de Blob

de Blob

THQ's de Blob, a game about a hyperactive blob covering a monochromatic cityscape with paint, presents an serious challenge for this particular writer. The problem is this: how to describe it without making accidental puns about blobs and color? For example, I can't say that the art design "oozes style," although it does, or describe the musical style as "slick," or refer to a "colorful cast of characters." Most of the phrases in my Hacky Game Writer's Handbook (2008 Ed.) are off limits now. Well, I got through my review of Bejeweled without calling it a hidden gem, so I can probably do this. No more blobs, colors, or references to Jackson Pollock.

I'll also be avoiding the phrase "mixed bag," for reasons that will become increasingly clear.

First, let's talk about the story of de Blob, which is an unmixed, entirely fun bag. A city of free-thinking artists of many hues is enslaved by the fascist INKT Corporation. INKT is really good at what they do, and within a single cutscene, they've drained all color from the world, set up propaganda broadcasts, and turned the local blobs into soulless black and white bureaucrats. Each cutscene is an entertaining bit of dark humor and physical comedy, as the Inkies move on to ever more elaborate strategies for winning the War on Color. And each of the game's environments is packed with cute references: The Church of Inktology, Guggentraz Island, the Ministry of Ink. The Inkies' crazed leader, Comrade Black, has become my new favorite adorable dictator, narrowly edging out Wallace Breen, Half-Life 2's cuddle bear of a collaborator. "Welcome to City 17. It's safer here ... in my beard."

The city's only hope is Blob, who appears to be the one blob in the city named Blob, and his rag-tag team of color revolutionaries. The whole plot is really just a pretext to make the player feel comfortable splashing paint all around the city in the name of liberation. In the real world, that's called vandalism, and it's a serious offense against all of society. But de Blob, somehow, manages to make graffiti look cool. The music, which ranges from jazz to funk to swing, gets peppier and catchier as you accumulate more paint and different styles, and the environment is designed to become more interesting and livelier as well. For example, splattering a billboard doesn't just change its color, it transforms it from a dour Big Brother-style propaganda poster to a cheery mural. There's an immense visual and musical payoff for filling the world with color.

While bouncing from rooftop to rooftop, you may, accidentally or on purpose, hit the blimp. Each level has a surveillance blimp floating about. Splatter it once, and it becomes a multicolored awesome blimp filled with party gas. This is the very best moment in all of de Blob, and it is delightful every time. The blimp. Hit it.

I wanted to mention how much fun that is before moving on to other issues which, unfortunately, detract from the experience a bit, turning de Blob into, shall we say, a variegated sack.

The controls are an all too common Wii design mistake. Jumping requires a quick flick of the Wii remote downward, and there is no way to remap it to a button. Simply put, it's annoying and bears no relation to the action performed on screen. Jumping up, left, right, or down is the same motion, and the only way to tell which way you're headed is a hard to see arrow which shows your momentum. Blob actually controls with the left thumbstick, so there is no reason, other than pointless waggle, to not use the A button to jump. Instead, the A button brings up a tiny, useless map. No kidding.

Now, this isn't a game breaker, because most of the precision jumping involves special jump pads or targeting an opponent with the Z button, which flings Blob in any direction without regard to momentum or physics. It's a very obvious workaround for an obviously flawed mechanic. In theory, Blob can stick to the side of a building, then bounce off and grab another, painting a whole city block in one smooth sequence. I've never pulled that off. Flicking the Wiimote that rapidly nearly broke my wrist. I stopped trying, because I like my wrist.

At times, the design of de Blob seems to be fighting against its own premise, which is a shame, because it's a damn good premise. de Blob is all about individualism and freedom, yet each level has an arbitrary time limit when all I want to do is explore every inch of the city and slather it with paint. Yes, there's a free play mode, and the free play is 100% entertaining, but I had to play through the story mode first to unlock the levels, and story mode is a bit too challenging for my taste. The levels are very long and have no save points. I also learned to skip all the missions in which some hippie artist girl told me to paint buildings in specific colors, which she chose, without my input. I didn't join the freedom fighters so I could be strictly timed while taking orders from some hippie. I joined so I could stay up late and deface public property. Stop harshing my marshmallow, lady.

Despite these rookie missteps, de Blob has too much going for it to be dismissed as "some good, some bad." The music, the visuals, and the characters are worth the hassle of a few failed missions or timeouts here and there. And broken wrists heal eventually. I look forward to a sequel which smooths away the rough edges and keeps its focus on what makes this game unique. Our protean protagonist deserves more virgin canvases on which he can splatter his gelatinous glee.

de Blob: It's not as disgusting as I just made it sound.

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Comments

I am sure the Wii version is great. Sadly, I don't have a Wii yet to play it on. However, and I'm not sure if you know this, but De Blob is based on a student game created some years ago, so I've put a bit of time into that. It's free! I did a write-up of it on my own website some months ago, if that would interest you.

I would love to play this game, seems like a lot of fun.

I found this to be the most rewarding part of Okami too: when the dark and grey world would turn into blossoms again after expelling the level boss.

It is worth noting perhaps that you don't actually have to jerk the Wiimote down in order to jump. A waggle in any direction will do, and it does feel a little better to flick the thing at least in the direction you want to go, if only for mental consistency.

It's still a stupid design decision, but there's less risk of RSI when you realize you're not required to be doing any particular gesture over and over. Flick the thing any way you like.

Overall, it's a great experience everybody should play. The time limits are not very constrictive - each level has tons of opportunity to extend the limit and allow you to roam around. Some of the optional objectives are a definite challenge, but the core game isn't what I'd call hard (similar to Mario Galaxy in that way; anybody can beat the game, but 100%-ing it is something else again).

Wholehearted recommendation from me even with the unneeded waggle. The PC freeware thing is also worth a download, but there's no comparison between the two. That was a proof of concept one-level demo, this is very much a full-featured game.

Nyles wrote:

Well, I got through my review of Bejeweled without calling it a hidden gem...

Words cannot express how much I hate you!

Nyles wrote:

I stopped trying, because I like my wrist.

If that's not sig-worthy, I don't know what is.

The game's other annoyance is the camera, which does a fairly lazy job of tracking you. The result is that you'll be missing jumps between buildings more than you'd like. Plus, with the waggle-jump you'll also find yourself missing the longer jumps because it's a heck of a lot harder to time waggles than button presses.

For a game that sells itself on the idea of jumping around between buildings, something the level design also seems to want to encourage, it sure makes it hard to actually jump.

Where can I get that handbook?

The Inkies' crazed leader, Comrade Black, has become my new favorite adorable dictator, narrowly edging out Wallace Breen, Half-Life 2's cuddle bear of a collaborator. "Welcome to City 17. It's safer here ... in my beard."

I KNEW I liked that guy for a reason. A pleasure as always, Nyles.

Certis wrote:

I KNEW I liked that guy for a reason.

He's like a less cuddly version of ELysium.

Deblob sounded like a LocoRipoff when I first heard about it, but the article made me look it up via youtube. Looks like a lot of fun. I think it'll be on my christmas gift list for the roomies this year.

This is great! I became a Buddhist some time back, but also I'm still an animal. I have decided that mechanically cutting down enemies, fierce monsters, and bad guys can't be good karma. (I'm not kidding.)

So I'm looking for games that are creative and imaginative without unleashing our internal killer ape. Such as this! I went out and bought it between paragraphs 1 and 2 of the original post. Now to read the rest of the post.

mastrude, there is a little bit of squooshing bad guys, so you might want to just unlock the free play stages, which are all about painting the whole town with no time limit or baddies. It's a little like Katamari in free play.

Ravenlock's right, you can jerk the Wiimote in any direction, although Blob always jumps the same way (perpendicular to the ground, or to a wall if he's sticking to one). He'd really be able to pull off some cool moves if he jumped in the corresponding direction, but the Wiimote isn't built to be that precise (yet), and at the moment, a button press would work so much better. But again, the game overcomes its silly controls.

Sokkrates is also right, the game was originally a student project and probably the best thing to come out of Utrecht since that kick-ass treaty in the 18th century. And nsmike, I received my handbook in the mail after mistakenly and repeatedly referring to the protagonist of the Halo series as "Mister Chips."

A while back I took a character to level 70 in WoW. It was thinking about grinding for points in WoW that made me want to change course a little.

There are few really absorbing adult games that don't use killing as the main "hook" to maintain interest, present the primary challenge, and measure your progress. I'm very encouraged to see games like this one, and Spore. I'm playing Civ IV Colonization right now, which is mostly about building a simulated colony, with lots of simple economic factors. (I ain't buying Spore, because I'm one of the DRM objectors.) Simulation games can be absorbing and constructive. Art games too, which this one is in a limited way, Like Creature Creator. Maybe I don't want to play any games myself, that I wouldn't let my eight-year-old play.

I guess the thing that bothers me isn't the killing per se. In the real world you may have to kill to protect yourself or others. It's the way the killing becomes unconscious, reflexive. I don't mind taking a billion years to reach enlightenment, but I wouldn't like to do a lot of intentional backsliding during that period. I'm taking the scenic route to enlightenment, instead of the shortcut. I can do that and still think of myself as one of the good guys instead of the assholes. Know what I mean?

So what am I gonna do when Wrath of the Lich King comes out? My inner killer ape is still raring to go!

Ravenlock wrote:

Some of the optional objectives are a definite challenge, but the core game isn't what I'd call hard (similar to Mario Galaxy in that way; anybody can beat the game, but 100%-ing it is something else again).

The one difference from Mario, you never loose state after failing. You can even immediately restart a challenge to pick up the missed parts.

The first time it felt cheesy. After that I stopped caring, realizing I was spending game-seconds to buy my completion-ist fix. So I waste 45 seconds on a '+30 seconds' reward. Since you never loose state, even wandering aimlessly will net you more time and often partially complete challenges.

Death, which seems a rare event, will drop you at the starting gate with a full clock again. Everything still painted, all previous state retained. Like you say, anyone should be able to play through all of the story mode regardless of skill. If you're persistent, there's probably a 2 hour cap to each level.

It's a very strange game in that sense. I mean, my 'lap time' on a single level ranges from 9 minutes to 1 hour 39 minutes. Both had the same internal state -- 8 minute starting clocks, three of the point-locked gates, and a blank cityscape. My inner grognard says thats a sign of some kind of problem. But that's as deep as the thinking goes before the "... but dude. I'm a blob... and I spew paint!". Only question that can't answer is why not an xbox game?

I'm 'the gamer' in the family, both core and extended. Its both a reputation and an source of infamy I suppose. Even counting my kids. They rarely ask for any particular title, maybe because they know dad (that would be me) has a way of making fun family and kids games materialize from time to time.

They surprised me the other day about this one.

We were passing by a Gamestop, (ok technically I stepped inside, but the lack of a purchase during that particular visit = passed by) and they asked for "de Blob." They were all excited and knew all about it. I hadn't heard about it before.

So, I'm keeping an eye on this one for a good opportunity to pick it up. Thanks for the review.

I might take advantage of the Gamestop 'Trade in 2 Next gen titles and get a guaranteed base TIV +$5 credit per title' deal (if you can call it that) to stash this away for the holidays. Realistically my gaming vault is overflowing, and it is probably a good time to get rid of a few dust-collectors.

Makes me think of tannhauser.

I loved this article!

I can't believe this is the only thread anywhere on this site about anything from this franchise. I'm plying De Blob 2 right now and loving it. It's just a great, fun, easy, audio-visual candy platformer. I actually missed the shake to jump and smash mechanic from the first one for a while until I really got into the game.

What remains as my biggest gripe (but mostly mitigated in this game) is that the levels to be selected are too big as singular units. When returning to a level to find a few collectibles missed, you have to redo the entire level and then try and find the random corner that the 1 out of as many as 200 items you missed is sitting in. But that's only a completionists issue as I'm trying to go for my first platinum trophy with this game.

This is also probably a reason why THQ is in trouble since they published this mostly ignored gem.

/major thread necro

necro'd as I want to post in a dedicated thread and see if anyone else actually looked at this game around here.