So I opened the box and BOOM... I was having fun. Ok, maybe it wasn't quite that instantaneous. I still had to put the disk into the Wii. I started off easy on the training levels, and quickly moved to passing the Wiimote around, laughing, and enjoying the multiplayer modes. Before I knew it, it was four hours later.
Sound like a great game? Perhaps. Sound like an A+ game? Even upon initial impressions, Boom Blox is no A+ game.
I remember a quote that went something like... "physics based indie games are the new first person shooter mods. Everyone can do it, and they're not that impressive. You sort of code the physics and watch the game play itself." Boom Blox, being a physics based puzzle game, falls in this category.
The 4 biggest problems with Boom Blox so far are...
- The camera controls in Boom Blox is are some of the best 3D camera controls I've encountered. Using the Wiimote pointer and B button to drag the camera around is direct, intuitive, individual, and dynamic as far as controlling a camera can be.
- Unfortunately the core of the game uses the camera to aim.
- Because the camera rotates around on fixed ring instead of around the unique contours of the level, aiming at individual points can become very difficult by making distances hard to judge.
- The 3D levels can easily obscure view of the interior areas.
- I think there are three throw speeds, and that the Wiimote sends the data from the accelerometers when the A button is released. Perhaps if the game factored in the recent history of accelerometer data like in Drebin#1#2 or Wii Sports, the controls would be tighter.
- The shooting gallery Wiimote pointer controls are a little sticky. I think this happens because the aiming reticule is locked for the short period of time when you press the A button to fire. So moving quickly from target to target can create a disconnect between the pointing the player is doing in actual space versus what the game shows.
The Havok Physics
- Because all the puzzles are physics based, the all too familiar form of block towers/formations creates unique challenges based off a few rules that we have been internalizing since birth.
- Unfortunately, because the goals are reached through "open ended" physics reactions, there is a significant amount of random "error" or seemingly random results even when trying to reuse the same winning strategy.
The Primary Mechanic "Aim and Topple"
- Pulling is a very interesting mechanic that involves the most interplay out of all the primary Boom Blox mechanics. Pulling a blox directly affects the blocks around it. If things start to get out of control, you can pull a block in such a way as to correct the balance of the blocks around it. Aside from complications due to how the pull controls are calibrated relative to the camera angle, the pull mechanic is direct, fairly intuitive, and dynamic.
- The throwing and shooting mechanics can start chain reactions. However, these mechanics are singular and work one at a time. The design doesn't leave a lot of opportunity for interplay. And even in the cases where interplay exists between multiple throws, working with the camera, aiming, and throwing can complicate the execution.
Nick Suttner's review of Boom Blox is filled with bold unsupported statements. If you can't play Boom Blox for yourself, then at least read the review before moving on.
Here's what stuck out for me...
- [Boom Blox is] definitely the best use of the Wii yet
- Boom Blox employs dozens of different variants...It adds up to an impressive variety in terms of the goals, the actions required to complete them, the properties of the blocks themselves, and the sheer volume of levels.
- the motion controls are subtle, responsive, and impeccably precise...The angle of each throw is dictated by where you place the cursor after positioning the camera, and the speed of your throw is reflected quite accurately using the Wiimote's accelerometer (generally falling into one of three speeds)....but it so squarely nails every movement that you can forget about the controls and simply enjoy the experience.
- but gamers rarely get to impose such immediate and complete control over the environments they interact with.
- It's incredibly satisfying...and, unlike firing a weapon or driving a car, it's something that all players -- no matter how casual -- can enjoy without having to fully understand their visual relationship to it.
- Boom Blox is simply a laundry list of great features and options wrapped around an incredibly fun, expertly designed, and well-tuned puzzle game.
- It's a casual game made for a casual crowd
The words in bold are the examples that most clearly apply to the guidelines I covered in How To Write A Critical Video Game Review. Boom Blox definitely has some charm, but for the single player experience, that charm has worn off. All the variety and creativity has fallen apart because of the game's heavy reliance on physics and mechanics with little interplay that require analyzing targets in 3D space and wrestling with a 3D camera.
As a critical-gamer I don't believe in hardcore or casual game design. There is only good and bad design, and Boom Blox falls somewhere in the middle.
In the end, if a reviewer can't clearly explain why a game is good enough to warrant a high score, then chances are the game isn't good enough.