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Boom Blox Review

By Brian Malkowski, 6/2/2008

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Boom Blox is one of those games that has been getting some good word-of-mouth buzz and I couldnít figure out why. I looked at the screenshots online. I went to the store and looked at box. I saw nothing more than Jenga clone with a couple other random party games thrown on top. Oh, and EA's marketing division had slapped on Steven Spielberg's name to the title to sell a few more copies.

Needless to say, It wasnít winning me over. However, Iím not one to resist peer pressure. So I drove over to the store, picked up a copy, gave a sigh, and, against better judgement, handed my $50 over the cashier. After a couple weeks of playing, I felt compelled to write this review.

Obviously, Boom Blox is more than a Jenga-clone, but thatís not a bad starting point when describing the game. Almost every level consists of several blocks precariously balanced atop one another. The goal often involves knocking the blocks down. Sometimes you want to knock them all down. Sometimes you want to knock all but one down. It all depends on the type of level and the type of blocks in the level.

For example, the first few levels youíll start playing have gem blocks stacked on top of normal blocks. Youíre given baseballs to knock the gems onto the ground by either hitting them directly or, more likely, knocking the normal blocks out of the way so the stacks of blocks topple. Using your Wiimote first as a pointer, you aim at the spot you want to throw towards. Then with a flick of your wrist, you launch the ball and blocks go flying. It ends up being a perfect use for the Wiimote. It takes away the game-ness of fluctuating strength meters and replaces it with a more tactile sense of throwing. A quick flick of your wrist and the ball darts toward your target. Tone down your wrist speed and the ball is lobbed. It works and feels great.

Beyond throwing a baseball, the game pitches (yes, pun intended) a few other ball types at you like a bowling ball and bombs. Further, thereís more than throwing involved. In a more traditional Jenga-like manner, you can grab a block and move it around. This isnít quite as smooth as throwing with the Wiimote. I had a little trouble getting the right amount of finesse necessary for some of the levels. I wanted to just nudge a block out of the stack every so slightly, but sometimes the block just does its own thing.

So, I had been playing the game for a couple days and things were going well for me. I had gotten into some fun levels where instead of just worrying about knocking the blocks down, I had got to move blocks out of the way fast enough for a mother gorilla to find her way to her kids in time (the game may have Spielbergís name on it, but the stories in adventure mode are not epic cinema). I also had played a few levels where I got to defend a castle from invaders who are out to steal my gem blocks. Again, good fun and some nice variations to break up the pace a bit.

But then I got to the shooting galleries. Iím not sure where they had come from. Nothing in the game had prepared me for them and they felt out of place in a game that places so much emphasis on the physics of blocks toppling, exploding, and flying into each other. Instead of that controlled chaos, I got to watch blocks fly across a static screen and shoot them as best as I can. These levels werenít horrible and they are in the minority, but they were certainly a weaker part of the game.

The singleplayer portion was fun, but I really wanted to dive into the multiplayer aspects of it. Disappointingly, thereís no online play. With a bit of prodding, I convinced my wife to give it a shot.

Naturally, we started with the competitive modes. Thereís four broad categories: grab, throw, shoot, and attack. Each category has at least a couple specific modes. The shooting category has a straight-up shooting gallery and a mode where you try to shoot blocks over to your opponents side of the screen. The game has plenty of variety to please and displease just about everybody. My wife absolutely hated the castle attack modes, but I didnít really mind them. We both enjoyed the Jenga-like levels which feel a lot like the real deal. You sit there pondering what block you could possibly move because the other player just completely screwed you over. Overall, you and your group of friends should be able to find something to play and have a good time.

The cooperative modes arenít nearly as fun as the competitive ones. First, just like in the singleplayer mode, but unlike the competitive mode, you have to unlock everything but the first mode and level. My wife and I just wanted to play the modes we enjoyed. We didnít want to be forced to play through several levels of a type that we didnít like just so that we could open up other new, but unknown, modes. Itís an old argument. I paid $50 for the game, let me play everything in the game. I shouldnít need to become a catass to get the full experience.

Needless to say, we didnít unlock all the cooperative modes. We got through the shooting galleries. We started to play a cooperative version of Jenga. That got boring fast. We stopped and went back to the competitive modes. There could be a hidden gem within the cooperative modes that we missed out on, but weíll probably never know.

Both multiplayer modes did bring to light an annoying issue with the shooting galleries. Framerate was rarely an issue in the singleplayer shooting games, but with more one person blasting at blocks in the multiplayer games, Boom Blox suffered serious slowdowns. The game speed dropped by at least 50% as several blocks exploded into a mass of particles. Itís disconcerting to see such a performance hit in a console game.

One aspect of the game that held little interest to me was the ďCreate ModeĒ. Itís a level editor for the game so that you can design your own puzzles from scratch or mess around and edit any of the in-game levels. Thatís not my forte, but I figured the game would at least let you publish and browse user-created levels online. Turns out you canít. Levels can only be sent to your Wii Friends. Donít have any Wii Friends with Boom Blox that are gifted puzzle designers? Too bad. Itís a shame too. Boom Blox was so close to having near-infinite replay value.

Boom Blox is a fun game. Itís probably one of the better Wii games out there right now for gaming parties with your casual-gaming friends. The problem, for me, is that itís not $50 fun. Toss in online level-browsing, fix some of the slowdowns, and give us an unlocked cooperative game and it would be an awesome game. The reality is that itís still an enjoyable experience, if a bit pricey.

Overall: 80%



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