Blokus Portable: Steambot Championship proves that neat ideas don't always make neat videogames. Originally a board game, the goal is to fill a grid with as many of your Tetris-style blocks as possible while forcing the other players to hold onto theirs. You do this by placing your shapes so that no edges run parallel to one another, but so there also are no whole gaps on the grid between them. The end result will usually look something like a cross between Scrabble and Tetris, if in that game you were required to have one tiny space between the corners of each piece.
The idea is sound, and in general so is the execution, but the depth is missing. Unfortunately, there's not much to the package once you've mastered the simple art of placing blocks. There are more advanced opponents, but seldom do they offer any real resistance. After playing five or six rounds, you'll likely clear the single-player mode and even unlock many of the available costumes and pictures. Then there's not much reason to play, except with friends.
Another problem in the single-player mode is that your opponents take too long to move. You might even think your game has frozen as the word "Thinking..." flashes along the bottom side of the screen. With every rival taking anywhere from 10 seconds to a minute to act, you'll find quite literally that you are watching the game more than you are playing it, all the while hoping that the computer-controlled opponent misses the chance to block your progress (as it so often does). Two-player matches progress more quickly, but also lack the intensity of the larger, four-person competitions.
A final point of interest is the use of the license. As you dismantle your opponents, they'll often comment on how their games are going or on some random topic like stringing a violin. These taunts are accompanied by familiar sketches of characters from the Steambot Chronicles (also known as Bumpy Trot) RPG games - which most players have probably never heard of. And even if you have, artwork and comments are both repeated too often. It's hard to decide whether they're actually annoying or just pointless. Either way, it's a connection that offers little of value even to fans.
The end result is a game you'll mostly just play online (if you can find anyone) or with up to four players locally (since only one copy of the UMD is required). That's nice, but if everyone's in the same room already, why wouldn't you play the board game instead?
Mar 6, 2008
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