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Boom Blox

When’s the last time you actually threw something? Tossed? Juggled? Lobbed? You don’t get that many chances when you’re older. Especially if you’re not playing any sports, wasting away your days behind a desk. The best you might manage is a wannabe basketball shot with a rolled-up wad of paper. It’d probably be halfhearted and miss, bouncing off the rim of the bin and crushing what little confidence in your physical prowess you might have had. Such feeble efforts aren’t throws, anyway. A real throw is far more satisfying; you can feel its strain on your shoulder and arm muscles, the way the air flows around it, and that undeniable swell of pride you get if you do it particularly well. It’s as simple as it is fun.

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A shame that it’s so underrated. By the time you’ve gotten old enough to appreciate a good throw, you’re probably not in good enough shape to do one yourself. You know better, anyway; wouldn’t want to mess up your back or accidentally break something, right? But if there’s one thing that Boom Blox can teach you, it’s that throwing is good. Even if it is destructive. Sure, its Adventure Mode is crafted to appeal to younger folk – tales of cute animal invaders, cowboys searching for gold, and little monkey families lost in the jungle aren’t the most compelling plots you’ll ever see – but there’s more beneath its cutesy exterior.

A lot more.

At its most basic, Boom Blox is a puzzle game. Never mind all the smiling block animals and the half-assed stories. It’s about focusing on a big jumble of blocks and manipulating them to solve challenges or complete objectives. It’s all in the throw; baseballs, bowling balls, and laser beam blasts will be slung into the on-screen structures. The trick isn’t so much about hitting hard – overzealous gamers might end up flinging their WiiMotes into their screens, after all – but causing as much damage with as little effort as possible. See that imposing tower being guarded by all those little animal soldiers? Chip enough of its base away, watch the structure crash under its own weight, and gleefully listen to the tinny screams of your victims. Need to clear a path for a group of lost explorers? Try yanking blocks out of the way, then placing them somewhere else to make a bridge. While such concepts might sound simple, cleverly designed puzzles and intricate block structures will make you consider each stage from every angle. Considering how the pre-designed stages number in the hundreds, you’re going to have your hands full.

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It’s not just about random destruction, either. Nearly everything you knock away comes with its own bonus points. Those dinky little bricks decorating a structure’s corners might get you five points, while one of the heftier ceiling panels might net you fifty. If you’re playing against someone, the key to your victory will be figuring out a strategy to maximize your score in a given turn. And even if you’re not, you’ll still want to play close attention to what you’re moving; if certain blocks or pieces fall off by accident, you’ll end up being penalized with negative points or even a Game Over. That can make otherwise simple puzzles incredibly challenging to complete. You might have to dismantle a log cabin a la Jenga, slowly removing each pieces without letting the top-heavy roof come crashing down in the process. Or if you’re trying to destroy specific sections with a limited amount of turns; one mistake, one tiny miscalculation can literally make or break your efforts. It’s these conditions and challenges that make the game so much more than a mindless throw-fest.

It’s the sheer variety that makes the game really interesting. A tower of blocks, no matter how big or cleverly designed, is nothing more than a big target. But when you start adding in stuff like explosives, heavier blocks, and panels that vanish on contact, things get far messier. Breaching a castle’s walls with a bowling ball might be fun, but it’s far more satisfying when you do it in a blaze of fireworks and chaos. It’s even better when you’re dishing out the damage competitively; thanks to the immense amount of multiplayer options and challenges, the game turns from a mere puzzle game into an epic struggle for the most points. Aside from the obligatory inclusion of a Jenga knockoff, the game lets everyone lay siege to each others’ block fortresses, sling balls in the shooting gallery, and a few other simple (but fun!) contests. Too bad there’s no online multiplayer. None. Nada. EA missed a really good opportunity with that; since much of this game’s longevity lies with its multiplayer options, the should have used the Wii’s online connectivity to its fullest extent.

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What it does use well, however, is the motion sensing. The WiiMote was designed with simplicity in mind, and Boom Blox operates accordingly. Despite all the complicated and craftily designed stages, all you’re really doing is making throwing and pulling motions at the screen. That’s it. What makes it so great is how responsive and accurate the controls are to your commands. It can read the strength of your throws and how it affects the gameplay; a weakly-tossed ball will bounce off the surfaces of the blocks, while something thrown harder can send shrapnel flying. The physics are incredibly accurate; you’ll have to contend with things like weight, velocity, and angle with every stage. The lock-on targeting system, which lets you pinpoint the exact spot you want to hit, makes the game accessible to those who have difficulty with aiming and timing. The same goes for pulling mechanics; all you have to do is hold down a button, point whatever object you want to move, and oh-so carefully make the right moves. If you get hasty and accidentally brush against something, you could send the whole thing tumbling. This simple (but realistic) click-and-drag system makes things much easier for people who might be unaccustomed to gaming.

That doesn’t mean that Boom Blox is too simple for more dedicated gamers, though. Superb control and handling can only get you so far. Not even the tons of puzzles would make you come back. Not forever, anyway. That’s why the game lets you make your own stages, right down to those grinning little block monstrosities. That pre-made castle not good enough for you? Smash it to rubble and build a new one from scratch. A better one. Didn’t get enough explosions with that last challenge? Pack as many dynamite blocks into that sucker and watch the whole thing go flying apart in a blaze of glory. Given how there are so many options and ways to approach this, the stage builder is a godsend for creative gamers that want more out of the experience. What makes this so great is that it’s so easy to use. While some games offer more in-depth level editors (Blast Works comes to mind), they tend to be hard to delve into and utilize to their fullest extent. The editor in Boom Blox echoes the simplicity of its control scheme; you pick and choose your pieces, arrange or delete them as you want, and indulge in whatever your possibly sick mind can come up with. It’s fun, easy, and offers tons of variety.

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It’s kind of funny, in a way. These days you’ve got games that feature intricate storylines and ensemble casts. Ones that offer hundreds of hours of playtime just to complete them. Others with all their scores of bonus content, voice acting and gritty, realistic graphics. It’s great stuff. Really, it is. But you don’t need all of that to have fun. Sometimes it’s the simple things that are best, and Boom Blox proves it. Yes, there’s no online content. Yeah, the stories and overall presentation are embarrassingly childish. But once you get past all the bright colors and deformed block animals, you’ll see that this is one of the most well-crafted titles on the Wii. The control scheme is simple enough for anyone to pick up, and the realistic physics will keep you on your toes. The sheer amount of puzzles and challenges will be enough to keep you going for hours. When that loses its charm, the wide variety of multiplayer options will make up for it. When that inevitably fails, you’ve got an extensive customization mode that’ll last as long as your imagination wants. So do yourself a favor and pick this up. It’s time to throw something.

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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