It's not often that a game gets lumped into the category of "mini-game collection" and it turns out that it's a good thing. So what makes Boom Blox any different? Why should you care about Boom Blox, and most importantly, why should you spend your hard earned money on the game? I've been asked all of these questions about this game, and I have to admit when I picked up my copy I cringed at slapping down a $50 bill for the game.
So let's start with the why. Why does Boom Blox captivate and interest people so much? They're just stacked blox after all right? While I can't answer for everyone I know, for me it taps into the fondest of childhood memories when playing with what is undoubtedly one of the best toys ever made. I'm of course referring to Legos, which more or less is what Boom Blox is about. But as most kids knew Legos had several weaknesses, for instance you could never find the pieces you needed to complete your masterpiece and of course when you went to destroy it you could only do it once before having to rebuild it all over again. Similarly stuff like K'nex and several other construction toys were available and typically they were all fairly expensive on their own and still are today. So I would respond to those asking the question at the start of this paragraph by in turn posing a question: Did you enjoy playing with Legos, K'Nex, or any other construction set? If the answer is yes then you probably already understand what it is that captivates people about Boom Blox. And to the rest of you...well you're just weird..who didn't love their Legos? .....But enough with the vague descriptions and self-posed questions, lets get down to the review.
Boom Blox at its most basic level is a game built around blocks which I will refer to as blox (thats their name after all). Blox of all shapes, sizes, colors, and types are stacked on top of each other to form a myriad of structures, both stable and unstable. At its core Boom Blox is all about these basic mechanics and one very basic formula, blox + tool + goal = fun. But what Mr. Spielberg and EA have done is took this very simple formula and produced as wide and as varied a result as you could possibly get from it. The game contains literally dozens of gameplay modes and hundreds of levels including story modes, multiplayer co-op, multiplayer competitive, a robust level editor, and the ability to share levels. If you were one of the folks nodding worried about the price of the game I feel I can honestly and without a doubt say that the game has the content to justify it. If you're interested enough to pay money for the game then I think you'll have no problem finding $50 of stuff to do, and if you have friends who are into it as well you'll get even more. I've put quite a few hours into the game and there always seems to be something new that I haven't done yet. In fact after I posted my preview of the game I went back to work on the review and discovered 3 new gameplay modes I hadn't even seen yet in the proceeding 45 minutes of playing.
The large variety of gameplay modes presents a fairly unique challenge for the menu system, which at the deepest drops down to something like 6 levels deep. But despite that complexity everything is organized amazingly well. To be honest I wouldn't be surprised at all if they struggled with the menu, to take such a wide variety of stuff and sort/categorize all of it in a way that everyone can locate quickly and easily is harder than it sounds. They truly did a great job by splitting everything up so that at each stage you're essentially answering a question. More importantly the questions are presented in an order that makes sense and are easy to follow. With that said it might take a time or two to get used to it due to the sheer size of the menu system.
As I mentioned, and as most of you know, there are a number of mini-game collections on the Wii, and the majority of them have the problem that their motion controls haven't been properly tuned. This is of course a problem that can make or break a game in an instant and luckily it seems that EA was wise enough to put some testing in here. I will say up front that the controls aren't perfect, as you might find yourself missing the occasional throw, however barring the occasional lapse the controls work and they work well. One of the nicest aspects of the motion controlled throws is that the power you put into the throw has a definite impact on the actual outcome of your throw on screen. Hard throws are generally pretty easy to accomplish, where as the softer throws seem to have some issues registering from time to time -- luckily when it doesn't register you don't lose your turn or your ammo/throw. There is a definite art to the softer throws and those who master them will have a large advantage in some of the multiplayer modes. They aren't particularly difficult but there are some instances where you can slam a bowling ball into a puzzle all day and never get the gold medal but applying just the right touch at the correct angle in the right situation can produce some astonishing results.
In terms of the user interface for these wide variety of modes they chose to go with a very minimalist approach, which really is a good thing because you'll often need to see and shoot/grab on the edge of the screen. If there was a bunch of interface clutter all over the screen it would could easily get in the way and cause problems. Whenever a piece of information isn't relevant to a gameplay mode its removed from the screen freeing up even more room to see what is going on. Additionally, things like remaining ammo/throws as well as pretty much all of the mission critical info has a method to let you know when you're getting low, most common is for the counter to turn red but in the case of ammo/throws it pops up "Last Throw" message to make sure you see it. All in all I'm not typically a fan of minimalist interfaces but in this case its not just nice, its basically required and for that reason I'm pretty happy with what they've done.
Where Boom Blox loses some of its polish is the graphics, and it's absolutely fair to say there is quite a bit left to be desired. While they do go a long way to make up for this lack of visual beauty by implementing the very robust Havok physics engine, the fact remains that textures and polygon counts are about as minimal as you can get without actually detracting from the gameplay. Some of the particle effects are actually pretty good and in some instances they look out of place next to the sub-par textures. With that said the game has a very unique style to it and when you consider that just about everything in the game is made to be the shape of a blox, it's not surprising that poly counts are low, but even then textures could have been better. The charm of the characters, combined with the fun you're having will probably mean you don't really notice how poor the graphics are but that doesn't really change the fact that they could have done more. Even with as little as they did the game can find itself slowing down from time to time when you have a large number of physics interactions or just a large number of characters on screen. Luckily these issues are fairly rare and when they do happen they're short-lived -- honestly I don't think I've had one actually impact gameplay yet.
One of the things I think most reviewers have really skipped talking about with Boom Blox is the sound for the game and honestly I feel like I should split this into two sections because I have different opinions of the Music and Sound Effects. First of all the music: The music fits the game very well and for the first 2 or 3 hours it was all fantastic...then you start to realize there isn't a whole lot of selection in the game and by the time I got to the 5th hour I just turned my AV receiver to the radio and listened to real music while playing. I know some of you don't have this luxury so I checked into it and if you're as bothered by the music as I was you can turn the music down separate from the sound effects. Which of course leads me to the sound effects which I thought were surprisingly good considering the issues with the music. I doubt they'll win any awards but they do serve a functional purpose of providing audio cues that can really help when things occasionally happen faster than you were expecting. Overall as a whole the sound was pretty mediocre and if I have one major complaint about the game its that they needed to put more effort into the soundtrack. Obviously they aren't going to spend a bunch of money and secure rights to a bunch of songs but if they would have gotten a good selection of 15-20 catchy songs it would have gone a long way.
Most games like this one have a very throwaway story that doesn't mean much of anything, and I would be lying if I said this was any different. That said, the story really isn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. Each of the cutscenes is accompanied by a small rhyme and I actually found a lot of them fairly amusing. I think they realized that the stories were kind of "bleh" and decided to have fun with it which really worked well for them. They are good enough to keep small children interested and there is enough humor there to get the older players to chuckle from time to time. Ultimately the game isn't really about the story any more than Tetris is so this shouldn't be a major factor in anyone's decision.
I'm a firm believer that a game should be fun first and foremost and Boom Blox is a prime example of this. The wide variety of gameplay modes ensure that there are several things for everyone to do and the level editor ensures that nobody can complain that there isn't enough of their favorite thing to do. Boom Blox really does shine in this respect when you get into the multiplayer modes such as Bombardment and Puck Attack -- both of which are games I could easily see myself playing 6 months from now with friends. It just has that universal appeal, that X-factor if you will. But where multiplayer really lacks is the ability to build your own set of matches. Right now when you start a competitive level the game keeps going until you've played all the levels in that category before declaring a winner. It would be nice to be able to set the category(ies) that you want to play through and the number of levels you want to play. But it would be even better if they had included some CPU players to take the spot of a 3rd or 4th player for those times when all you have is 1 or 2 people.
One of the games best features for me personally is without a doubt the level editor. They really strived to make sure that you could do just about everything they could and from what I can tell that succeeded with the exception of point multiplier zones. Perhaps I just haven't unlocked this block type yet but in the level editor you can load up an existing level with multipliers and you while it won't allow you to move any of them directly it does allow you to resize them, and through resizing you can effectively move them to wherever you want. But you still have the problem that you can't create new ones and you're stuck with the number they give you(and please if I'm wrong someone comment below) . Outside of a couple small flaws the editor is a joy to use and I believe they did a great job of not over-complicating the process while still providing enough options such that it is a robust editor and not just a small token of what the game is capable of. In terms of the online level exchange its as easy as going to the level editor and selecting a level, then instead of hitting edit or play you hit "send". All of your contacts from your Wii address book are listed and you can send the level with only a few more clicks selecting which language to send it in as well as a few other choices. All in all its simple and it works, not much more I can think to ask from it.
All in all Boom Blox definitely has its fair share of problems, but just like Legos and all of its flaws and problems it really is just a fun game and it excels in all of the ways that matter. The test of any review is of course whether or not the reviewer would recommend the game to others and I have to say I can definitely picture some people who wouldn't like the game, but those people are so few and far between that I feel comfortable saying that if you like Legos or K'Nex then you're going to enjoy Boom Blox and its worth every penny. Everything in life has its flaws and if you want to dwell on them you'll drive yourself crazy, the important part is that everything that needs to be good is great. And at the end of the day the only thing that really matters is that Boom Blox is a whole lot of fun, and if your friends and family are around the game is bound to be the life of the party!