Things just got interesting.

We’ll try and forget the horror that is Fighter Maker and the insanely overly complicated mess that was the RPG Maker trilogy. This is something I have been dying for for at least two console generations. Now I can force feed homebrew shooters on my friends as well as design insanely complicated boss battles.

Unless of course the construction interface was as awful as the old Agetec published games.

So how did Blast Works turn out? Was it worth the cost, or was I thinking of all the shooters I could have purchased from the VC instead?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

Generally Shooters don’t have plots other than “Blast away until one side or the other is dead,” so let’s take a look at all the different ways one can play Blast Works

1. Campaign Mode. Here you’ll take your fighter through multiple campaigns, each consisting of three missions. When you finish one campaign, you can move on to the next. Once all your lives are gone, it is game over. Don’t worry though! Next time you play, you can start from the beginning of the last campaign you were on. Once you beat all the campaigns, you’ll unlock the original Tumiki Fighters! Campaign mode is a great way for people new to the genre to get acclimated to how shooters work. More importantly it allows one to see just how relentless and cruel the genre can be. Even better campaign mode offers two-player co-op action which gets utterly insane considering the attach your fallen enemies style gameplay.

2. Arcade Mode. Here 1-4 players can test their mettle against the full campaign game. Here you are given five continues, but once those are gone it is game over. If you want to play again, you’re starting all the way from the beginning. This is where Blast Works will really test your mettle, and it’s as rewarding as it is hard.

3. Users Levels

Oh. My. God. If there is such a thing as video gaming heaven, I have just entered it. Not only is the level design interface easy to use, but there are so many tiny little options that you could buy just this game for the Wii and never need another shooter for the console. You can create ships, enemies, backgrounds, bosses and even bullets! The speed, spread, trajectory, and size of your firepower is utterly customizable. You can design simple one piece enemies, complex enemies and even bosses that take up half your screen. It does take a long time to make a fully fleshed out level, but it is so worth it. You can even go online and share your creations and levels, or download parts from other gamers! Blastworksdepot.com is a wonderful tool, although it is a very slow site right now.

4. Unlockables

There are a significant amount of cheats and bonuses to unlock. Everything from 99 lives to the aforementioned Tumiki Fighters It’s astounding to see what all there is to unlock and tinker with. There are so many different ways to vary the gameplay of not only Blast Works itself but of all the other unlockable games and user designed levels, that I’m still having trouble wrapping my mind around it all.

Simply put: This game is amazing and is practically perfect for any shooter fan.

Modes Rating: Unparalleled

2. Graphics

Although Blast Works is a definite step up from Tumiki Fighters, it is still not going to wow anyone graphically. At least at first.

The background and ship designs are all interesting and cute, but one will quickly notice they are very blocky and nondescript. One could easily make the case that the game looks like a PS1 or Saturn title. However, the further into the game you get, the more you realize how much detail there really is in this title.

For one thing, it’s very impressive how there is no slowdown in this game. There were times when over a dozen enemies were shooting at me and my plane was so connected with other pieces that I took up half to three-fourths of the screen.

Second the boss designs are amazing. Sure the game looks a little pale due to everything being in pastels, but the bosses? Wow. The amount of firepower, the weak spots, and the multiple life bars are all fun, but even better is the size and the level of detail put into these things. I remember on one particular boss that the screen started to pull back and my mouth just dropped when I saw the sheer size of the thing.

The game probably won’t win any awards for graphical innovation or impress the casual gamer. But those with an eye for subtle and/or minute details will be impressed by how much goes into even the simplest of ships.

Graphics Rating: Above Average

3. Sound

I enjoyed the music of Blast Works but it does get repetitive quickly. Same too with the sound effects in the game. There’s just no real diversity and everything ends up blurring together. It doesn’t matter if you’re blowing up a boss, a hot air balloon or a jeep – in the end, it all sounds alike. I would have really enjoyed more diversity in here, or even the ability to pick several different background tracks like one could in RPG Maker Alas, that option is not available.

Oddly enough the game can be quite quiet when things are firing away. You can have twenty different guns attached to your plane, and yet there is no noise to differentiate the different shots. It’s a little odd and creepy all at once.

This is the only black area in Blast Works , and even then it’s not even that bad. It’s just a little disappointing and monotonous in the audio aspect of the game. I do like the “Boss approaching” siren though.

Sound Rating: Below Average

4. Control and Gameplay

There are three control schemes for the game, but be careful as the manual has some button commands flipflopped. I personally prefer the Wiimote and Classic Controller schemes. Don’t bother with the Wiimote/Numchuk combination as it forces you to use an analog stick for maneuvering your fighter, which any hardened shooter fan will tell you is a crap way to go with any game in this genre. D-Pad it ALWAYS.

In all forms of the game, the controls are simple enough and very easy to understand. Your D-Pad moves your fighter and helps you aim your bullets and dodge. You have one button for shooting and you might as well just hold it down the whole time as it is an auto fire command. The other button that you will use hides all the pieces you currently have attached to your fighter. Don’t ask where the pieces go. It’s probably the same place that Optimus Prime’s trailer goes to when he transforms into a robot. My one problem with the controls is you have to hold the button down to keep the pieces tucked in. I would have really preferred one touch to suck them in and a second touch to bring them out. It’s a bit annoying the way the controls are laid out and it would have made the game more enjoyable if I wasn’t concentrating on dodging and keeping my finger down.

Designing your own stuff is easier than in the Agetec “Maker” line of games, but you still have to pay close attention to what you are doing. You’ll even have to get quite anal at times to ensure your parts and enemies work properly. The menus are very helpful and are somewhat hand-holding so even if you’ve never even programmed a VCR, you should find yourself doing okay here.

One thing. Blast Works eats up a ton of your Wii’s internal memory, so if you have a lot of VC downloaded titles, don’t be surprised when you have to start moving a lot of games onto a scandisk in order to preserve your created levels and designs.

The various editors in Blast Works are amazing, in-depth, and fairly user-friendly. I was shocked at the tiny little details I could do to my levels, including adding water or twinkling stars.

Aside from my tiny little issue with the tucking in of parts, this game is undeniably solid and well made. Blast Works is a wonderful shooter that combines the best aspects of Katamari Damacy and Trigger Heart Exelica. You can’t ask much more than that.

Control and Gameplay: Classic

5. Replayability

With multiple games to play, Blast Works on its own would receive high marks. Throw in the ability to make your own Shooters and well, this game’s replay value flies into uncharted territory. This is easily a game that will remain in my collection generations after the Wii is defunct, and all for the ability to create my own levels. Rock on Majesco and Budcat.

Replayability Rating: Unparalleled

6. Balance

This is an amazingly solid Shooter. Enemies and stages gradually get harder and boss fights are long and intense, but exceptionally fun. Attaching fallen enemies gives your ship protection from enemy fire. Like in most shooters, one hit and you are dead. Try to collect enemies on all sides of you and you’ll survive for a long time. Even better is that when you collect enemy weapons, they attach and still work, only now they shoot your blue coloured firepower. The angle at which they fire depends on the angle they connect to you at. Sure it’s great to have a ton of guns, but if they are all aiming behind you at a 75 degree angle, it’s not very useful.

The game never plays the same way twice as you can never be sure what is going to attach to you and at what angle. It’s hilarious to see your ship nearly take up the full screen, just adding enemies the second they come on, but when you’re that big you also start losing parts as quickly as you add them.

One thing I found interesting is that the more parts you have with boss fights, the harder time you’ll have. The bosses have so many weapons, that it’s all about dodging rather than letting your attached parts take the bullets. Those added bits will come off quite quickly and in the end, bosses are easiest when it’s just your lone fighter shooting at the main parts and escaping an onslaught of bullets.

I can’t really review the level design here, as every person’s homebrew game will vary greatly in this category. Designing itself is very easy to monkey around with, and it is easily the best made “Create your own genre” game released stateside so far.

Incredible balance and it’s one of the best shooters I’ve played in a long time. Regardless of your skill level, the sliding difficulty scale will allow the game to give you a challenge. Mess around with the adding and dropping of pieces and try to make the best ship you can for surviving the amazing amount of missions in this game!

Balance Rating: Unparalleled

7. Originality

Although Blast Works is basically a sequel to Tumiki Fighters, it’s a better game than the original in nearly every way. The create your own game has been done before, but this is the best it’s ever been. It’s also the first create your own Shoot ‘Em Up released for a platform.

The using your enemies as weapons is not new in Shooters, but it is still pretty rare and it’s been amazing in every game that has tried it. It’s such an innovative concept and I love watching how weird my ship can get.

Aspects of Blast Works have been done before, but it still manages to stand out from the pack and be one of the most original and innovative games released this year. I was constantly surprised by things thrown at me and objects that I could create, and that’s pretty impressive consider how cookie cutter this genre can be at times.

Originality Rating: Good

8. Addictiveness

We have a very well made shooter here combined with an excellent level creator/editor. If you’re in to making your own game, you’ll be playing this game for months just trying to create perfect levels for you and your friends. Even if you don’t have the time or desire to make your own shooters, the campaign and arcade modes of Blast Works are so funny that you’ll want to keep playing them, even if you find them exceptionally hard.

I had a hard time putting down this game to write this review. Even now I have designs in my head for a vertical shooter using the CAL. I can’t wait to see if I can pull it off.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor

Normally shooters have a low appeal rating due to the difficulty of the genre and an overall feeling from North American gamers that the genre is defunct or played out. Both reasons have merit, but this remains my favorite genre in all of gaming and with games like Blast Works my undying love for shooters has been rewarded.

No matter how many shooters you have played, Blast Works will be something you find innovative and exceptionally addictive. It’s fun to see how the parts are added to your ship and how a good collector can offset the difficulty of the game. Yes, it’s a LONG shooter in terms of levels in the Campaign and Arcade mode, but it’s still amazingly fun and the time flies by.

With the ability to make your own shooter aspect, people who haven’t played a shooter in a long time will probably pick up this game and be reminded why they loved titles like Star Soldier and Mars Matrix all those years ago. Fans of this game will no doubt have their friends try their homebrew levels, leading to said friends purchasing this game and hopefully the cycle continues.

Will Blast Works revive the glory days of the side-scrolling shooter? No. Sadly, it won’t, but it will help to renew some interest in the genre as well as quiet naysayers of the Wii who complain that the system doesn’t have any “hardcore” games. Between this and Baroque, people should be well satisfied on that front.

Appeal Factor: Decent

10. Miscellaneous

At first I was highly skeptical of the price tag on Blast Works. The last time I saw a price tag this high on a shooter it was the Game Cube version of Ikaruga. I don’t even think I payed this much for Last Hope unless you count the shipping from Japan.

A solid shooter, unlockable solid extra shooters thrown in, and a create your own shooter? As I said earlier, this is my idea of gaming heaven. We’re 5.5 months into 2008 and we finally have a game that has unseated Endless Ocean as my main GOTY contendor. This is the best shooter I’ve played this year, the best Wii game I’ve played this year, and simply the best GAME I have played this year. Will it remain so? Only time will tell. For now, it’s got the number one slot though because it does nearly everything exceptionally well, and even in those areas where it falters, it’s not enough to drag the overall game down.

Miscellaneous Rating: Unparalleled

The Scores
Story: Unparalleled
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Below Average
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Unparalleled
Balance: Unparalleled
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary

Even if you are not a fan of the Shoot ‘Em Up genre, Blast Works will make you a convert. Even if you’ve never wanted to make your own video game before, Blast Works will have you churning out wacky little shooters with a bit of time and effort logged in. This is one of the best shooters I have played since Gradius V hit the PS2 several years back. Budcat certainly isn’t up to the insane level of quality that Treasure puts out shooter-wise, but with a few more of these games under their belt instead of NASCAR and crosswords games, and we might just have a challenger to the throne. This is the best game released in the first half of 2008. Let’s see if it still holds that title by the end of the year.

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