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It is a delightful thing when time is taken by a studio to develop the experiences we share together. Whether it is a film taking a unique and unpaved route, or a song so layered that it only gives up its form with multiple listens, or a game's control scheme that beautifully bridges the gap between player and hardware, everyone can tell that time and effort has been spent refining these things for their enjoyment. I guess what I am saying here is that good design takes time and effort, and is truly worth it.
The Wii is a machine that prides itself for the creative route it has taken with technology and controls. Nintendo have certainly spent many man hours refining what a next generation platform should really look like. Their rhetoric of focusing on the play rather than the technology has been impressively backed up by the form factor of the Wii. However, their secret here is that only a handful of games have put in a similar amount of effort to get the best out of their system. Wii-Sports made sense of those controllers, but since then very few titles have really 'needed' that Wii-mote and Nun-chuck.
Boom Blox from EA was birthed after Stephen Spielberg experienced Wii-Sports and wanted to use the technology for a block toppling combat game. The unlikely pairing of one of the biggest film directors of our time and one of our largest games publishers proved to be a good match. The headline today is that Boom Blox genuinely demands those Wii controls just as much as Wii-Sports did at launch. So much so in fact that it also makes you aware of how few other games really made use of the pointing waggling controller.
All this fun and we haven't even mentioned the graphics and sound. This just goes to show how well Boom Blox adheres to Nintendo's focus on fun over horsepower.
The game combines a number of different elements of popular physical games. It is build around a Jenga-esque world where you can drag blocks from towers that render their removal with real time physics. Into this simulated block environment is placed the ability to Bowl a variety of projectiles to knock, explode or combine particular elements. Finally Kerplunk-like hoppers provide additional blocks that slip out into play once their path is cleared - here the challenge is to only let the scoring elements fall to the ground while preserving the rest of the structure.
The real joy (read: playability) comes from the ingenious use of the Wii-mote to control the action. When grabbing a block out from a tower you simply point to select which element to interact with, then press a button and use the controller's motion detection to manipulate the object in a one-to-one fashion. Move the controller in the real world and the game block makes an identical motion. The bowling mechanic is just as nuanced. Like Wii-Sports Bowling you first target your throw (although here you do it with pointing) then press a button to lock on, bowl the Wii-mote and release to send your current projectile towards the block at a relating pace.
These controls enable you to interact with the different scenarios that slowly introduce each different type of blocks before releasing you into the head-scratchingly ingenious adventure levels. You are tasked with completing each level with the minimum of moves, throws or pulls meaning there is always a reason to replay the same level to get that perfect score.
This would be more than enough to keep us occupied for hours. But on top of this are a variety of co-operative or combative multiplayer games. Some of these have you take turns to interacting with a level and prove that simple mechanics are often all that is needed for an awful lot of fun. Edging blocks out of a tower trying not to leave an easy move for the next player has never been more enjoyable. Time has obviously been spent here to ensure that parties of players have as much fun as those playing solo.
Boom Blox gets my highest praise not because of its masterly delivery, nuanced controls or intriguing levels but because it makes me and my family smile when we play it together.
This is all topped off by the ability to switch any level into edit mode. Just tap a button and you can alter, save and share a particular level to your heart's delight. A simple addition that was likely part of the development toolset, but an ingenious move to let the player in on these toys.
All this fun and we haven't even mentioned the graphics and sound. This just goes to show how well Boom Blox adheres to Nintendo's focus on fun over horsepower. That said, the game is bursting with graphical character. The blocks themselves are clear and well rendered. The characters that come into play later in the game have obviously benefited from some filmic characterisation from a certain Hollywood director. Music too is a high point for the game - almost knocking Mario Charged Strikers off my top Wii game music spot (almost but not quite). I often found myself (and the kids) humming along to the jungle, spooky or farmyard tunes that complement each level.
Simply put: Boom Blox put a smile on my face. A smile I haven't had since I first played Wii-Sports. A smile that looks like this - oh wait a minute that's not going to work unless you can see me. Well, needless to say Boom Blox gets my highest praise not because of its masterly delivery, nuanced controls or intriguing levels but because it makes me and my family smile when we play it together.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: