Tales from Space: About a Blob
Blob crashes down on Earth; Blob is captured; Blob breaks loose, rescues friends, consumes everything. That basically sums up Tales from Space: About a Blob in a nutshell; essentially, it’s a twist on the classic science experiment story gone horribly awry. It also happens to be a simple, fitting premise for some good old fashioned platforming hijinks, albeit one with a few clever twists added to the menu.
What separates About a Blob from its platforming peers is the gelatinous hero(es). On the surface, the Blobs appear cute and cuddly, but their apparent curiosity and insatiable hunger distance them from previous platforming legends (other than Kirby). But unlike avatars before them, the Blobs control with a fluidity dissimilar to any other platformer before it, creating a truly unique gameplay experience.
As a pile of extraterrestrial goo, the Blobs glide along the levels in a humorous, satisfying manner. As they pick up speed it creates a genuine feeling of momentum, much like the top speed in a classic Mario title. However, jumping in About a Blob takes on an interesting characteristic as the Blobs conform to the surfaces they rest on. In other games your character has two legs from which to jump with, letting you clearly know where your center of mass is and where your jump originates from. Jumping isn’t nearly as straight-forward here though, as you can conceivably have momentum going in multiple directions during a single jump – say half of your body is sitting on top of a platform while the other half is hanging on the side, a jump here pushes off from two surfaces simultaneously.
While mastering the intricacies of jumping is key to tracking down many of About a Blob’s collectibles, the main gameplay mechanic on display is absorption. The Blobs have the ability to absorb anything in the stages that are smaller than themselves. Item intake is essential in order to progress, as each checkpoint gives you a new target size to achieve, and the only way to grow is to eat. The items you consume serve a dual purpose, in addition to growth benefits, many items can be spit out as projectiles, which causes damage to enemies and triggers switches. As the Blobs ingest more of their surroundings, the stages scale appropriately to match your growth. The effect is measured, but lends some much needed believability to the Blobs’ rise to city-sized rampages. Along the way a number of specific absorption benchmarks stick out, such as the first person you absorb to the very first skyscraper, which highlight your journey from pocket-sized puddy to devourer of worlds, and leave you feeling empowered.
In addition to the use of consumed objects, the Blobs have the ability to conduct electricity and use a magnetic pull or attraction. The skills are needed to solve the game’s many puzzles, and are also used for some of the more ingeniously designed platforming segments. The magnetism is exploited in some especially devious areas, requiring the player to repel just enough to hover over a dangerous magnetized surface without actually touching it. It also comes in handy for propelling your Blob to stratospheric heights you’d not be able to reach normally. In practice the magnetism ends up having a much larger impact on the game, as you gain the ability much earlier on and its practical uses crop up more regularly.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of About a Blob is the overall personality the game exudes. The material is both campy and silly and the title has a plethora of little touches that support its light-hearted take on classic monster movies. Whether it’s the cows that not so subtly explode into burgers and fries, or the amusing, determined facial expressions of the Blobs during their ‘run’ animation, the game always seems to be having a great time. The personality is so charming and infectious that it’s difficult to not get sucked into the bizarre revelry found in each level.
If the game isn’t zany enough on its own, the entire story can be played with a friend, which raises the level of absurdity exponentially. Blobs can damage each other, close doors on one another and generally make the title significantly more difficult, but in the process create some friendly aggression. In one essence, co-op actually makes the game easier as both players have to be dead simultaneously for the game to revert to the last checkpoint. Additionally, Blobs can jump off one another – which I have affectionately labeled ‘Blob hopping’ – to reach many an area. Blob hopping comes in handy tracking down stray Blobs throughout the game, as well as the collectible orbs found in each stage, but it reveals a significant deficiency in the orb design: it appears you can only get them all in co-op. Considering how awkward Blob hopping can be it’s hard to imagine it’s the true solution to all orb collection, but if it isn’t, the real solutions must be truly off the wall.
Alone or in co-op it’s worth noting there are a few scattered moments of potential frustration, which can be heightened by your fervor for collection; deaths not only reset you to the previous checkpoint, but they also reset anything you’ve collected since then. While it’s understandable this is done to stop players from exploiting death-jumps to get items, it occasionally puts you in dire positions and asks you for an unreasonable amount of perfection, and patience. Another potential place for frustration is a rare bug a friend and I encountered that wouldn’t allow either of us to achieve the required mass for progression – fortunately this happened only once.
Despite its rougher edges, Tales from Space: About a Blob is a genuinely fun – and funny – romp through classic sci-fi tropes. The feeling of piloting a gelatinous character is more than enough to set the game apart from its sidescrolling brethren, but, it’s the unique gameplay and sense of style that truly absorbs you.