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Game Review: de Blob 2

The Color Underground returns! Is this revolution more of the same or a whole new cause?

By / Posted on 01 March 2011

de Blob 2de Blob was a breath of fresh air when it was released in 2008. A stark contrast to the drab browns and stylized ulta-violence of Grand Theft Auto and Metal Gear Solid (both of which released their fourth volumes the same year), Australian developer Blue Tongue allowed players to lead a revolution against a totalitarian dictatorship with little more than vibrant colored paint and funk music. The Wii-exclusive had ‘niche’ written all over it, so even its most supportive fans (myself included) never expected a sequel. Yet here we are, two-and-a-half years later, with de Blob 2 available on the Wii, Playstation 3, XBox 360, and DS (with a 3DS version reportedly in development). Thanks in large part to partnership with SyFy (an animated series based on de Blob will be the flagship show of the cable network’s upcoming children’s programming block) Blob and his friends in the Color Underground are back, with higher production values and a refined focus on all-ages content.

Publisher THQ argued that the previous de Blob succeeded because it felt like a proper Nintendo game rather than a third-party. Blue Tongue must have taken this critique to heart as de Blob 2 seems to have studied a great deal from Super Mario Galaxy. Localized gravity fields make for entertaining and challenging platforming trials, player two can fire paint via on-screen reticule (exactly like Galaxy‘s co-star mode), new side-scrolling platform areas feel plucked out of the 16-bit era, incremental enemy upgrades means the familiar never feels too familiar, and new power-ups are handed out as frequently as the mustached plumbers many special suits. While the first game only offered the rainbow power, with timed infinite paint of whatever color needed, de Blob 2 sees the rainbow and raises it a dash attack, shield, magnetic wrecking ball, regenerating life and vortex-inducing graviton bomb. Varied and useful, these powers may leave some players wondering whatever happened to simply painting?

de Blob 2All sequels add to the existing formula. What’s interesting are the things that are taken away, such as motion controls. As a Wii title, the first de Blob relied on remote flicks to jump and attack. This time, all of those moves are controlled by button presses. More direct, yes, but also less immersive. Wii and PS3 gamers will still be made to waggle their controllers violently to shake off smaller enemies that latch onto them, but the only real use/benefit of either the Wiimote or Playstation Move controllers is for player 2 pointing at the screen. The absence of waggle is most prevalent in the most-talked-about new feature of de Blob 2 – the 2D side-scrolling missions. While these areas are undeniably charming in design, clearly cribbing notes from New Super Mario Bros and Metroid, they also slow down gameplay significantly. Clearing missions builds activity and music along with color, and all that positive energy leads up to landmarks in Blob’s world. The first game would have players shake the controllers like maracas, amping up the forward momentum all the more while simultaneously forcing the player into a state of good vibes (because seriously, no one can be a sourpuss while shaking maracas like that). Here, you are dropped into dark 2D corridors and made to flip switches. It’s a good game, yes, but all that momentum is just thrown out the window with the sudden change of pacing.

The biggest change, though, isn’t the HD graphics, powers or controls; it’s the linear mission layout. While stages in the first game would start with one or two intro missions, they would soon open three-to-five missions at once. In true open-world fashion, you could choose to tackle or ignore the challenges in any order you chose, aided by differently colored mission markers (blue: race to checkpoint; green: paint specific colors; orange: smash enemies; brown: restore landmark). de Blob 2 offers one mission at a time that you are required to finish, opening the next mission in sequence before the stage is complete. Only after all required missions are completed will the side missions make themselves available, many of which may say that you’d already unknowingly completed them. There is no distinction between mission markers at any given time, simply the acknowledgement that “this is a thing to do.” The linear presentation certainly makes the game more immediately accessible to children – or to parents unfamiliar with gaming – as you only have one thing to focus on at a time, but it also reduces the sense of freedom and choice that made the first game so liberating.

de Blob 2Gone as well are the challenges – short timed levels with specific goals that challenged even hardcore gamers after collecting hidden objects in the first game. There are still plenty of collectables this time around, and they will be a challenge to collect, but all you get from them are upgrades to Blob to make the game easier and achievements/trophies for your HD console of choice. The only new play mode in de Blob 2 is cooperative 2-player, replacing the 4-player versus modes of the previous game. Two Blobs in split-screen paint small areas and, while there is still a “winner,” it’s nice to be able to split chores with a friend in bringing life back to a section of the world.

All this aside, de Blob 2 is still a fun game and unlike pretty much anything else on the market. Precious few retail games are this consistently charming and insistant that “all-ages” means something different from “kids.” If de Blob 2 weren’t a sequel, it would be noteworthy and deserving of praise, but you would think moving to higher-definition consoles would result in the addition of features rather than the removal of so many.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.

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    on 01 March 2011 / 2:17 PM