For every gamer despondent at the lack of originality perpetually emanating from the corporate cookie-cutting studio machine; big publishers churning out carbon-copies of insipid mirror-content their closest rivals have already milked to digital death, you only have to look at the burgeoning digital distribution scene to regain some hope for the medium’s greater salvation.
Hothead’s DeathSpank; the evergreen and consistent PixelJunk series, now joined by the likes of Double Fine’s duo of Costume Quest and Stacking, not forgetting Curve’s retro love-song Explodemon!, it’s an arena that is naturally flourishing; creative minds discovering new gears in a play-pen continuously fortified with ever-evolving tech-toys. Unlike some of their older, stuffier siblings, it seems, labourers who use this arcane, future-tech merely to keep up with the norm, the indie scene is unquestionably nurturing inventiveness, plebeians in terms of gaming’s broad echelon yet artisans who are managing to inject a playfulness into their titles arguably somewhat missing from many of their pricier, higher-profile counterparts.
Tales From Space: About a Blob is a fitting addition to this new surge of fun, pick-up-and-play, download-only titles. Hailing from DrinkBox Studios, the Toronto based outfit’s inaugural offering proffers a simple premise – an extraterrestrial amorphous absorbing blob ensnared by a nefarious scientist who, after a failed assault on Earth, must grow and surmount increasingly complex environments – supported by clean visuals, clever gameplay and a playful deference to the dodgy – yet beloved – 1950s sci-fi genre.
It’s this fusion of quirky aesthetics, crafted areas, and a learning curve pitched to perfection that proves the future is digital; the PSN a breeding ground for talented folk to try new things and, quite often, excel.
Players control the gelatinous globule as he traverses a multitude of varied locations, figuring out how to pass natural barriers while consuming as much detritus as possible. Replayability is high, with each level replete with hard to reach collectibles and a set number of smaller fellow blobs to find and rescue. Shades of Q Games’ seminal PixelJunk Shooter, as the camera stays focused on ole blobby, with areas unfolding through natural trial and error and exploration.
Armed with an array of moves, the main objective is for Blob to grow in size and ultimately make his way toward the stage’s end-goal. Some items can’t be initially assimilated due to their relative size, requiring Blob to engorge on smaller items before returning for another bite at the larger junk-flavoured cherry so to speak. Imbibing dice, billiard balls, wood, bricks and everything else at hand is one thing, but it’s the well-designed levels that require Blob to unleash his other weaponry from a bulging armoury to circumvent the obstacles in his path that showcase the designers’ acumen. Regurgitating whatever last consumed, Blob can spit content in any direction; handy for triggering buttons, weighing down levers, and as a rudimentary form of combat. Hocking ticking explosives at destructible blockades, however, is a time-sensitive death-defying balancing act.
A slow-burner, About a Blob takes some time to expose its bewitching charms. It’s a testament to the insightfulness of the designers at DrinkBox – a motley crew of industry luminaries who have worked at such studios as Pseudo Interactive, Silicon Knights and Rockstar Toronto – however, as players are slowly immersed in the game-world mechanics while gradually introduced to the main character’s eclectic array of abilities. It’s only later on during the latter half of the game that the challenge really ramps up, with Blob evolving and manifesting electric and magnetic powers in order to compete against tricky levels that will test the most adept of platforming mavens.
Squishing in and out of aqueducts, shuddering slightly as an ostensibly over-sized nugget is absorbed into Blob’s nebulous mass, the protagonist exudes a surprising amount of character for a mute, gelatin-like globoid. Coupled with the game’s theme of quirky mad scientist experimentation and more than a subtle doff of the hat toward retro monster science-fiction, About a Blob still manages to own its own identity. It’s fresh, despite the slivers of other recognisable games marbling through its meticulously applied make-up, resulting in a genuinely pleasant game to spend a few hours with.
With elements of Loco Roco, Katamary and the aforementioned Shooter, About a Blob would seemingly already have a built-in audience. That said, the game is paradoxically both offbeat yet at times – considering the majority of the tasks involve switching levers and surmounting pit-falls – generic in its design. Not a critique per se, as it does mean About a Blob is unconventional yet still accessible.
Such a well-wrought game is slightly let down by the feeling that the creators have tried to infuse too much into the core premise. Co-op is a welcome addition, though its inclusion will irate the more competent of the two players as the other fails to bounce off the correct partition or endlessly tumbles to their hundredth untimely death. The lack of any speech in the game is also unfortunate, as though the artists have done wonders with the tailored animated transition scenes – a technique that has become a staple feature of digital titles that sport similar budgetary constraints – some over-the-top voice-work would have been a welcome addition.
Finally, though Blob can grow to a prodigious size in some later levels, often he’s reduced back down to his original diminutive demeanour when starting a follow-on level. An understandable constraint perhaps, but this design trait does depict About a Blob’s levels as separate challenges rather than supporting a consecutive, underlying thread. Not a massive problem, but such a set up does stifle a sense of what accomplishment had been achieved.
- Stylish, vibrant visuals
- Clever, engaging gameplay
- Different, fun, something for all ages
- Co-op can sometimes backfire
- Relatively short
- Progression is somewhat disjointed
Proving new, inventive ideas are still ripe on the vine, especially fruitful in the indie scene, Tales From Space: About a Blob is a full-fat platforming puzzler that will warm the hearts of fans who gravitate toward infectious, challenging – if a mite repetitive – gameplay. It’s far from perfect; a pedestrian beginning punctuated with later levels that sometimes lack a bit of oomph, but for the price of admission it’s delightfully beguiling and should give those who enjoy a frivolous romp through varied environs a few hours of carefree enjoyment.
The marque “Tales From Space” suggests About a Blob may be joined by other finely-tuned morsels of sub-culture referencing digital delights in the near future. If DrinkBox’s sophomore effort is as refined and enjoyable as this, their first foray into the download domain, as a studio they could be one to watch.