Tales from Space: About a Blob
Digital outlets like PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade have opened the floodgates to a host of talented independent video game studios. Count DrinkBox Studios among the new vanguard of indies that are doing some exceptional work in this emerging market. Unlike the independent studios staffed by overachieving rookies, DrinkBox is made up of veterans who have worked at companies like Rockstar, Silicon Knights, and Pseudo Interactive. This experience shows in the company’s first original title, Tales from Space: About a Blob.
About a Blob stars – you guessed it – a colorful amorphous alien that falls to Earth. Of course, the little guy is pretty hungry, and quickly eats every object he can fit in his gut. As in Katamari Damacy, your blob grows as he eats, and some parts of the levels will only open up when your reach a certain circumference. Like Kirby, you can also expel the things you’ve absorbed, using them as projectiles that you aim with the right analog stick. As you become larger, you absorb the helicopters and tanks that once had you running for your life. Unfortunately, you start each stage by being small again (save for a few levels late in the game), which deflates the sense of accomplishment.
About a Blob provides that same sense of scale and satisfaction that Katamari did, but offers far more than that series’ simplistic mechanics. This is a polished and often challenging platformer. Nicely balanced between tricky jumping sequences, clever action puzzles, and the aforementioned combat, the game continues to open up, layering on new mechanics and design tropes. The best of these come about halfway through, when you open up your blob’s magnetic and electrical abilities, which allow you to attract and repel from magnetic surfaces or absorb and dispense electricity. Magnetism is beautifully incorporated into the platforming, forcing you to use it as a super-jump ability of sorts. In more challenging sequences, you’ll be maniacally switching polarity to navigate the treacherous levels. Electricity is used primarily for switch puzzles, as you manipulate various mechanical objects in the environment.
The game’s co-op mode, while a welcome feature, is a bit of a mixed bag. In some situations – particularly the switch puzzle segments – it’s useful to have a friend in tow. However, in the more pure platforming segments, things get a bit too hectic with two blobs bouncing off the walls. It’s an enjoyable game to share with a friend and never reaches the frustrating chaos of New Super Mario Bros. Wii’s muddled co-op, but I strongly preferred solo play.
I hate to keep using the word “polish,” but it’s simply the word that best describes About a Blob. Though it’s all too brief, the game continually evolves over the course of the five or six hours you’ll spend with it. While it’s difficult at points, I was never frustrated or felt like I was dying because of a flaw in the level design. It’s got an engaging (and often hilarious) art style and makes the most of its simple, static cutscenes and paper-thin plot. In addition, the few boss battles you encounter are great riffs on old-school game design. Pulling off both nostalgic and fresh is hard, but that’s exactly what About a Blob does. My biggest complaint? I wish it didn’t end so soon, which speaks well of its quality.
DrinkBox Studios hits PlayStation Network with a polished and beguiling platformer