In July of 2007, EA announced that it would be collaborating with Oscar-winner Steven Spielberg to create video games. The famed director said, "I really wanted to create a video game that I could play with my kids." The first game to be born from this partnership, Boom Blox, succeeds in that endeavor. The single-player mode can get tedious and a few of the play styles would have been best left on the cutting-room floor, but Boom Blox is an enjoyable puzzler whose flaws are least apparent when played with friends or family.
It's hard to avoid comparisons to Jenga when describing Boom Blox, which is unfortunate given how horrible Jenga World Tour was for the Wii. Rest assured that while the two may share a similar concept, Boom Blox is much, much better. Most of the game's 300-plus puzzles involve plucking blocks from perilously high block towers in hopes that when you do, they don't fall over, but there's much more to it. For starters, you'll use multiple methods to extract the blocks. Sometimes you'll be able to grab the blocks and cast them aside with a virtual hand. On some levels, you can aim at a block and then make a throwing motion with the Wii Remote to try to knock it out with a baseball or bowling ball. In other levels, you'll spray a water hose and try to get the blocks out with your stream.
Most of the time, you move from one level to the next, earning bronze, silver, or gold medals based on your score. Not only does the way you interact with blocks change from level to level, but the objectives change as well. You might need to remove blocks with varying point values from a tower while trying to prevent blocks with negative point values from falling. There are also some cases where you'll throw balls and only want to break gem blocks. You'll also need to contend with explosive blocks, vanishing blocks, and chemical blocks. Sometimes you must work around these blocks, but at other times, you can use their unique properties to your advantage.
You may struggle if you try to slowly remove blocks by pushing or pulling them rather than yanking them out like magician with a table cloth, and the game sometimes has difficulty recognizing how hard you threw a ball, but for the most part, the simple controls work just fine. It takes a little while to get used to manipulating the camera and how the game's physics--which are both inconsistent and more akin to what you'd find on the moon--affect the blocks. However, once you become acclimated, the difficulty is just right and the game is enjoyable. Its multiplayer component is especially enjoyable and allows four people to play 60 or so puzzles cooperatively or against one other.
The sheer volume of puzzles found in Boom Blox should keep you busy for quite some time, and once you finish, you can go back to earn better medals to unlock new content. You can also channel your inner game developer with the game's Create mode. This lets you design your own levels using pieces unlocked during the single-player modes. Although it can be difficult to place items with precision, the interface is generally intuitive, and if you're patient, you can create just about any puzzle you can imagine. Once you've completed your masterpiece, you can send it to a friend. This is a nice touch, but it's disappointing that there's no way for you to share your work with the masses or view a list of levels created by other builders.
As long as it sticks to its strengths, Boom Blox is quite fun, but it seems like more and more stuff just kept getting crammed into Boom Blox during development without considering whether all this stuff was any good. A great example would be the shooting gallery levels where you use the remote like a light gun and shoot blocks as they fly across the screen. This is dull and only serves to interrupt the flow of the game. The levels where you must protect your cutesy block animals from attackers by throwing balls or moving blocks are another type of play Boom Blox could have done without--unless you enjoy repeating hundreds of throwing motions while fighting with the game's camera.
Although you may have enjoyed Spielberg’s work on Tiny Toons and Animaniacs, unless you’re a huge fan of material for small children, you’ll find that Boom Blox tries just a little too hard to appeal to little kids. The game was designed with families and children in mind; case in point: The game's story mode. The stories are written by a wannabe Dr. Seuss and are barely comprehensible. Then, there are the domino-shaped animal characters--all of whom have goofy names that could have only been dreamed up by someone in marketing. The sheep are named Bahhhs, there's a beaver named Boots McBeaverton, and who can forget the Mitten Kittens? There is some nicely done artwork in the cutscenes, but the in-game visuals are less appealing. The colors are ultrasaturated, there's almost no detail, and the frame rate is sometimes an issue.
It stumbles with certain game modes and its effort to appeal to kids with a poorly integrated story is ham-fisted at best, but Boom Blox is still a good game. Most of the hundreds of puzzles are fun to play alone, and it's also entertaining to taunt friends during their turn as they try to keep a tower from collapsing. The ability to create your own levels adds quite a bit of value as well. In terms of where it ranks in Spielberg's body of work, Boom Blox is no Schindler's List, but it's a heck of a lot better than Hook.