de Blob Review - The Next Level

Game Profile

Nintendo Wii
Release date:
September 22, 2008
Blue Tongue

de Blob

What self-defeated greatness looks like.

Review by James Cunningham (Email)
December 1st 2008

Why is the 3D platformer so troublesome to get right? This genre has had a clear roadmap since the Nintendo 64 days. Why is it so easy to screw up? And why, of all the piss-poor concepts and half-baked character designs created to do little more than move cheap merchandise, did something as inherently cool as de Blob have to fall short? It only fails in a few small areas, but they're important enough to turn what should be an anarchic blast into frustration-tinged tedium.

It starts off great, of course, with only a hint of the problems that will eventually torpedo the game. The I.N.K.T. Corporation has turned the vibrant Chroma City into a grey wasteland, chaining its lively citizens to soulless desk-jockey tasks, and clamping down hard on any sign of rebellion. There's a Color Underground resistance trying to fight back, but the INKT forces are winning by sheer overwhelming numbers. Then de Blob shows up, and starts splattering paint wherever he goes, dousing everything he touches with color to free the citizenry from their monochromatic purgatory. Hitting a paint-bot absorbs its color, and anything he touches gets painted. There are three primary colors to get, which can be mixed for a total of seven different shades. The more colors used, the higher the score and more lively the town becomes, complete with a constantly-evolving soundtrack. It's a fun scenario, with the INKT baddies as perfect cannon fodder in a goofy totalitarian kind of way, while seeing the city come to life is much more rewarding than the usual platforming collectathon.

There's a lot of good stuff to unlock in de Blob. If it didn't fall apart in a few essential ways it would be well worth seeing everything.

Levels are divided between different tasks, given out by the members of the Color Underground. While there are only four different kinds of challenges, there's enough variety in them to keep things fresh, with one job frequently leading to another. Painting a set of buildings a specific color, racing to a new area, taking down a horde of INKT goons, or using paint points to liberate large landmarks is basically it, but somehow that's enough. To top it off, there's a menu that tallies up how many trees, billboards, challenges, and other goals have been attained in each level. Once a level has been beaten, it not only opens up in Free Paint mode, which lets de Blob play without worrying about missions and enemies, but also a pair of two mini-level quick challenges that can be pretty tough to earn a gold medal on. Thankfully, the bonus art and movies are unlocked with a silver, leaving perfection as its own reward. There's a lot of good stuff to unlock in de Blob. If it didn't fall apart in a few essential ways it would be well worth seeing everything.

de Blob has two central problems, and for once the controls are the lesser of the two. Shaking the remote to jump isn't the best use of motion controls, but it works well enough. The camera controls, on the other hand, are pretty bad, and without a dedicated analog stick to control it the viewpoint gets incredibly inconvenient on a regular basis. It's not fun to miss a precise jump because the camera wasn't where you wanted it to be, making it tricky to not only line up the landing but also to know the exact point to shake the remote to initiate the jump. To make matters just a little worse, de Blob tends to stick to any wall he lands on, slowly sliding down until he touches ground. Shaking loose from the wall just involves pushing the analog stick away from it, but when the platform below isn't all that big it can lead to a long drop and an obnoxious climb back up, or a decision that whatever's up there isn't worth it. While these issues can be gotten used to, there last issue with the level structure is a deal-breaker for the last few areas.

The later levels in de Blob are, in a word, long. Really, really long. Big can be good, providing plenty of bang for the hard-earned gaming buck, but when completing one of the higher levels can easily take a hundred minutes it's a bit much. Most platformers get around this by breaking the levels up into bite-sized chunks, but when you've started a de Blob level there's no pausing in the middle unless you want to see all that progress gone with the touch of an Off switch. True, it's not necessary to paint every building, tree, billboard, blimp, and landmark, but they're there and it's fun right up to the point you realize that you've been playing 45 minutes and there's no save point in sight. de Blob desperately needs a checkpoint save system, and without it the levels take too much time for their own good.

de Blob is almost great. The central idea is equal parts brilliant, clever, and funny, the gameplay is rewarding and fun, and it's got an unstoppable sense of style. Unfortunately, it also needs a once-over on the controls, and some consideration for the bit of the player's life that doesn't involve sitting still for hours at a time. de Blob is a blast right up to the point that it isn't, and that's about half an hour away from the nearest save.

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