The story behind this struck us as a tad unlikely - the game Steven Spielberg always wanted to play with his family? Wasn’t he a bit busy with some movie when it was being made? But however it came about, Boom Blox is far better than it has any right to be. While we’d normally file celebrity-endorsed casual games alongside the likes of Carol Vorderman’s Sudoku, this is in a different league. It’s brilliant!
Boom Blox presents you with a tower of bricks that you’ve got to knock over by lobbing balls at it. That’s the basic premise, anyway. But there’s usually more than one tower and the towers have crystal blocks embedded in them - and you’ve got a limited number of throws to set up a chain reaction that brings them all crashing down together, scattering the gems on the floor.
Then it starts getting more complicated. The towers give way to elaborate mechanisms, with green chemical blocks - which explode when knocked into one another - as the key to collapsing the whole thing. Purple blocks vanish when they’re hit and red ones explode instantly. All three types may be hidden within the contraption, and the fewer balls you use to discover the weak point, the better your final rating.
The game’s impressive physics makes the blocks bounce off one another and tumble to the ground with convincing realism. It’s possible to set up long-range shots where you send one brick bouncing into another, some distance away, and getting it to work is a matter of pure skill. The only unpredictable part is when you have to guess the power of your throw - the harder you lob the remote, the further the ball will go. It’s tough to get consistently right.
If all that demolition work starts to make your elbow hurt, there are other, more subtle game variants. One of them is a bit like Jenga - you grab blocks within the stack and try to pull all the points-scoring ones out, leaving the penalty blocks standing. Sometimes there’s a platform on top of the stack with a little animal cowering on it. In these levels you must remove as many blocks as you can, taking care not to let the poor creature fall to its death. The block you grab hold of remains loosely attracted to your hand and you can swing it like a wrecking ball if frustration gets the better of you.
Other levels are more like Lemmings. You have to solve a puzzle of tightly interwoven blocks to clear a path for an animal, sliding platforms under its feet so that it doesn’t fall off the edge. Little people stand around and cheer while you work and, yes, you can pick them up and chuck them around as well. If it’s in the game, then it’s got the physics and it’ll bounce. Most gratifying.
There are also some assault levels in Boom Blox that work more like a normal videogame. You have friendly characters protecting gems in the middle of the screen, while enemies pop out of holes around the edge and try to steal the booty. Chuck bombs to set off traps and foil the bad guys. We weren’t so keen on these - the pressure of the implied time limit and a control problem meant we kept triggering the bombs in mid-air, before they reached their targets.
But those bits are just a small part of the 300+ levels in the game, and if there’s one little thing that’s preventing you from enjoying a particular scene, you can press the plus button and change it all in the Create mode. Don’t like the bombs? Swap them for bowling balls or a gun or a hosepipe, then share your remixed version with friends on Wi-Fi. Boom Blox is an ideal Wii game. It’s a box of toys you can throw around without a care in the world. It’s incredibly addictive, beautifully designed and if this is the kind of quality we can expect from EA’s Spielberg collaboration, we can’t wait to see what happens next.
May 6, 2008