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Boom Blox Review

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Developer: EA Los Angeles Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: May 6, 2008 Also On: None

Somewhere in that crazy and creative mind of Steven Spielberg there are… blocks. More specifically Boom Blox. From the three time Oscar winner that brought us Jaws, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, and E.T., Spielberg ventured into uncharted territory (at least for him) in the realm of video games. He directed dozens of movies, created his own cartoon series (Animaniacs) and is now playing the role that is best known for people like Shigeru Miyamoto and Will Wright.

So with talent like Mr. Spielberg on board, EA would inevitably be going for an epic title with a beefy budget, right? Actually, the folks at EA Los Angeles quite possibly put something together that is less likely to disappoint for a first offering from a “noob” to the industry. Boom Blox is not a game that would win any Academy Awards – if there were any for video games. It is, however, a game that is incredibly fun to play with friends and family.

The concept of Boom Blox is simple, and I will persistently use Jenga as a reference point, as that is the best example I can give. Essentially, it will be your task to destroy, rescue or otherwise manipulate a bunch of different blocks that resemble that of Jenga. There are long blocks, small blocks, big blocks, fat blocks, explosive blocks, blocks that disappear when touched, chemical blocks and so on. There are a number of different objectives throughout the game, which I will go into greater detail a little later on in this review, that differentiate the game substantially from anything else on the market.

As this is a Wii exclusive, the Wii Remote plays the pivotal role in executing the necessary moves. EA is calling Boom Blox a physics-based puzzle game and it is obvious why when you play it. While not quite as impressive as most next-gen physics engines found on systems like PS3, the Boom Blox on Wii manages quite well to mimic real-life reactions. Pulling a block with a shaky hand will correspond to a shattering of a delicate tower. Other instances may have you throw a baseball bowling ball or “bomb ball” to actually knock down blocks. Simply press A to target and throw the ball with a swing of the Wii Remote forward. While the camera angle (controlled with B) and target reticule are sometimes off, it works well most of the time.

There are three straight-forward game modes to choose from: Play, Party and Create. Within the first two are multiple different types of play. Play is the Single-Player element of the game, which is broken into five various categories: Training, Explore, Adventure, Explore Challenge and Adventure Challenge (the latter two are locked until you beat Explore and Adventure). Party allows you to compete against friends or cooperate with each other for interesting puzzle and shooting opportunities. The Create mode is where you can test your creative skills with the unlockables from the single-player modes that you earned.

The single-player Adventure mode is a relatively short, but worthwhile undertaking. This is where the limited story plays out in short fairytale-like sequences. It involves sheep blocks protecting jewels, a gorilla protecting its babies, cows and kittens. It all sounds very childish, but the gameplay is probably too difficult for most kids. It requires a certain level of sophisticated thinking that most children would lack. I personally find the game to be a charming relief from the blood and guts we see in almost all games these days.

The graphics of the game, while certainly not cutting edge, get the job done well. There are jagged edges and a bit of slow down when a lot of explosions take place, but that is almost to be expected from Wii games. Since the Wii is a system of limited horsepower, the physics engine took up much of the power that could have otherwise been put into sprucing up the graphics a little bit more. The trade off was the right choice. There are still a number of different themes and backgrounds, from a desert cowboy to a haunted house, medieval and jungle theme.

Where Boom Blox really shines is in its multi-player. As I said earlier, you can play with up to four other people in competitive or cooperative play. I played with my friend Andrew through several of the cooperative modes. These varied from challenges where you throw the baseball at coin blocks, trying to knock them off the towers while avoiding negative coin blocks to a Jenga-like challenge of removing blocks without dropping a platform on top. As it got progressively harder, they started adding little baby cows to the platforms which if they fall off, you lose. It is a fun and at times hysterical challenge.

EA is often criticized as being a company that rarely pushes new IP, instead betting on the safe yearly franchises like Madden and Need for Speed. Recent games like Crysis, Rock Band, Army of Two, Smarty Pants and now Boom Blox all have broken this trend in the six months between fall 2007 and spring 2008. Boom Blox won’t get the advertising campaign, media coverage or sales of most of these others, yet it should not be overlooked. Steven Spielberg has both reinvented and revolutionized the puzzle genre.

Graphics: 7.5
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 9.5
Creativity: 10
Replay Value/Game Length: 9.5
Final: 9
Written by Kyle Review Guide