Whenís the last time you actually threw something? Tossed? Juggled? Lobbed? You donít get that many chances when youíre older. Especially if youíre 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. Itíd 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 arenít 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. Itís as simple as it is fun.
A shame that itís so underrated. By the time youíve gotten old enough to appreciate a good throw, youíre probably not in good enough shape to do one yourself. You know better, anyway; wouldnít want to mess up your back or accidentally break something, right? But if thereís one thing that Boom Blox can teach you, itís 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 arenít the most compelling plots youíll ever see - but thereís 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. Itís about focusing on a big jumble of blocks and manipulating them to solve challenges or complete objectives. Itís all in the throw; baseballs, bowling balls, and laser beam blasts will be slung into the on-screen structures. The trick isnít 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, youíre going to have your hands full.
Itís not just about random destruction, either. Nearly everything you knock away comes with its own bonus points. Those dinky little bricks decorating a structureís corners might get you five points, while one of the heftier ceiling panels might net you fifty. If youíre 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 youíre not, youíll still want to play close attention to what youíre moving; if certain blocks or pieces fall off by accident, youíll 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 youíre trying to destroy specific sections with a limited amount of turns; one mistake, one tiny miscalculation can literally make or break your efforts. Itís these conditions and challenges that make the game so much more than a mindless throw-fest.
Itís 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 castleís walls with a bowling ball might be fun, but itís far more satisfying when you do it in a blaze of fireworks and chaos. Itís even better when youíre 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 othersí block fortresses, sling balls in the shooting gallery, and a few other simple (but fun!) contests. Too bad thereís no online multiplayer. None. Nada. EA missed a really good opportunity with that; since much of this gameís longevity lies with its multiplayer options, the should have used the Wiiís online connectivity to its fullest extent.
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 youíre really doing is making throwing and pulling motions at the screen. Thatís 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; youíll 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 doesnít 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. Thatís 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. Didnít 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 itís 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. Itís fun, easy, and offers tons of variety.
Itís kind of funny, in a way. These days youíve 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. Itís great stuff. Really, it is. But you donít need all of that to have fun. Sometimes itís the simple things that are best, and Boom Blox proves it. Yes, thereís 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, youíll 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, youíve got an extensive customization mode thatíll last as long as your imagination wants. So do yourself a favor and pick this up. Itís time to throw something.
Eight out of ten
- A simple control scheme makes the game accessible to almost anyone.
- Realistic physics make the gameplay more interactive.
- Tons of puzzles and multiplayer options.
- The level editor is superb.
- The stories are overly cutesy.
- No online multiplayer.