Friday, June 13, 2008

Boom Blox (Wii game review)

Boom Blox

I played Nintendo as a kid, then the first Sega. After that I forgot about video games. In 2001 I got an X-Box, and shortly after that a hand me down GameCube, then a hand me down Playstation 2 (long after the systems were cutting edge), but only played a handful of games on each one: House of the Dead, some kind of car race game where you get a boost if you don't hit anything (Afterburner?), a really fun game where you skate around and graffiti stuff (I always called the game "Radio Free Europe" because that vaguely sounded like the title, which I can now no longer remember), Sniper Cell (far too serious and difficult and time consuming) Simpsons (one of my favorites because Sara could search, as she is wont to do, and I could race), MarioKart (always fun, especially with other people, because the power-ups you get in 12th place still mean you can have fun and disrupt the front-runners), one of the new Metroids (too serious), Dance Dance Revolution (instant fun), one of the Spiderman games (pretty good). That is nearly all the games I have played since 2002 with any focus, not counting short spurts with stuff like the Hulk (fun, but I had to return it), Lego Star Wars (interminable) and Marvel Ultimate Alliance (boring). I am not a "gamer" but I do like the occasional game. And I recently bought a Wii, under the influence of commenter HC Duvall -- in part hoping to make my apartment more fun to visit. And also because, you know, I do not have a dissertation hanging over my head anymore.

I have only played a few games for the system. Raving Rabbids (fun, and a great sense of humor -- I will review the sequel when I get it), the New MarioKart, and Boom Blox, which should surely be called "Bloom Blocks," but is not.

Bloom Blox is basically reverse Jenga. You are faced with a tower and what you want to do is knock it over in a few moves as possible. There are levels where you want to carefully grab a piece and pull it out -- difficult using the Wii remote, and not unlike playing that electric surgery board-game from the early 80s. But mostly, at least at the beginning, you chuck balls at the structure using a satisfying throw motion that makes the Wii fun. Aim, mostly, is not the issue -- you say where you want the ball to go and it goes there. There are a host of different kinds of blocks: blocks that vanish if you hit them, blocks that explode if you hit them, blocks that explode if you get matching blocks to touch them. There are also various balls to throw: baseballs are the default, but there are also bowling balls for more damage, bomb balls that explode when they reach their target (or before if you want), rubber balls that bounce around. Other levels give you the chance to stop invading creatures from stealing your blocks by throwing stuff at them and destroying their constructions. On each level you can move the camera all around the structure, searching for weak-points, or the right angle to throw at.

It is pretty fun. Each tower takes only a minutes to play -- which makes it easy for lots of people to take a shot, and most of the levels I have been looking at are not time sensitive. There is something weirdly engrossing about sitting around with people all shouting about the structural integrity of this cartoon world, and the physics of a tower collapsing ("If you hit the bottom vanishing block, then the tower will tip THIS way, causing the two chemical blocks to touch -- that explosion will cause this bomb block to blow up too bringing the second tower to the ground"). Watching the towers go down from various angles is also very satisfying -- there really is something to the feeling that a correctly thrown baseball can topple something that large. It really channels your destructive tendencies well. (You would be surprised how many people I know that claimed that my enjoyment of the Hulk game suggested I was a bully, or that -- get ready for this one -- shooting cartoon bunnies with a plunger-gun in Raving Rabbids was vaguely unethical; meanwhile everyone else is raping hookers in Grand Theft Auto). There are two player options, but I have not spent enough time with that one.

You can also design your own levels, which is probably too advanced for me, but seems like a cool option -- although the AVClub complained that sharing them is hard: you can only share with friends to protect the kiddies from penis shaped towers -- Sara commented "Aren't all towers penis shaped?" -- so there is no easy access to a host of what must be amazing fan created levels.

I am not the best authority, but I recommend it.


sara d. reiss said...

unless there is some generic, only-found-at-your-local-99cent store version of "that electric surgery board-game" that I am unaware of, I believe the name of the games is Operation. By Milton Bradley. And apparently "has been in production since 1965."

dork ;-)

oh and also, Afterburner was totally a 1980's airplane game by sega. Except it's two words: After Burner. I recall having a bit of a fondness for it whenever I found myself at the arcade. It had a cool, simulated real jet plane control sticky thing and everything. ooh, found it!

Streebo said...

Every comics reader should play City of Heroes at some point. The ability to design and create your own superhero is a beautiful thing. The character creation process alone is worth the price of admission.

And I must differ with you that Marvel ultimate Alliance is NOT boring! I found it quite exciting to explore so many corners of the Marvel Universe.

Josh Hechinger said...

Jet Set Radio. Or maybe Jet Set Radio Future...I never played either one, but I've always dug the look of the games.

James said...

"some kind of car race game where you get a boost if you don't hit anything"
One of the early Burnout games, I think; a series which has now become entirely ABOUT hitting things.

"Sniper Cell"
Splinter Cell

"meanwhile everyone else is raping hookers in Grand Theft Auto"
Ha ha ha! But I'm pretty sure you cannot rape prostitutes in GTA.

"although the AVClub complained that sharing them is hard: you can only share with friends to protect the kiddies from penis shaped towers"
Yeah, it always amazes me that people get on Nintendo's back for their supposedly overzealous protection measures. Surely protecting their very young audience IS more important than older players getting awesome downloadz?

Voice Of The Eagle said...

No More Heroes is the Kill Bill of video games. Get it.

Christian said...

Short list of recommendations from a nerd:

Bioshock. Objectivist First-Person Shooter set in a paleo-future. underwater city seen through the eyes of Fritz Lang.

"I am Andrew Ryan, and I'm here to ask you a question. Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? 'No!' says the man in Washington, 'It belongs to the poor.' 'No!' says the man in the Vatican, 'It belongs to God.' 'No!' says the man in Moscow, 'It belongs to everyone.' I rejected those answers; instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose...Rapture, a city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, where the great would not be constrained by the small! And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city, as well."

Portal. A first-person puzzle game, focusing on using spatial-distortion to your advantage. If you want to talk about iconography, it's all very feminine. And really, really funny.

"The Enrichment Center promises to always provide a safe testing environment. In dangerous testing environments, the Enrichment Center promises to always provide useful advice. For instance, the floor here will kill you. Try to avoid it."


Third-person adventure game about a young boy, Raz, who flees from the circus in order to join a summer camp for psychics (with varying objectives from psychiatric help to warfare etc.)Loads of fun gaming, good writing and quite a bit of genre subversion (aside from the "fleeing FROM the circus," the scrawny kid is the bully, the cheerleader is chronically depressed etc. The gameplay is intuitive, the landscape seriously impressive (ranging from the opressed mind of Sasha Nein to the Go-Go Dancer level of Milla Vodello to Gogolar! the Godzilla stage etc.)

Basically I've mentioned a lot of games, that are not only fun to play, but also rather innovative in their own right, immensive, with a very strong and good design sense.

Other noticable things that have popped into my head: Resident Evil 4, God of War and Okami.

Christian said...

Oh yeah and if you want to talk about more games with atmosphere, then there's absolutely nothing wrong with the Silent Hill series (with maybe an exception for the forth one, The Room, which had some slightly annoying level designs.)