The first in a three-title EA collaboration with director Steven Spielberg, Boom Blox has been widely compared to Jenga – a game popular in the ‘80s, where players would sit around a carefully constructed tower of wooden blocks and take turns to remove individual pieces, without causing the tower to topple.
While Boom Blox does indeed feature many levels involving Jenga-style play, it is merely one aspect of the game’s many facets. Other levels require you to destroy blocks by throwing a virtual ball, set off a chain reaction similar to dominoes, or even test your speed and accuracy in timed ‘shooting gallery’ challenges. Whatever your style of play may be, there’s something in this action puzzler to suit everybody.
Controls are simple to operate and intuitively arranged, with the various actions such as grabbing, throwing and releasing all assigned to the A button on the Wii remote. The game detects your angles, timing and velocity with surprising accuracy, and the physics are extremely realistic with regards to how the blocks behave when struck, pulled or blown sky high. You can also manipulate the camera with the B button to determine how best to approach each level, and to get the best angle for your shots. We did experience some annoying cursor freeze when waving the remote around a little too enthusiastically; however this was user induced, rather than a problem with the game itself.
With their themed settings including jungle, medieval and Wild West, the levels offer a variety of puzzles and challenge. They include the aforementioned Jenga-type level, where points are earned by carefully plucking out blocks without toppling the penalty-inducers; building or moving blocks to complete levels (a-la Lemmings); the straightforward gem collecting levels, where you throw a ball at stacks of blocks to knock gems off their lofty perch; blasting away at moving targets of varying points value, and fending off attacks from enemies or would-be gem thieves.
In addition to standard ‘vanilla’ blocks, some possess particular properties, such as vanishing or exploding when hit. Blocks also come in different sizes, and in a game where realistic physics reigns supreme, size definitely matters. Throwing a ball full-force at a large, securely stacked block will be far less effective than targeting one with less mass and stability. This is where the strategy element kicks in; it pays to rotate the camera around each level before tackling it, since the most effective route to success is not always obvious. There’s something very satisfying about setting off a level-clearing chain reaction with a single, well placed lob!
The game features several modes of play, with options for both single and multiple players. If you’re flying solo you can embark on Adventure mode, which is a series of story-based levels involving a host of different characters and settings, to be completed in sequence. Successful completion of each level results in a bronze, silver or gold medal award, depending on your performance, and if you meet certain criteria you can access a host of unlockable content, such as new levels, items and characters. This is a sure-fire recipe for return custom (i.e. good replay value), since any gamer worth their salt will want to improve on their scores to garner the best rewards.
One drawback of Adventure mode is, if you’re struggling with a particular level type – for instance the ‘shooting gallery’ levels which require both speed and accuracy, you may find it difficult to progress past your Achilles heel. Explore mode, on the other hand, offers the flexibility to play the types of levels you enjoy without any excess baggage. Party Play mode enables you to take on – or team up with – 1-3 other players in some fast-paced fun, and finally Create mode gives you free rein to modify or practise existing levels, or design your own (a series of handy tutorials will instruct you on how to do this). These can then be shared with your mates via WiiConnect24.
As well as the various themed settings – each distinctly different from the others, Boom Blox is populated by a host of charming, block-shaped characters – mostly animals, whose names and appearance reflect the game’s whimsical nature. What’s not to like about a sheep bearing the title of Duke of Woolington, or a skunk called Stinkerton Potts? These characters are not mere decoration, however. Many have a specific purpose, such as stealing blocks; or they may exhibit predetermined behaviours, depending on their proximity to certain other character types. Great graphics and beautifully drawn cut-scene artwork is icing on the cake.
Hats off to EA for taking a simple concept and turning it into a must-have title for the Wii; it’s fun, addictive, and thanks to its flexibility holds mass appeal. Whether you prefer fast ‘n’ frantic action or carefully planned strategy, Boom Blox offers something for everyone. Guaranteed to delight even the most jaded gamer – and their kids as well.