Friday, September 14, 2012

Paint the Town Red... Or Yellow

Pop Quiz: What do "Legends of the Hidden Temple," "American Dad," and "de Blob 2" have in common? Dee Bradley Baker. But I digress.

de Blob 2 is a pretty-good-but-not-perfect platformer that came out last year. In it, you play as Blob, the colorful leader of the Colour Underground, who must restore the color to Prisma City by fighting the evil Comrade Black and his army of inky soldiers. The gameplay involves rolling around town and painting buildings with your body to unlock previously inaccessible areas. The game is divided into three-dimensional platforming challenges while running around in gigantic outdoor cityscapes, and two-dimensional linear-maze-ish challenges while inside buildings. Even though there is combat, it's pretty minimal, where most enemies are defeated by jumping and squashing them, plowing through them, or just getting out of their way and letting them self-destruct. As such, with all of the ultra-colorful rainbow themes and excessive glee, it would be easy to mistake de Blob 2 as a children's game. Which it might actually be, I'm not sure. (It is put out by SyFy Kids, after all.) Kid cuisine or not, de Blob 2 does some awesome things that I wish more games would follow suit on.

Each level in de Blob 2 is huge, both in length and height. You'll spend a good portion of your time unlocking each of five to seven sections of each map, one at a time. As such, each level is a pretty decent timesink; I probably spent 90 minutes or more on each level, which also includes a handful of time for completionist activites (more on that later). What amazes me is that even for all of the crazy long levels, and fairly few variations on the themes of "paint things, smash things, and collect things," the gameplay didn't feel that stale at all. Of course, it was frustrating having to go back and replay chunks of the level after dying, but somehow playing through rather similar sequences didn't feel that tedious at all. (But man, what I wouldn't do to have some sort of level map to see where everything is...)

One thing that might have helped ease the tedium was the fact that each level has its own soundtrack, some of which you create as you go along. The music in each level generally starts out quite hollow and bare, maybe the vaguest semblance of a chord structure happening. As you accomplish more tasks and paint more of the level, you hear more instruments added to the mix until it's a raucous jam session by the end. Another cool element is that as you paint your surroundings, an extra instrumental riff is added in depending on what color you are (trumpets for yellow, bass for purple, organ for green, etc., although I might have those mixed up). Even though each level's music is essentially a long loop with different bits mixed in or taken out each time you hear it, it still feels fresh by the end of the level, and that's awesome.

Another point I feel other games need to copy is the acknowledgement that you might have accomplished a certain task before you're formally asked to do so. Since each level is essentially a mini-sandbox game with new portions unlocked as you go, you have the ability to accomplish some tasks (such as painting buildings or freeing trapped citizens) before you reach their actual starting points. Often times, the game simply acknowledges that you've accomplished this and moves you right on to the next task, which is awesome. But perhaps it's worth noting that this stands out to me as a strong suit simply because I've played a number of games where this isn't the case, and you'll be asked to redo a task you've already done just because the game "needs" you to advance in a very set order in order to move on (there are some instances in the Assassin's Creed games that spring to mind with regards to this). So perhaps I only feel this is awesome because this is the first sandboxy game I've played, but it's still something that grabbed me as cool.

Alas, if there's one huge issue I have with this game, it's a huge limiting factor to de Blob 2's sandbox-ness: Each level has a time limit in which you have to accomplish all story-related portions of the level. The time limit doesn't enhance the gameplay at all, it only feels like an extra layer of difficulty stapled on because the game wasn't "tough enough" to begin with. It's frustrating to have to restart a level simply because an arbitrary time limit ran out. It's frustrating to not be allowed to explore the levels and collect all of the hidden items just because you have to get the plotline tasks done first. As a gaming completionist, the latter point deeply bothers me. Mind you, once the main plot of each level is out of the way, you're free to explore the level with no time limit, but to restrict it to the end of each level is stupid. There's only once instance where the time limit means anything significant, and that's in the final level, where you are offered several temptations to save more citizens and grab extra swag at the penalty of wasting time before the crucial countdown ends. It's entirely possible that the time limits in all of the previous levels existed just to give the player a ballpark estimate of "Oh yeah, I could get that done with the amount of time I have left" at that final stage of the game, but before that, it's just fake difficulty.

The camera and controls sometimes do wonky things, but that's not too large of an issue that I feel it's worth ranting about here.

Aside from the time issue, de Blob 2 is definitely a very solid game. Even if you're not familiar with the plotline from the first commercial de Blob game (which I'm not), the in-game storyline and cutscenes are written in such a way that it's really easy to pick up the story and even make some emotional bonds with the characters, even if everything is gibberish. The gameplay, to my surprise, contains just enough variety to make sure the game never feels too stale, and is just the right difficulty for most ages. There's a ton of game to tackle in de Blob 2, which makes it very much worth the price (shame it seems to be on the clearance racks everywhere now). Pick up a copy and experience the joy of smearing paint all over town with your body.

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