When buildings collapse!
Here’s one that couldn’t sound worse ‘on paper’, as they say. “It’s, you know—like the old wooden blocks kids used to play with? Like, before television? And you start the game off with ‘em stacked up, and then you kind of throw things at them… and knock them down, you know…”
And for the most part, that is indeed how Boom Blox has you spending most of your time. And it rocks.
[image1]The gaming interface is at its most simple and child-like: Make a throwing-motion with the Wii-mote toward the screen, overhand or underhand, and you’ll pitch a projectile of some description (baseball, bowling ball, etc.) directly ‘into’ the game world, with the aim of chipping away at (or entirely toppling) various structures made of virtual wooden building-blocks. Either that, or you’ll use the Wii-mote to grab and remove individual blocks from their larger structures, Jenga-style. One way or another, the blocks that you free from the main structure will translate to a cascade of points once they hit the ground.
Whether you’re gently pulling key blocks clear, or hauling off and Randy Johnson-ing the damned things out of the main pile with the violent hurling of some virtual projectile, individual target blocks have different values. The blocks worth 20 or 50 points (as opposed to 1, 5 or 10) will be more massive, more strategically/securely wedged into the initial structure, or both. Either way, it means they’re harder to move
It sounds pretty brainless in text, but it quickly becomes a tactical challenge that is—in its own "Hulk, SMASH!" kind of way—easily as deep, vicious, and ego-driven as any turn-based game such as Advance Wars or even Worms. There’s the same kind of defensive, deny-the-enemy-the-first-strike maneuvering here that you’ll find in a tactical game of billiards—and the same kind of frustration, too.
Your inner, primitive, lizard-crawling, spear-chucking, cavewoman-clubbing grunt-brain wants to simply haul off and bash tottering towers of virtual Blox as hard as you can, with the first rock you can find. But you don’t want to be the guy who sets up the next player for that one crucial shot that brings the whole pile crashing down for a downpour of points and not for you. So therefore, you chip carefully away at the loose blocks at the edges and fringes, until the greater stack starts to wobble and sag enough for a single triumphant blast to send it crumbling to the ground.
[image2]In addition to the base attractions of high-versus-low-scoring blocks (and the temptation of going for a single, crippling impact that will bring a whole tower down), there are the temptations of hitting certain key blocks with special properties. Explosive blocks are just what they sound like, and if you get a clear hit on one, they’ll detonate, throwing point-scoring blocks every which way for lots of points. ‘Ghost’ blocks—the dramatic opposite of Explosives—will simply disappear without a fuss, allowing any normal blocks that were balanced upon them to fall freely. Chemical blocks won’t do anything special by themselves—but will react violently when they come into contact with other chemical blocks. As you can probably imagine, it’s possible to set in motion massive B-follows-A chain reactions that can end up taking down an entire level in just a few lucky—or extraordinarily skilled—shots.
Players (up to four) alternate turns, chipping away at the structures in question until every last target block has been hit. However, the game’s point-split is often hopelessly decided long before those final dreg-blocks are finally knocked down.
The range of challenge types also includes playfields where players must strike and propel blocks into landing zones of given multipliers (adding another layer of difficulty); ‘Castle-seige’ multiplayer games in which each combatant must penetrate his opponents’ walls and take out a special gem block with a certain number of throws; shooting-gallery segments and ‘escort’ missions in which players must protect the procession of blocky non-player characters through given levels (these two are easily the low points in an otherwise fascinating game); and full level-editors, wherein players are free to design the most over-elaborate, Rube Goldbergian mousestrap-style contraptions they can.
[image3]Alas, there’s a frankly weak attempt at a story mode, blown mostly by its relentless determination to be both Cute and Kid Safe beyond a reasonable doubt. Yes, I know, it’s a Steven Spielberg game, and it’s supposed to be kiddy and cutesy. As a semi-permanent resident of all the American and Japanese Disney parks, a card-carrying penguin-phile, former ‘penguin recorder’ for the San Francisco Zoo, and an ardent admirer of all things cute, immature and cartoonish, I still say the story mode is weak. Smile Slimes are Cute; Toy Story is Kid-Safe; this story mode is just… limp. Good thing the core gameplay rocks so hard—Boom Blox is, plain and simple, a great, fun game that’s about as innocent as they come, suitable for (as they say) kids of all ages.
Finally, that being said: It’s also a terrific drinking game. Just remember to use that Wii-mote strap, before you accidentally knuckle-ball your unrestrained and quite-real controller—rather than an imaginary, massless bowling-ball—straight ‘into’ the candy-colored Boom Blox world residing just beyond your thousand-dollar flat-screen TV. Trust me on this one.