It’s forgivable if A Boy and His Blob doesn’t immediately strike a chord of nostalgia in some of you out there. After all, many of our readers likely weren’t on this Earth for its original 1989 NES debut, and the rest could have understandably locked away the memories like an ancient buried secret. Yes, Blob was unsparingly difficult. Just when Boy would figure out the right bean to toss into its greedy, gelatinous maw, said bean stash would run drier than a desert well. Let those frightful whispers from the past remain just that, though, because developer WayForward has been working hard to breathe new life into the past once again.
I say “once again” in reference to WayForward’s other nostalgic throwback, 2007’s Contra 4 on DS. Speaking of unforgiving difficulty, Contra 4 had it in spades. A Boy and His Blob isn’t quite on that hardcore level, but it also doesn’t insult its audience by being a cutesy walkthrough with no challenge whatsoever.
The basic premise doesn’t veer very far from its 8-bit ancestor. As the titular boy, the player navigates lush, hand-painted stages across the world map, attempting to overcome treacherous platforming puzzles while avoiding the minions of an evil emperor who’s seen fit to take over Blob’s homeworld, Blobolonia. Being a feeble ten-year-old boy doesn’t exactly push this quest into a sword-swinging fight for freedom, but with the aid of a variety of magical jellybeans, the boy and blob become a pretty formidable duo.
Some of the beans are taken straight from the original. For instance, throw one down and Blob becomes a ladder, perfect for making it to that next ledge; throw another and he’ll spread out into a hole in the ground, ideal for dropping down a level, or even leading enemies to their doom. Yes, there’s more than the simple matter of avoiding your foes by hopping over them or going around them this time, and as the game progresses, the boy’s means of offense increase as well.
I didn’t play deep enough to get to the truly back-breaking challenges, but with 40 stages (along with about as many secret stages strewn throughout), there’s a hefty chunk of game to explore here. Even when the going gets tough, though, Blob has a lenient checkpoint system. Discover the hard way that Boy is a pathetic swimmer and you’ll be zapped just prior to your woeful stumble, making constant repeat attempts as painless as possible. Though the games are miles apart in every other way, it reminded me most of the checkpoint system in Mirror’s Edge. Trust me, though, Boy is no Faith when it comes to running and jumping.
The controls became second nature pretty quickly, from accessing the different jellybeans to whistling or yelling for Blob to return to my side. Even hugging Blob has its own button, and those susceptible to absurdly cute distractions will become fast friends with Up on the D-pad. Being a straight-up platformer, there’s no room for superfluous motion controls here, and you won’t find any inappropriately squeezed into the experience.
Beyond all of this, WayForward’s most impressive accomplishment so far is completely visual. Wii isn’t exactly known for its stunning titles, but the aforementioned hand-drawn backgrounds and slickly animated characters really shine. There’s a lot of subtlety in the way both Boy and Blob interact with one another (including the hug, of course), and the way they both react to the environment and their murky enemies. It’s oddly real to see Blob behaving more like a dog in this game, getting distracted by a frog and bouncing around ecstatically until a harsh call from Boy brings him back, flustered and flushed with red.
More so than Contra 4, it looks like WayForward found a way to temper nostalgia and mix just the right amount in with wholly new design. A Boy and His Blob has the chops to please fans of the original, as well as a new audience of all ages that have never once thrown a jellybean into the mouth of a smiling white blob. My own expectations for the title are even higher now, and we’ll all see how things turn out this October.
Developer: WayForward Technologies
System: Nintendo Wii
Available: October 2009