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Well into the life of the Wii many were questioning whether third party developers had it in them to produce innovative games which made good use of the controllers. Boom Blox, a collaboration between EA and Stephen Spielberg, laid many of these fears to rest with its imaginative and intuitive use of the Wii-mote.
Puzzle games pose the player a problem to solve, and then provided a limited set of tools with which to solve it. This can be as simple as arranging 2D blocks on top of each other, or as complex as balancing objects in a 3D environment.
The initial interaction is what usually hooks players in for the first few hours, but it is the game's ability to scale both the size and complexity of each puzzle that distinguishes the truly excellent experiences.
Boom Blox takes the puzzle genre and injects the tactile playfulness of the Wii controls. It brings a number of different elements of popular physical games to bear on each puzzle. Firstly, 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.
Boom Blox combines real life physics with puzzle game sensibilities. If you knock a block it teeters and totters as it would in real life. If you remove a block from a stack the others above it exert pressure that makes it harder to move. This sounds technical I know, but the bottom line is a very tactile play experience.
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.
Each level lasts just a few minutes although you often want to string together a particular genre or chapter so that it is advisable to set aside a good half hour to play the game. Multiplayer games raise both the fun and the playtime. Levels where you take turns can last a good twenty minutes.
The game has a 3+ PEGI ranking with no content descriptors. Some games involve shooting the different blocks, although as elsewhere this is rendered in cartoon style. There are also Halloween themed levels that have spooky music and dark visuals, these could potential unsettle sensitive younger players .
Young and novice players may take some time to get used to the Wii's pointing mechanic. Sometimes it seems hard to keep the pointer on the screen never mind a particular object. Children under five will most likely find this too tricky, unless they have exceptional eye hand co-ordination.
With a little practice though, older and intermediate players should soon start enjoying the direct control they have over each puzzle. And once mastered the controls become simple and direct - a testament to EA's continuing understanding of how best to use the Wii-mote.
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.
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