A Boy and His Blob
US: 13 Oct 2009
As a medium, gaming is getting to an age where we’re starting to see titles that are not just remakes of long forgotten games, but reimaginings that when successful enough can lead to full-on franchise revivals. While Metal Gear Solid was possibly the first example of this, we are seeing more with each passing year. Although the average age of gamers has steadily been rising, as the NES generations approaches middle age, it’s difficult to sardonically view these games solely as transparent attempts to repackage our memories. There has simply been too much quality product overall to make that assessment. From Prince of Persia to Ninja Gaiden to Metroid Prime, dormant franchises have been successfully reawakening in the past several years, facing both different technologies and different expectations from gamers then when they first appeared.
A Boy and His Blob came to us somewhat under the radar. There wasn’t a big marketing push for it and younger gamers that have no memory of the original seem unlikely to be excited about it. Although fondly remembered by some, the original doesn’t have quite the cult status among gamers that many other dormant properties do. The fact that its MSRP is $10 less than the average Wii title might usually cost, leading casual gamers to believe that it’s a budget title with all the negative trappings associated with the production values of such games. Further, it arrives at a time when puzzle platformers aren’t all that popular, assuming it can be argued that they ever were at all.
Despite all the ways in which the deck is stacked against it, however, A Boy and His Blob has all the makings of a sleeper hit, perhaps one that will be appreciated after its time. This is the kind of game that isn’t made that often anymore, and its whimsical presentation and retro roots offer a fresh alternative to the pervasive genres we see in gaming today. This isn’t some kind of over the top action title or sports simulation. But neither is it an experimental title, deliberately striving to be different than anything before it. Games like A Boy and His Blob occupy a rather interesting space. While many are happy to see successful concepts spun out as regular franchises (chances being taken less and less as titles cost more to produce) others see the most fun coming from the ingenuity inherent in independent gaming. But titles like A Boy and His Blob seem to occupy some kind of middle ground between the two. It hearkens back to the best days of the NES when both experimentation and fun were the order of the day, simply because it frankly didn’t take nearly as much time or money to make a game, which is something console gaming is only starting to see again with the advent of the console marketplaces and increasingly accessible game development tools.
I never played the original Boy and His Blob, so I don’t know how well it presented the relationship between the titular characters. But the reimagining reminded me on more than one occasion of both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. Both of those titles prominently featured relationships that were immediately warm without much exposition explaining why. The relationship here is similar, existing almost independent of the narrative. Resembling the Li’l Abner comics species, Shmoo, the blob seems immediately friendly, the relationship symbiotic. Part of this charming emotional component clearly also stems from the game’s presentation. The art direction is gorgeous, evoking the kind of attention to detail associated with the work of Miyazaki, and was clearly a focal point from the beginning of the project.
A Boy and His Blob is also a very well constructed puzzle platformer. As with the best examples of the genre, its depth is revealed slowly. New tools that are key to progression are frequently introduced, and the difficulty ramps smoothly. As such, the title is consistently interesting. Bonus challenges unlocked by the collection of hidden treasures allow players to explore the world of the game with as much depth as suits their interest.
It’s very possible that A Boy and His Blob will get lost in the shuffle of late year releases, but it would be a shame for that to occur. It has an unpretentious and easy charm that’s rare in games these days. It’s both well designed and well presented, and it takes few missteps. From a control standpoint, there doesn’t seem to be a reason that it only appears on the Wii, and perhaps a wider release would garner it more attention. But it’s very possible that more attention isn’t the developer’s goal. Rather, A Boy and His Blob seems likely to wind up in the hands of those that would enjoy it most by word of mouth if nothing else.