Boom Blox Bash Party
When Steven Spielberg first announced that he would be overseeing production of several new videogames, in partnership with EA, many would be forgiven for expecting some high-concept epic full of sentimentalism, annoying child actors, rubbish endings and lots of dinosaurs. Instead 2008’s Boom Blox was that most wonderful of things: a title that completely defied our expectations of what a game with Spielberg as creative director would be, and one that leaped to the front of the Wii’s game library.
It was a classic example of what could be achieved when the Wii’s motion control is applied with subtlety and restraint – and it could only have appeared on Nintendo’s console. The sequel, Bash Party, carries on in largely the same vein. Spielberg’s one nod to Hollywood, and the golden rule of sequels, is that everything that made the original such a joy has been expanded, tweaked and generally improved (er, not that this helped with the last Indiana Jones, though Jurassic Park 2 was amazing). The concept remains intact: completing a series of 3D puzzles, each of which has a unique objective and medal tally; as the tutorial to Bash Party so succinctly puts it: “Throw, grab and sling at towers of toppling Blox!”
It’s both baffling and easy to see why Bash Party failed to even dent the UK Top 40 chart. The aesthetics are never more than perfunctory, the flat-faced animal characters and Casio keyboard-esque music only exhibiting the smallest traces of a personality (for example, locking onto one of the monkeys as a target will cause them to put their head in their hands). Visually it’s also a long way from the effort expended on similar games such as Ubisoft’s Rayman Rabbids series.
But all this is quite irrelevant when the core experience is as good as it is here. Though the gameplay is as simple as described earlier (you throw things and blocks fall), it’s underpinned by a physics model that, in execution and realism, is close to perfect. What this does is remove any blame that could have been placed on the shoulders of the game design; the only frustration comes with your inability to work out the sweetest spot to throw the bowling ball/cannonball/slingshot. You can play safe in the knowledge that blocks will fall how they are meant to, and towers will crumble realistically. Often columns will teeter on the brink, an unexpectedly tense gaming moment when a gold medal depends on their collapse.
If these physics are one half of the formula for Bash Party’s success, then the responsiveness and implementation of the Wii controls is the other. Whilst the mechanic of throwing and grabbing is as expected (and still as intuitive as the first time you threw a baseball in Wii Sports), it’s the finer details that truly lift the game. Bash Party recognises the angle at which the object is thrown, as well as its speed. When coupled with the ability to swivel around the puzzle by holding down B – akin to a snooker player stalking the edges of a table for the best shot – it makes for gaming that works at both a patient, considered pace and one that is more frantic. Overall it’s just simply a great use of 3D space.
The most significant addition to Bash Party is the enhanced downloadable content, with extra levels already available from both EA and fellow users. In a nice touch you can now dip into the download section via any level menu, whilst the level editor itself is similarly easy to use (the further you play in the single-player the more tools and items you get). It’s a system that makes a mockery of the Wii’s otherwise fiddly online system, and another notch that adds innumerable hours to a game that, even based on multiplayer alone, could keep you going until the crazy Winter season of games.
Bash Party isn’t a huge leap from the previous game, but then it really didn’t need to be. In fact it’s hard to see where Spielberg and co could take the concept from here, especially as EA have apparently promised that the amount of extra levels set for release as downloads will eventually match the 400-odd(!) already here. Even a MotionPlus-compatible build wouldn’t add much, such is the accuracy and fluency of the system already in place. With this and Little King’s Story, the Wii is now the proud home of two of the most joyous, unique games of 2009.
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