Giving jellybeans a whole new place in the world is just one of the great things about this stand-out game.
Published my Majesco and developed by WayForward, A Boy and His Blob is a Wii re-envisioning of the same name and general theme of the 'classic' NES game of long ago (and by 'classic', this time I mean that the game has its share of mixed reactions back in the day). Created by David Crane, the original NES adventure consisted of a young boy using jellybeans to transform his blob companion into an assortment of items to move along through the game. This new "Blob" game doesn't stray far away from the original's fundamentals, but even so, it manages to expand and improve on the original's core foundation in each and every way imaginable. In short, this is as about as close as you can get to staying true to a game's roots, while still creating a new and vastly improved experience.
The story of A Boy and His Blob begins as there is a crash landing from outer space right outside of a young boy's treehouse. After a little bit of exploration, the boy finds his way onto the crash site, where a white blob suddenly appears, seemingly looking for someone or something to help its cause. The boy quickly befriends the blob, and quickly learns of the ability that it possesses: being able to transform from jellybeans. The boy and his alien friend soon takes off on an adventure that eventually leads them to the cause of their encounter... and the danger that created it. This is a story that is hardly explained throughout the game's adventure, for better or worse, so you have to take things as you see them.
The gameplay of the Wii's A Boy and His Blob plays out very similarly to its NES counterpart. As previously explained, the boy has to use the blob and its jellybean-inspired transforming ways to get through the game. This Wii platformer consists of 40 playable levels, each one with a variety of puzzles that will have you using various flavors of jellybeans to turn the blob into different items to proceed, like a ladder, hole, or parachute, just to name a few. On top of trying to get to the end of each stage, you'll also be challenged to collect treasure chests in each stage, which are the key to unlocking the game's additional challenge levels (40 of those, as well). This is a very simple game in nature, but the process of getting through the entire game will still be a formidable, but fair challenge for anyone that dares to play it, which ultimately results into quite the rewarding experience.
To start off, the boy protagonist himself probably epitomizes helplessness when it comes to lead characters in video games. Given only the most basic of platforming abilities (including a jump so small, it can only cross the easiest of gaps and avoid the most basic of enemies... with good timing), the boy was designed to not be a character who engages in conflict, but one that has to avoid it at ALL costs. Any contact with an enemy or dangerous object, a high fall, or falling into water will typically result in the boy's doom, and this is something you will see dozens of times throughout the course of the game. This would suggest that the game is a very frustrating experience, especially with it being so puzzle-oriented, but WayForward has cleverly combated the boy's helplessness in a few ways. First off, the game's unlimited lives, smooth learning curve, and checkpoints at practically every area in the game where you would experience trouble minimizes the consequences of failed attempts and allows for experimentation. However, this hardly touches the key element of what makes this work in the end.
The fact that the boy is so inadequate on his own means that not only will you have to use the blob, you'll have to rely on it. When used as a sum of their parts, instead as individuals, the boy/blob tandem becomes a far more potent combo than the two could ever hope to be alone, and that also allows them to create and grow a great bond with each other as you proceed through the game. While the blob isn't the most intelligent creature at times and will get separated from the boy every now and then, the both of them know that in order to proceed, the abilities of the other are definitely needed. Throughout the game, you'll experience this bond as you tackle one platforming puzzle after another with the blob's assortment of transformations and the wits of the boy himself (well, really they're your wits, but those are minor details :P). The end result of this is an adventure that is both engaging and heartwarming, and particular stages and boss battles really do a great job with enforcing the importance of bonding between the two. If that's not enough, the game even includes the ability to hug and scold your blob buddy as you see fit.
From the moment you reach the title screen of this game, you'll realize that the presentation of A Boy and His Blob is very subtle; once you get there, the boy awakens from his slumber, and with the exception of the game's opening, you can begin playing as him from that moment. This is a theme you will notice that is present with a large portion of this game. For example, with the exception of the jellybean display and the map of the stages, there are no menus or other on-screen displays to speak of and navigate through. The game never goes out of its way to create that in-your-face moment, and as a whole, it's much more unique and better off without it. Chances are that you'll rarely, if ever, see the game as lackluster, and you will actually grow more fond of it as you play it.
Another thing you will notice right from the outset of this game is its cartoon-like 2D visuals. As amazing as the game looks from a screenshot, it takes seeing the game in motion to truly appreciate the level of solid animation and artistic care that has been given to this game. It's hard to imagine this game having the same impact visually had it gone in any other route than it did, and while great-looking 2D games have been showing up rather recently, this game still manages to stand out on its own on many fronts. For example, the lighting effects on this 2D game are unlike any you've probably ever seen and will see again in the very near future. Plus, some of the game's better backgrounds are among the most imaginative and well designed that the video game world has come across in years. One of the more amazing parts about it all is that it feels also feels very organic at times from a gameplay perspective (and perhaps a bit too organic, as I will touch on later on).
The game's soundtrack and overall sound quality also follows suit to the game's simple, but still profound ways. There isn't really that one track in the game that you'll be bopping your head to, which at first may feel odd, especially for a platformer. Still, they do a great job carrying out the atmosphere of the stage or situation you come across. A track or two might feel a bit more melancholy than you would expect, which does takes some time getting used to, but it doesn't hamper the experience too much. Also, you'll have to give credit to the boy's cries for the blob and how that is carried out within the game. It can get a tad repetitive, but to see the boy yell and whistle out for the blob when they great distances apart is kind of cool.
As for controls, the game can be handled by either the Wii Remote/Nunchuk combo or the Classic Controller (oddly enough, the GameCube controller can't be used, even though there's really nothing it the game that it couldn't input). For the most part, the game's controls handle well, especially once you get accustomed to picking beans and handling the trajectory of throwing the beans. However, you still eventually learn that the game's controls do lack that extra degree of polish that you've come to expect from the greats of the platforming genre. It's not often where this is a problem, but at times, you will find instances where a few of the game's animations, like pushing rocks, might come off a bit slower that you might expect and force you to plan ahead a little, especially with the faster paced segments. Also, the rocket transformation, in general, is harder to control than it probably should be and will take time getting used to. While by no means game-killing flaws, these faults do make some of the game's challenges a bit more difficult and longer than the should be.
The above control slip-ups aren't even needed to add any challenge or length to the game to begin with, quite honestly. A Boy and His Blob's 40 main levels can pack around a good ten hours from start to finish, depending on how you're able to approach the levels. In addition to that, the 40 challenge levels and unlockable content that comes after you take down these levels can add around 6-10 more hours to behold on their own. Make no mistake about it; this isn't a game that you're going to breeze through in one average day and get no sense of value out of it, despite how you may feel about the game being 2D. In fact, the chances are that you'll be revisiting a few of these levels on more than one occasion to pick up missing treasure chests, as some of them are out of the way of the stages' beaten path, or in some cases, to overcome a puzzle in a different way than you did before.
From beginning to end, A Boy and His Blob creates one of the most charming, engaging, and unique gaming ventures that has been created in some time, and it doesn't give you many chances to become really disappointed with it. While a few lack of refinements keep it from becoming a part of the Wii's elite games, it still brings more than enough to the table to grab most gamers that come across it and take them along for a great ride. As a treat for fans of the original game or those who are looking for a great Wii game to pass the time by, this game is definitely worth at least the price of a rental. Even with the technological advancements in the video game world, it's amazing how far a few little things, like jellybeans, can take you.