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Blast Works: Build, Trade, Destroy

When was the last time you played an old-school arcade shooter? Come on, be honest. It’s not like you’ve got much of a choice, anyway. Those titles are of a dying breed; considering the onslaught of hundred-hour RPGs and action-packed FPSs, it’s little wonder why the old ways have essentially passed away. As a result, shooters have had to fall back on bland attempts at creating stories or generic anime characters to carry their appeal. Others have been reduced to nothing but a screen filled with a blend of neon bullets and psychedelic lighting effects, to distract you from the inconsistent hit detection. What happened to the days when you didn’t need all of that fancy stuff? When it was okay just have a ship with a gun, a bunch of enemies trying to frag you from every direction, and a couple of powerups to see you through that last precious quarter you stuffed into the machine? Are such basic things not enough to be considered fun anymore? Don’t count them out just yet. Blast Works adds a few new spins to what .

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The premise is simple enough: you have a ship, a rapid-fire machine gun, and a slew of planes, gunships, zeppelins, and countless other foes strewn across several stages. Never mind stuff like scoring combo chains or seeking out power-ups; it’s just you and a bunch of foes trying to shooter each other out of the sky. What saves Blast Works from being the plainest shooter ever made, however, is your ship’s unique abilities. Rather than letting your foes fall in twisted heaps of burning metal, you can snag them mid-air and attach them to your hull. If it tries to kill you, it can be used. Unlike the powerups of traditional shooters, your new weapons don’t integrate themselves into the ship; they just stay stuck in whatever angle in which you caught them. You could shoot down a rocket, implant it onto the front of your craft, and use its fuel as a makeshift flamethrower. Timing makes this problematic, especially if you’ve shot down something with a great weapon , rush in, and accidentally graft it onto the bottom of your aircraft. It won’t take long for you to realize that striving for perfect catching accuracy is pointless; since all kinds of enemy wreckage is constantly being added to your hull, you’ll end up just spewing bullets in random directions.

Getting a lot of stuff stuck to your ship doesn’t make you invincible, though. Since most of your attachments are halfway fried already, it’ll only take a few shots at most for them to be blasted away. If a large chunk of your armor gets destroyed, all the rest of the stuff connected to it will be lost as well. It’s even worse if your core ship is wiped out; you’ll not only lose a life, but everything you’ve collected will go flying. To keep that from happening, you’re going to have to make an effort to build up as much wreckage armor as you possibly can; while it’ll be constantly destroyed and rebuilt with each wave of foes you encounter, it can save you in tricky situations. However, it can also prove to be your undoing; since a well-built scrap heap can literally cover the entire screen, it’s all too easy to lose track of your core ship and wander into some unfriendly fire. Even some of the levels are designed to shear away your armor; aside from the incredibly cheap bosses, jutting overhangs, thin walls, and other obstacles can wipe out your attachments. Since you can suck in all of your collection with a push of a button, you can avoid such deathtraps and re-unleash them when the coast is clear. This emphasis on size management makes the game so much more demanding than the usual shooter.

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Speaking of other games, Blast Works comes with a nice list of extras. Seasoned freeware veterans will rejoice in having TUMIKI Fighters – the original title from which this game is based upon – as a bonus unlockable. Its mechanics operate essentially identical to those of Blast Works, but on a more basic level. While the Wii title sports plenty of enemies with realistic wings and propeller designs (plain graphics notwithstanding), this game has foes that are mostly made up of giant polygons. Though Blast Works features better color schemes and a greater variety of foes and backgrounds, TUMIKI Fighters has enough charm to merit several playthroughs as well. Fans of similar games will also be glad to know that rRootage, Gunroar, and Torus Trooper have also been crammed onto the disk. However, you’ll need to beat the regular game on its varying difficulties before you can gain access to them. Given their quality, however, those games provide plenty of incentive to keep replaying until you’ve conquered everything.

It won’t take long before the Campaign and Arcade Modes to get stale, though. Yes, there are several incredibly demanding levels and three difficulty settings, but that probably won’t be enough to keep you satisfied. A little exploration, however, will reveal the game’s greatest asset: its Editor Mode. This extensive set of menus allows you design your own game. Literally. Not just your ship – it doesn’t even have to be a ship; it could be a pixilated version of your favorite video game character if you want – but every enemy, weapon, building, stage background, scrolling section, atmospheric effect, and everything else. You can customize everything in this mode, right down to the minute color gradations on the tips of your wings. This is not surprising, considering that the game designers used this same editor to craft the various default levels. The problem with this incredibly powerful tool is that it’s so hard to pick up and use effectively; the menus and setup is so convoluted that it’ll take some trial and error before you finally get a handle on things. The problems are also compounded with the awkward controls; while the gameplay supports all of the controller options available for the Wii, you’ll have to click and drag items while using the editor. That can be annoying, especially if you’ve got shaky hands and accidentally click on a wrong option.

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But if you don’t have any gaming muses to inspire your own creations, there’s plenty of other ways to get original content. By signing up on the game’s website, you’ll be given access to dozens of downloadable designs for ships, enemies, weapons, and plenty of other stuff. These aren’t just assortments of bland additions, either; you can find downloads like Batman, Sonic’s Green Hill Zone, Yoshi-shaped crafts, Mega Man bosses, and anything else the designers decided to cook up. The site is organized with gamers in mind, which makes for easy communications between the various creators. While leeching off their stuff might be an easy way out, you’re also free to upload your own projects and allow other gamers to use them as well. But if you prefer keeping things private, you and your friends can send each other stuff over WiiConnect24. Since the game utilizes the console’s online functionality so well, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding extra stuff to spice up your own lineup of designs.

You know what the sad thing is? Hardly anyone knows this game exists. Wii owners are too busy lamenting the amount of shovelware on their console to realize that a gem lay hidden among the heap of rubbish. If you have a Wii, then get this game. It‘s that simple. Blast Works is an amazing demonstration of how you can take an old concept and take it in directions that are limited only by your imagination. The gameplay mechanics are interesting enough; combining Katamari Damacy with Gradius is crazy, but it works so well. The constant action and brutally difficult levels might test your nerves and gaming skills, but you’ll be rewarded with some of the best freeware shooters available. But the true quality of this title lies with extensive Editor Mode; you can make whatever kind of shooter you want. All it takes is a lot of patience and a little creativity. With so many ways to add new content, this game has a nearly limitless replay value. Needless to say, a twenty dollar game has never gone so far.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

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