Canada, to me, seems distant. Not distant in the way that English folk think of Scotland (do we need a passport, Barbara?) but like, really distant. I’ve seen it on Northern Exposure though and it looks delightful, full of open vastness and dashingly attractive radio hosts. Oh, and Drinkbox, who have made a game on the Vita that you probably haven’t bought yet. It’s called Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack and it’s about a fiver.
Fix that quickly, won’t you please, and come right back?
Now, I’ve always had an affinity for indie projects – ever since the ultimate indie studio (my Dad) made a game (typed one in) on the humble 48k ZX Spectrum. And like most indie studios, my Dad didn’t really make much money from the game (I think it was a clone of Hunchback) and it went ignored once the big hitter of the day – Manic Miner Black Ops 1982 – appeared on a shiny new cassette. I did say thanks, though, which at least counts for something.[drop2]Drinkbox’s latest, then, is very much an indie title, if such a label still counts for anything. Available purely from the Vita’s PSN Store, the game’s small and inexpensive, and follows on nicely from the first Blob game released (on PS3) twelve months ago. It’s been well received, with some great reviews and is currently sitting with 84% on Metacritic. That’s higher than Uncharted, WipEout and FIFA. In fact, it’s in third place, with just Rayman and Lumines ahead.
But will it sell anything like those games? Probably not, but the critical acclaim, if you think about it, is worthy of discussion. This is a game from a tiny studio normally associated with doing work for others, one formed from the ashes of doomed Full Auto developers Pseudo Interactive.
And yet, without a massive budget or fanfare, the game’s rated as one of the best on the system and just sits there on the Store unassumingly. I’ve been playing it a fair bit recently, the simple blend of puzzling and platforming a perfect fit for the portable – the level design’s mostly pretty solid, there’s a smooth challenge curve and the graphics, although 2D and cartoon-like, are slick, detailed and full of character. It controls nicely too, with some touch screen elements adding to the cerebral stuff whilst new mechanics like magnetism are gently factored in to the main game.
I spoke with Drinkbox’s Chris McQuinn on the promise that this article would be award winning and as a result he’d be famous. Chances are only me and my Dad will read it, but hey, at least I’m ambitious. “Putting out a title on the PS3 was a monstrous learning curve, particular in marketing,” said Chris, reflectively, referring to the previous game. “You learn very quickly it’s one thing to create a great game, it’s quite another to have the community find out about it. Getting attention is really tough for a studio that is putting out a title for the first time, real tough.”
“From a development point of view you learn the importance of getting people outside the studio IN the studio to play early builds of the game. Earlier the better.”[drop]And the Vita, then? “The transition from developing on the PS3 to developing on the Vita was really smooth,” he said to me. “There are some really great tech guys at the studio. The real challenge was reaching launch. Nothing is tougher than to cut a feature that you love in order to have a game that is ready for launch AND of GREAT quality. There is this constant balancing act of between scope and quality.”
The game itself plays a bit like a hungry, self deprecating version of Katamari. Instead of rolling around a big sticky ball, though, you exact your revenge on humanity’s probing and poking by – well – eating everything. The titular blob starts off small but quickly increases in size as the levels come and go, presenting unique locations and puzzles along the way, all the while the nicely pitched humour (hi, GameBro console and various meme references) providing some genuine belly laughs here and there.
There’s a slight scaling issue (it’s the world around you that gets smaller, really) but at least there’s no massive slowdown like in Namco’s title.
The crucial matter is, though, that Mutant Blob is available at a bargain price, something that was “very important” for Drinkbox. “For us it’s all about reaching the end of a game, and saying “hellz ya, that was totally woth X amount of dollars”,” said the excitable Canadian. “If the player feels that the game was worth MORE than what they paid for, then all the better. When a player buys your game, there is a relationship there based on trust, that your game will be worth what they’re paying. That’s all too often overlooked.”
Oh, and Northern Exposure? Apparently Canada’s even better than it looks on TV. “Most of us just live in log cabins eating maple syrup sandwiches,” said Chris.