When the gaming world heard the news that EA was partnering with Steven Spielberg, a collective gasp was heard. One of the most creative minds on the planet teaming up with one of the largest software makers in gaming? Surely we were going to get something awesome. Would it take off from one of Spielberg’s existing properties? Perhaps Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, or even a Close Encounters game? Would Spielberg be masterminding something like a Dungeon Keeper or Medal of Honor by bringing his mastery of character and motivation? When it was revealed that the title would be a Wii exclusive, excitement stumbled for a second but was still high. Finally, when the veil of secrecy was completely lifted and the game was set to have us throw balls at bricks. Gamers collectively scratched their heads, shrugged, and went back to what they considered “real” games. Of course, when Boom Blox dropped into our hands, all skepticism was for naught. Boom Blox was an amazing little piece of software, combining childhood fun with tight controls and instant accessibility for all ages. It set a high bar, and now we have a sequel. Is it worth picking up?
When I picked up this game, I assumed that there would be no story to speak of. It’s a puzzle game, right? Well, yes and no. I was happily surprised to see a setting that becomes story, and that it contains little vignettes of story as well. Once you’ve created a profile and played through a brief tutorial, you are admitted into a carnival. There are four story hubs to play through: Big Top, Pirates, Space, and Heroic. Each of them has a nearly wordless narrative that will have you smiling and interested in what comes next. The Heroic, for instance, involves a mad scientist monkey and an army of robots. The only hope that the city has? A super-hero pig. It is all played for cuteness, involving the now-familiar block figures dressed up in lab coats, FBI-esque coats and hats, and a pig wearing a cape. The other levels have a similar cast of characters that you can probably figure out. Each mode inside the story section also has a beautifully illustrated intro that looks like a hand-painted watercolor. Aside from those four modes, you have a “Sampler Mode,” that you can just play around in to get a taste for the various puzzles, and a Construction mode. Construction mode will let you build your own puzzles. You are playing for medals, bronze, silver and gold. Winning in a showy enough fashion also unlocks presents, which are blocks and characters you can use in the Build-your-own levels.
All that, and I haven’t even touched on the multiplayer modes. There are both a versus and a co-op mode to each of the hubs and for two to four players can take part. Every gametype in the single player mode has a corresponding multi-player mode, whether it is adversarial or cooperative. The game is nearly infinite in its modes. There are four different types of controls: throwing an item (baseball, bowling ball, bomb ball, etc), shooting an item (cannon, laser, etc) grabbing an item and moving it, and the new toy, which is a slingshot. Now, take all the different blox. You have point blox, color blox, gem blox, vanish blox, chemical blox, new virus blox, bomb blox, invulnerable blox, conveyor blox..etc etc. I’m sure I’m leaving a few out. By the time you start combining everything here that you can combine, you might end up with a truly infinite number of modes.
This is an interesting category. Everything in the game is simple shapes: squares, triangles, tubes, spheres, and more. The way they are put together runs the gamut from simple to jaw dropping. You might be tasked with knocking down as many point blox as you can with three throws. In this situation, you might only see groups of rectangles standing on pillars. In other levels, you might need to throw bombs at clusters of stars made of gems floating in orbit. If you take a second before throwing, you will really appreciate just how much this simplistic game is getting out of the Wii hardware.
The graphics may not be HD but they’re still really good for the Wii though. I loved the way the game would change the Blox people based on what realm you were in. I chose a Tiger for my profile character. During the Pirate sections, he gets a hook on one paw. In space, he gets a space suit. Cool stuff like that abounds. There is some camera issues through. Sometimes you’ll have to use the slingshot on an item that is very near the edge of the playfield, but you can’t really see it. That hurts, but you can move past it readily enough.
Sound is a tricky category for this game. Let’s face it, the thing you’re going to be hearing most is the whistle of your projectiles through the air and the impact as it strikes a ball. In that sense, the game succeeds. Granted, a few of the extra effects are kind of bland. Explosions always sound the same, no matter how big they are. Now, on the flip side, a pile of tumbling blocks gets louder and louder as you get more blocks, as each individual clatter of the block is audible.
Music and voice are a little light as well, but it works. The music is completely forgettable, except for a couple times in the space level where I feel like I heard a Star Trek riff. The Blox people all have a voice effect. Chickens cluck, cows moo, and rabbits…well, make whatever sound they make. Sometimes this gets a bit annoying, but when you see an opponent in multiplayer thrown off his game by a gaggle of robot noises, its worth it.
In a puzzle game, you have nothing without solid controls. Boom Blox Bash Party keeps the simple yet intuitive theme going. To plan your throw, you hold the B button to rotate the camera and get the best angle. Once you’ve decided where to unleash blocky carnage, you hold down the A button to lock the reticle and swing. Release A at the last second, and your ball goes flying. The harder you swing, the faster your ball goes. That is the basic theme of what you will be doing. Keep in mind, with all the other modes, there is a lot of other stuff you can do. The lasers are probably the easiest, as they turn your Wiimote into a lightgun. The Cannon and the Slingshot are a little different. For the Cannon, you hold a match over the gun and drag your targeting reticle out to where you want to fire. Conversely, with the Slingshot, you grab the item you are going to launch and pull back to come up with a vector and force.
Speaking of physics terms, I love how this entire game is one big physics party. Bowling Balls have more mass than a Baseball, and cause more impact. Bombs release a lot energy in all directions, but unless it is perfectly directed you’ll spread that force all around. You will have several rounds end without a toss, but watching the results of your previous throw slowly bring down a tower as physics rip it apart. Victory for science!
Gameplay remains mostly unchanged from the original game. Quirks in multiplayer, such as one of the blocks of your opponent landing in your base and still counting as in play return. Still, that is more of a fun trick than a broken piece of programming. Boom Blox Bash Party doesn’t really innovate, but it doesn’t have to. The control is like butter for the most part. In fact, except for a bit of Wiimote sketchiness caused by low batteries, I can’t think of a single time that the controls didn’t work well for me.
There is one thing that is completely missing from Boom Blox Bash Party and that’s online multiplayer. For everything else, if you like this game, there is no reason to take it out of your Wii. Not only does the game ship with a ton of puzzles but the addition of two, three, or four player modes drastically change the game with each addition. You also have the ability to build your own puzzles which gives you a ton of stuff to work for. Most of all, EA has included the ability to create a puzzle and upload it for the world to play. This means that as long as people are playing this game, there will be new levels to play. There are a lot of talented builders out there with a love of building who are tossing out more and more geek-referential levels. After all, who wouldn’t want to knock down the Hall of Justice or the headquarters for the Legion of Doom?
The single player puzzles are no slouch either. There are a few of them that are still calling to me, as I just barely cleared the level with a bronze when I know gold and silver medals could be won. Some of those are actually very hard to pull off. It becomes very easy to beat a puzzle and then go back for more three or four times, or maybe even seven or eight, because you think you almost had it that time. Little things can seriously add up to your calculations. Did I throw the ball hard enough to affect those bricks behind my primary target? What if I moved the point of aim a few inches to the left? The answers to those questions can mean the difference between one throw and four. That’s a design that will keep you hooked.
Balance is an odd category, especially in a game where so many of the puzzles involve balance. The game will keep challenging you, either to top a previous score or in a few decidedly difficult puzzles. One of the toughest settings is in the Robot aspect when you are tasked to remove point blox without knocking the sheep that are standing on them to the ground. You use the grabber toy in this event, and it is a serious challenge. Some of the other levels are pretty easy, but the game does ramp up the challenge at an appropriate pace. I never felt puzzle four was easier than puzzle one. Should you find yourself unable to advance through skill, however, there is a way forward. You can spend your accumulated boom bux to buy your way past a particularly difficult section. Balance in the single player section is spot on.
In the multiplayer though, it is lacking. Even in the Co-Op modes, player two sometimes gets the shaft. For instance, in a series of straightforward knock-down puzzles, player one gets a bowling ball and player two gets the bomb. On the huge foundation blocks in later puzzles, the bomb is next to useless. Maybe this was a design decision, but letting player two throw one bomb out to get things started and then sit and watch player one finish up is pretty boring. In versus mode, the difference becomes even more pronounced. In the games where you are trying to knock all of the opponents gem blox away, you get revenge throws when another player does well. What this means is that you can end up with five or six throws on round two as opposed to the standard two that the other player has. Quite simply, in the two player games, the system is unbalanced. This does become less noticeable in three and four player modes, but if you don’t have that many friends over, victory comes pretty cheap.
I’ll grant you that throwing balls to knock down bricks has been around since the first carney scammed his first rube. The sequel status doesn’t help either. Still, sometimes the game presents you with something that makes you smile. The hero levels with the robots, for instance. You can bean them with a ball and they will fire rockets into the blox for you, upping your destructive potential. In the pirate levels, a cutely evil kraken will rise up from the ocean floor. No, it isn’t wonderfully original, but the presentation is solid across the board and that is what counts.
Some games you can’t put down. This is one such game. Even past the completion of a stage, I wanted to keep playing and keep tossing. The breaking down of the puzzles and the hypnotic falling of bricks seemed almost soothing after a while. The only thing that kept me from playing permanently is my wrist started dying. When a game has you switching arms to keep playing it just to stave off carpal tunnel, you know the designers did something good.
9. Appeal Factor
Boom Blox Bash Party hearkens back to a primal, fun urge. It combines the joy of toss and the joy of destruction, even the joy of building. The best thing is you never have to clean up your room. Just jump to a new level, and the huge mess you made is all cleaned up. Perhaps the best thing going on here though is the all ages appeal. This is a game that anyone can pick up and play. Not just play, but enjoy. The game easily captures the instant accessibility of Wii Sports. Sure, the game isn’t super shiny or a super expensive, twelve-years-in-development-event-release-game. It doesn’t have to be though. If you’ve got four Wiimotes and four people in the room, you’re going to have a great time.
Appeal Factor: Great
When I was a little kid, I had those giant, cardboard building blocks. You’re probably familiar with them, even if you didn’t have them. I used to stack them up in forts, or even in the shape of various sci-fi vehicles. The most common was an AT-AT Walker from The Empire Strikes Back. Once they were up, I’d put all of my action figures inside them. Once I had that done, it was time to pull out a bouncy ball or something else and fling it at them until it fell down. With that little bit of reminiscing over, you probably can see why I’m so in love with this game. It is absolutely a slice of my childhood. Yes, I’ve built an AT-AT in the Build Your Own mode. It is a little bit easy to knock down though, so I’m working on making it worth while. Once I’m happy with it, you can bet it’s going to get uploaded. The only major knock that I had through the entire game is that if you compare it to last year’s model, it isn’t all that new. I’ve got the feeling that if this had been done on a PS3 or a 360, then Bash Party might have been released as DLC instead of a full game. Still, there’s enough in here that you can overlook that.
Appeal Factor: Great
Final Score: Great Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Boom Blox Bash Party is one of the best puzzle games on the Wii. It takes a simple control scheme and makes it completely intuitive and accessible. Whether you’re playing by yourself or with friends, there is always something different to do. The game will keep you playing and keep you smiling. The party doesn’t stop with the completion of all the included puzzles either, as you can always download new stuff from EA’s servers. Some of the player created puzzles are merely adequate, but some of them are downright inspired. There’s sadly no online multiplayer, which might be the only thing that holds it back. If you’ve got an arm and a Wii, you’re going to have a smile on your face while playing this.