Boom Blox is all Wii. You throw, drag, shoot and explode blocks by moving your arm in realistic moves that are reproduced on screen. This is not a game where you must learn clever button combinations to do cool things. Here you play by learning to aim well, throw hard, keep a steady hand, and be fast to recover to progress to the higher levels, just like in real sports. After the first day of play, I woke up the next morning with a sore throwing arm as if I’d pitched a game of softball. I played some more anyway. No pain, no gain.
There are different kinds of blox. There are blocks that look like the real ones used to build glass walls and blocks that look like wood. There are blocks that explode, that disappear, that even turn into fireworks. Mostly you throw or shoot at them and cause the pile to tumble. But sometimes you need opposite skills to ‘pull’ blocks out of the pile which requires a steady hand rather than a powerhouse arm. If you are not very careful, these virtual tinker toys fall over. I love that they fall the way I imagine they would on Mars or the Moon. Stuff has the serious solidity of heavy mass but it takes its time deciding whether or not to topple in a delightful suspension (forgive the pun) of outcome.
One aspect of the game play that can really be frustrating is that after you pan the camera to look around, you have to relocate your sight on the screen. In situations where you have unlimited time, this is no problem. But when the clock is ticking, it can be maddening to hurry to relocate your sight. One solution is to use the nunchuck for shifting POV. But it takes some getting used to as the screen moves in the opposite direction as you toggle: when you press it to the right, the screen pans left; when you press it forward, it goes down. But at least you are not having to point the remote off the screen to look around and stop the advancing meanies.
Playing starts out very easy. In Explore mode you learn skills in the six main styles of blox destruction. Pick a style and it takes you to a menu of 10-12 practice sessions. The early ones are easy enough for any kid or computer-phobic adult. Each one you finish unlocks the next level So it is a tutorial in all the ways of Blox. Along the way, certain skills unlock new tools for blox destruction (and then makes you practice with them). Plus some scores unlock new kinds of blox you can use when you construct your own challenge field in the Create mode.
The game in the beginning may be too abstract for some people. There is a sameness as you go through levels at first. But then the designers added odd elements that make playing weirdly more fun. For example, at some point, you not only have to knock over the point blocks without knocking over the negative blocks, you have to keep the little baby cow-blox standing at the very top. If they fall, you lose. Why do I care more when I have to worry about tipping over the baby cow than just tipping over the “minus” blocks? Both make me lose. Maybe it’s the pathetic sound they make as they fall. But do not worry about the littlest kiddies getting upset. The demise of the cows is a painless “poof!” and the round is over. Time to try again.
There is a Adventure mode that takes you through different landscapes. Sometimes it is just a silly setting to mix up the challenges and make them more interesting. But the spooky world with the kitten-blox is pure black humor. If you take too long destroying the evil monkey, vampire, ghost, and zombie-blox, they will kill your poor, sweet, helpless kitten-blox and you will lose.
Create mode is part of the latest new twist on gaming that allows you to design your own versions of a game. In Boom Blox you make pile of blox to destroy. Sounds simple. You can use the basic building blox plus all the bonus ones you’ve earned. In addition, Adventure mode has given you set pieces so that you can decorate your world with tiki huts or western saloons, graveyards or haystacks. Plus, you can then share your best puzzles to challenge others online via WiiConnect24.
In this way, Boom Blox challenge you to be a game designer, and it is a real challenge. That said, my first creations were a bit boring. Okay, a lot boring. But the great thing is that like the three-dimensional building games such as Tinker Toys, Erector Sets, and Legos, Boom Blox create mode play is infinite. And marvelously educational.
The overall design also makes some clever choices that cross age groups. When you start playing, you will be in a relentlessly cute world. But older players will quickly pick up on the acknowledged absurdity behind the oh-so-cuteness. The sounds that the blox animals make - the piteous meows of the hyper-adorable and helpless blox kittens being attacked by blox zombies, ghosts and grim reapers - are just a bit over the border of parody. Little kids will enjoy their cuteness and older players will chuckle at their too-cuteness. You get an idea of the tone from the video on the Boom Blox homepage website.
This balance of cute and comic is partly thanks to the collaboration of Steven Spielberg. He worked with EA Casual Entertainment to produce a game for the whole family.
EA Casual Entertainment
Rated E for Everyone
US MSRP - $49.99.