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Review: Tales From Space: About a Blob

Alien invasion never tasted this good.

Blobilicious

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.

The indie scene is nurturing inventiveness

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.

a simple premise

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.

later on the challenge really ramps up

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.

unconventional yet still accessible

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.

Pros:

  • Stylish, vibrant visuals
  • Clever, engaging gameplay
  • Different, fun, something for all ages

Cons:

  • Co-op can sometimes backfire
  • Relatively short
  • Progression is somewhat disjointed

Conclusion:

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.

Score: 8/10

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19 Comments
  1. redmik71
    Member
    Since: Dec 2008

    Sounds good, left this downloading last night. Will try tonight.
    After I try to beat Cid on FFXIII.

    Comment posted on 10/02/2011 at 15:02.
  2. asparagushunter
    Member
    Since: Jan 2011

    This will prob have to wait until I get paid this month, but it’s something to add to the list.

    Comment posted on 10/02/2011 at 15:04.
  3. Tuffcub
    On the naughty step.
    Since: Dec 2008

    I really liked the demo so I wil be buying soon.

    Comment posted on 10/02/2011 at 15:17.
  4. kivi95
    Member
    Since: Oct 2009

    I think the price is a little too much. Explodemon was on the right price or Stacking was a good price that too.

    Comment posted on 10/02/2011 at 15:24.
  5. DrNate86
    Member
    Since: Apr 2010

    How long is it? You say a few hours, what’s that, 3-4?

    Comment posted on 10/02/2011 at 15:47.
    • Kovacs
      Member
      Since: Dec 2009

      Definitely more than 3-4.

      I’d say you could race through it in about 6 but I traditionally take my time with games (especially when doing a review) so I think I spent more like 8 – 10 (not including co-op).

      Comment posted on 10/02/2011 at 15:54.
      • DrNate86
        Member
        Since: Apr 2010

        Cool, cheers!

        Comment posted on 10/02/2011 at 16:51.
      • bunimomike
        Member
        Since: Jul 2009

        So this lasts longer than Killzone 3, eh? Unbelievable! :-p

        Comment posted on 10/02/2011 at 20:57.
  6. Crazy_Del
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Great reveiw Kovacs. I’m sure I downloaded the trail last night, so will have a wee go but if it’s short like you said, then I may just have to wait for the price to drop down a bit. I’m buying Explodemon and got Stacking (free) these two will keep me entertained until then….

    Also to Dan, I played Nail’d demo yesterday, I didn’t like it. In fact it was terrible – Pure a game that is 3 years old (I think) is far better than Nail’d in everyway. But thanks for the reveiw as I was close to purchase the game.

    Comment posted on 10/02/2011 at 15:48.
    • Kovacs
      Member
      Since: Dec 2009

      Game length is a touchy subject.

      http://www.thesixthaxis.com/2011/02/09/game-length-why-the-moaning/

      £9.99/€12.99 for 6-10 hours? To me that’s acceptable, though I know some people will deploy some sort of voodoo math and come back with “£1.66 per hour? Rip-off!”

      Comment posted on 10/02/2011 at 15:57.
      • Crazy_Del
        Member
        Since: Jul 2009

        Yeah I read the article yesterday, but still you never know that when playing two new games that I mentioned above. In a month time Tales from Space: About a Blob could drop the price or on special offer on Easter. I’ll wait, but thanks Kovacs.

        Comment posted on 10/02/2011 at 16:12.
  7. hazelam
    Member
    Since: Feb 2009

    you know what the game really needs?
    a big level where you start out at the smallest size and then slowly keep absorbing stuff getting larger and larger until you reach the biggest size you can get in the game.

    start out with the pins and other small stuff and end up swallowing planets.

    that would be awesome.

    Comment posted on 10/02/2011 at 15:49.
    • hazelam
      Member
      Since: Feb 2009

      oh yeah, no puzzles, just eat the world. :)

      Comment posted on 10/02/2011 at 15:49.
    • Kovacs
      Member
      Since: Dec 2009

      You do get to absorb a helicopter at one point. A personal life-goal right there.

      Comment posted on 10/02/2011 at 15:55.
      • hazelam
        Member
        Since: Feb 2009

        most people would want to fly one, you it seems want to eat one. :)
        me, i’m good either way.

        Comment posted on 10/02/2011 at 16:08.
      • double-o-dave
        Member
        Since: Nov 2008

        You could do yourself a serious hernia or something absorbing a helicopter whilst the propeller blades are spinning… be careful dude!

        Comment posted on 10/02/2011 at 16:20.
  8. theberzerka
    Member
    Since: Dec 2009

    Bought this yesterday and it’s a great little game.

    Comment posted on 10/02/2011 at 16:21.
  9. TSBonyman
    Member
    Since: Dec 2009

    Great review, i tried the demo and enjoyed it but was a little put off by the price. I might wait a bit longer but i’ll definitely pick this one up in the near future.

    Comment posted on 10/02/2011 at 16:57.
  10. Carl
    Member
    Since: Jan 2009

    Really enjoyed this game. Especially the later levels where you become absolutely huge and unstoppable. Brilliant game, great fun. Glad i bought it

    Comment posted on 11/02/2011 at 00:52.

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