In 1989, Absolute Entertainment published a bizarre puzzle-platformer called A Boy and His Blob for the NES. It featured a refugee alien blob that could change into a variety of shapes when fed different flavors of jellybeans by his young earth companion. The two would have to utilize the blob’s various functions to bypass obstacles and collect money and additional jellybeans, eventually purchasing some vitamins before blasting off (via a root beer jellybean’s rocket transformation) to the planet Blobbonia, where they must do battle with the evil emperor who had enslaved the peaceful blobs (by firing the vitamins at him after feeding the blob an orange jellybean, turning it into a “Vitablaster”). The game was incredibly difficult, partially due to the limited number of jellybeans available to you; if you wasted the wrong ones or had the blob positioned incorrectly, you might not even be able to finish.
The original A Boy and His Blob was an obscure title at best, but its quirky appeal made an impression on most of the kids who played it. When the announcement came that Wayforward would be creating a new version of the game for the Wii, using hand-drawn animation, those kids — now adults — were treated to a wave of twenty year-old nostalgia.
In addition to the graphical upgrade, the game play received several much-needed tweaks as well. Instead of one large, spanning world (plus Blobbonia) the action has been divided up into over 40 smaller levels spread across four sub-areas; each sub-area has a hub from which you can access any of that world’s levels or freely move to any previous world. Each level allows you only a specific subset of jellybeans, ranging from one to twelve flavors of the fifteen present in the game; you have an unlimited number of these jellybeans at your disposal, allowing you more freedom for experimentation and error.
On the subject of “error,” you also have unlimited lives and the game’s checkpoints are generous; this is fortunate, as you will die frequently, especially in the second half of the game and during one of the handful of boss fights. The boy is very fragile, falling to even a single touch of one of the enemies or several hazards (including water and falls above a certain height unless cushioned by one of the blob’s softer transformations). He is also frustratingly immobile; he moves at only one speed (which is slow), has little jumping ability, and cannot duck. If it weren’t for his nearly pin-point accurate jellybean throwing ability (holding down the B button shows your trajectory, which you can adjust like a pool simulator), he would basically be useless.
Not that the blob (who was named Blobbert in the original game; I don’t think he really has a name this time, nor does the boy) is much better. Although he is somehow immune to any damage, he moves on his own and as such isn’t under your direct control. As a result, he will sometimes get himself stuck in awkward places. You can steer him a bit with well-placed jellybeans (which he will seek out if he can) or use the C button to call him to your side; the call button is also used to return the blob to his usual amorphous form, which is the only way to get him to assume a new one. If you ever get too separated, you can throw him a balloon jellybean, which will allow him to catch up (and serves no other function; you always have berry as one of your flavors on every level); if you can’t reach him with a jellybean, calling him three times in succession will cause him to transform into a balloon on his own.
Unlike the original title, the game never tells you what flavors of jellybeans you’re using to trigger transformations. A few are legacies from the original game (licorice = ladder, apple = jack, tangerine = trampoline, root beer = rocket, cola = bubble, coconut = coconut), and a few new ones are mentioned in the manual (pear = parachute, bubblegum = bouncer, berry = balloon, banana = anvil), but others (cannon, shield, and two final transformations I don’t want to spoil) have absolutely no indication — heck, there are two different flavors listed for the cannon transformation on official sources (the box says cream, the website says caramel; given the color of the bean in the game, I believe the box). In fact, there is no text in the game at all, nor is there a tutorial like you would expect from most games. There are occasionally billboards with hints drawn on them, but that’s all the help you get.
The cartoon-like presentation of the game, coupled with the complete lack of any in-game text, may lead you to believe that the game is a walk in the park, and for the first fifteen levels or so this will be the case. The difficulty ramps up starting with the second boss fight, however, and a lot of frustration will set in by the time you reach the third. The game’s demands simply can’t always keep up with the limitations of the controls (and in the case of the third boss, some hit detection issues as well) and you will die cheaply and repeatedly. The final few levels make up for this somewhat by being epically awesome (entirely due to the last transformation), but getting to that point is quite the chore, especially given the somewhat plodding pace of “level – hub – level”.
If you can overcome the game’s limitations, you should get a fair amount of enjoyment out of A Boy and His Blob. If you’re especially hardcore, you can even seek out the three treasure chests hidden in each level; finding all three will unlock an additional challenge stage, effectively doubling the game play value. Each challenge stage you clear will unlock various special features like art galleries and development notes. The game is already bargain-priced at $40, which messes with our rating system a bit; ultimately it’s worth a look if you want a different experience on the Wii, but not anything I’d go out of my way to pick up right away.
ESRB Rating: E for mild cartoon violence; your primary method of dispatching enemies is to drop rocks or anvils on them, or else using the hole transformation to drop them into pits.
Plays like: Other than the original, the level-based puzzle-platforming reminded me of Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’s Treasure
Pros: Gorgeous presentation, classic nostalgia, and quite possibly the first game ever to feature a “hug” button.
Cons: Maneuverability issues cause too much frustration