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Rated: U.

Story: Tribes of domino-shaped animals battle for supremacy by playing a version of Jenga featuring bombs, lasers and, er, precariously balanced cows...

Gameplay: BOOM BLOX is probably best described as a puzzle game. The majority of levels consist of an arrangement of blocks that has to be demolished in a certain way. For instance, it might be a case of removing all the point blocks from a tower without knocking off the penalty blocks or of destroying a castle to make the gem blocks inside hit the ground. The means provided for achieving goals varies from level to level. Balls and bombs can be thrown, chemical blocks explode when combined and a floating hand allows blocks to be grabbed and pulled.

Throwing is done by aiming with the wiimote, locking the cursor by holding a button and then flicking the wiimote to launch. Grabbing is accomplished by locking the cursor and moving the wiimote as if pulling the block about. Some levels also involve light-gun style shooting of flying blocks.

Save System: Automatic save after every level. This is a game that can be played in ten minute bursts.

Comments: Plenty of games tout realistic physics as a selling point. This usually translates to bodies falling down stairs in a slightly unlikely fashion in first-person shooters and cardboard boxes flying off in all directions in racing games (normally behind you, where you can't see them anyway). Few games other than Portal have made the physics integral to the gameplay.

BOOM BLOX is different. It's entirely about bouncing balls, flying bricks and explosions interacting together. Pull a block out from the base of a tower and it teeters and then falls, its components toppling into each other convincingly. At its best, the game is an absorbing test of forward-planning, as you attempt to set up chain reactions of tumbling blocks. Great satisfaction can be had from knocking a large timber onto a see-saw, launching a bomb from the other end and then detonating it in mid-air to blast a whole load of point blocks everywhere.

There's also plenty of variety thanks to a wide selection of tools, objectives and block types.

There's maybe a little too much variety, in fact. The puzzle levels (where structures have to be knocked down with as few balls as possible) are easily the best part of the game. The grab levels are frustrating in comparison. Using the wiimote to move an object into and out of the screen is as clumsy as ever. It feels like playing Jenga with thick gloves on after drinking a couple of beers. The shooting levels, meanwhile, are too hard. Even getting a bronze award to unlock the next level is difficult - distant targets are often very small and travelling very fast but your projectiles take time to reach them. These bits are never as much fun as the shooting section in Wii Play.

By including so many different aspects in the game, the developers haven't utilised the full potential of the puzzling. On top of that, many of the puzzle levels explain what needs to be done on their introduction screen, taking away much of the mental challenge. Getting through the game is more to do with a steady hand for grabbing and quick reflexes for shooting.

This contributes to the general feeling that the whole game hasn't been polished. Everything from the difficulty curve to the progression structure could do with some tweaking. The issue is maybe best exemplified by the text box that pops up telling you to look around timed levels before you start - it's very large, prevents you getting a good view of the level and doesn't go away until you start the timer. D'oh!

A little more focus and BOOM BLOX could have been brilliant. As it stands, though, it's still very good and makes better use of the Wii than any number of the minigame collections which are clogging the shelves. It's easy to pick up, addictive and full of grin-inducing moments. A desire to see what's coming next will keep you persevering through the parts that don't quite work as well as they should.

My eight-year-old has been enjoying playing BOOM BLOX but struggles to hold the wiimote steady enough on occasion, since the controls are very sensitive. (Bear in mind that this is a kid who's collected 119 stars in Super Mario Galaxy). My six-year-old has even more problems with aiming and can't seem to fling the balls hard either, despite being no gaming slouch himself. (He's just started a second saved game of LEGO Indiana Jones, having completed the first one 100%.) This isn't necessarily a fault with the game as such - in my experience, the Wii remote is simply harder for a small child to use than a normal controller, whatever Nintendo might want you to believe. It does make the game frustrating for younger children, however.

There's a wide selection of multiplayer levels. Some of these are competitive with objectives such as obtaining the highest shooting score, knocking over the most point blocks or destroying an opponent's castle. These could easily get vicious... Cooperative levels play very like the single-player game with players taking turns to make each pull or throw.

It's also possible to edit levels and create new ones. These can be shared with friends over the internet but making decent levels is pretty fiddly and time-consuming. You probably can't be bothered to manage it and your kids won't be able to. Still, it's a nice idea and maybe something to distract a teenager with over the summer... The real longevity comes from the multiplayer.

Conclusion: One of the best attempts around to do something interesting with the unique Wii controls.

Graphics: Basic but, then again, the Wii is probably kept pretty busy by calculating the tumbling and colliding of scores of falling blocks.

Length: Short.

Rating: 4/5.


Anonymous said...

Dear Ed, I love your blog, it fills me with hope that i won't be a completely useless parent.

Do you think you might be able to comment on the following questions?

Is real Jenga actually more fun than BoomBlox, or does that make me sound like scary Julia on your blog? Are modern kids considered deprived, without access to a multicoloured world of merchandise and inane TV?

I was brought up playing lego and meccano, my favourite toys were a microscope and a slide rule, we had a computer (Apple IIe) but not TV, and I think I've got something essential missing in my brain 'cos I genuinely find computer games really boring and TV insanely inane. I'm married to a computer scientist, though, so I'm sure our impending kid won't actually miss out on computer games or reruns of South Park - it will probably just grow up thinking Mummy is a boring spoilsport...

DadsDinner said...

Hi Dr Ellen,

Glad you're enjoying the site and finding it useful. It's always good to hear people appreciate it.

Which is more fun Jenga or BOOM BLOX? That depends. If you've got four co-ordinated players, a stable surface, no boisterous pets or small children around and only want to play for half an hour every so often, then Jenga is more fun.

BOOM BLOX has more variety, can be played alone and doesn't require lots of manual restacking. At its best it's maybe not quite as fun as the peak moments of Jenga but, over an extended period, the 'mean fun level' is higher. Sprog1 and I certainly had a good time playing together the other day and only stopped because I had to make tea.

Maybe I should dig out Jenga and review that.

The question about kids being deprived without inane TV... That's a whole Dear Dave waiting to happen. (Hopefully on Friday!)

All the best,