The lights are on
One of this year's indie breakout games in DrinkBox Studios' Guacamelee, which is one of the best reviewed games of the year. However, don't sleep on the studio's first game, Tales From Space: About a Blob, an inventive platformer.
DrinkBox was formed as an indie studio by some veterans of the now-closed Pseudo Interactive in Toronto, and other members of the staff come from companies like Rockstar and Silicon Knights. This experience meant that - although About a Blob was the studio's first release - it had a level of polish that you'd associate with a more experienced company.
About a Blob, like many great indie titles of recent years, took inspiration from the classic era of 2D platformers -- but it wasn't content to just be another carbon copy. From the visuals to the gameplay, the game has a unique personality.
The thing that really grabs me about About a Blob is its ability to put new spins on familiar gameplay formulas. The titular blob has the ability to absorb items in the environment -- starting with small household objects like paper clips, etc. but soon - in an explicit nod to Katamacy Damacy - engulfing large tanks and towers. Our blob can also spit out these items as projectile attacks -- recalling past Kirby titles.
It's often hard for me to articulate what makes a great platformer great. Perhaps more than in any other genre, save fighting games, it's about the feel. About a Blob doesn't have the most traditional controls; his gelatinous nature means he tends to feel a bit floaty and inexact in comparison to a classic Mario game, but it works somehow. This feel, coupled with the fact the game is constantly layering on new gameplay mechanics like repelling and attracting to magnetic objects in the world or asborbing electricity to use to operate mechanical switches in the environment, makes it game that will hold your interest and constantly surprise you throughout the few hours it takes to beat it.
I also love how the game lightly tweaks classic pulp '50s sci-fi tropes - in this case, you're encouraged to identify with the alien "invader" (really a victim of circumstance) and fight humankind to survive. While this is all delivered in a very light, funny manner, it's still a great concept, and enhanced by changes in scale that occur when the blob becomes large and capable of engulfing building and vehicles. Sure, this is pretty much stolen wholesale from Katamary Damacy, but, as they say, "Talent borrows, genius steals."
Tales from Space didn't get a lot of attention when it first released - and also had the unfortunate luck of having the legendary PSN hacking outage happen in its first few months on the market. However, it did do well enough to spawn a sequel, Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, which is also of high quality. It's easy to see the talent in DrinkBox Studios, a talent which will likely land Guacamelee high on many people's best-of list at the end of the year. If you've finished that game, take a few hours and go back to this gem of a game.