Here comes the Boom.
It wasn’t much of a stretch, but it was a surprise when we all heard a couple years back that Steven Spielberg would be designing videogames in conjunction with EA. His first, Boom Blox for the Wii (released last year), was well-received by the press, hailed fairly unanimously as a fresh experience for Wii-mote wielders everywhere and praised for its unanticipated depth. At its simplest, the game had us grabbing a wide variety of objects and hurling balls at elaborate block structures in an effort to knock as many of them over as possible. But the true strength of the package was its surprising diversity; myriad variations on the basic premise provided for a fresh gameplay experience around every corner. It seemed certain that the developers had addressed nearly every possible permutation.
It might be shocking, then, to hear that Bash Party is even better than the original. Not only does it feature more variety, but it improves upon the original formula and streamlines the gameplay surprisingly effectively (in most ways). There are now even more objects to wield, more environmental factors to behold (such as the gravitational abyss of outer space and the dense fluidity of the ocean floor), and more play modes and puzzles to conquer—not to mention vastly expanded online functionality. Essentially, forgiving some minor hang-ups, this is an evolution of the Boom Blox formula in the most logical fashion. And if that isn’t enough of an endorsement already, keep reading.
The basic premise
The whole idea of Boom Blox to begin with was to provide an experience which is intuitive and accessible to everyone, deep enough to appeal to core gamers, and rich with fun. The first game succeeded in all of these aspects thanks to the aforementioned variations on a simple foundational Jenga-like gameplay idea. Bash Party expands upon that concept and while throwing more of everything into the mix, improving the level creator, and fusing online elements seamlessly with the rest of the experience (which is, needless to say, a huge addition). There are now over 400 levels in all—not including downloadable ones, of course—which should provide a healthy 20–25 hours of gameplay for most gamers before they even start on the blooming menagerie of downloadable challenges from other users.
The structure of the game is basically the same as before. The hundreds of levels are sorted by gameplay and challenge styles, and your performance on each is ranked (based on time, number of gems collected, points, etc.) with a representative medal… if you complete the level, of course. It’s easy enough to get a bronze or a silver medal in most cases, but securing gold often requires a little more strategy and deliberation. Still, the levels overall are notably easier than those in the first game it seems, even if some of the gold medals (such as the final underwater bonus level) border on ridiculous. Related to that criticism is the sensation that the newer levels are more centered on flashy and gimmicky concepts than actual core gameplay—but that honestly doesn’t affect the joy of completing them all that much. Rest assured, it’s still just as much fun barreling through stacks of carefully-arranged blocks and watching characters flailing through the air as it was the first time around.
Single-player includes a host of different gameplay styles (at least a dozen completely different ideas) that remain fresh until the very end. One moment you’re smashing through towers of blocks with bowling balls, bombs, and slingshots, and the next you’re fighting off gem-stealing UFOs with the help of a laser gun. There’s space golf, block-matching “paint” puzzle levels, and Jenga on steroids. Sometimes you’re working to complete a level as quickly as possible, while other times you are limited to as few as 3 gestures to collect a certain number of gems. You’ll find plenty of completely fresh gameplay concepts in Bash Party also, including some pretty cool additions like conveyor belts and “push” blocks (which manipulate the paths of passing blocks), virus blocks (which infect others around them), environmental physics, and cannons.
And once you mow through the easier selection of seven to ten challenges in each category, you unlock a second set of much harder ones that is sure to put up more of a fight. You’ll even find an “achievements” system in place which catalogs various milestone accomplishments throughout your time with the game.
Two/three/four heads are better than one
Then there’s the multiplayer, which is indisputably the game’s biggest strength. Whether you’re playing in co-op or versus mode, you’re sure to find the interactions with whomever you’re playing amusing and riveting; even co-op feels a bit like competition. Some of the gameplay is shared with that of the single-player levels, but there are even some new, different styles of play to be had here as well (such as a mode where players roll a dice which determines what color block must be pulled next). It’s not uncommon to burn hours playing multiplayer with anyone of any gaming skill level (for instance, my wife and I spent hours in co-op mode alone, and versus even saw her talking trash—something that never happens). Both multiplayer modes feature hundreds of unique puzzles specific to each in addition to the single-player collection—and it’s even possible to create and download puzzles for these modes, too.
While the game absolutely delivers in the realm of value and difficulty, the Boom Bux system provides a welcomed alternative for players who just can’t seem to conquer a particular level. Granted, you earn them precipitously at every turn (if you’re half-decent), but you can use them at any point in time to purchase any level you have not yet unlocked. Plus, each collection of levels can be accessed non-sequentially, so you can skip around to whatever gameplay type currently suits your fancy. This means it’s very difficult to be stuck on a single challenge with no means of reconciliation. The personality’s alive and well also (in terms of the cartoony character design and cut scenes and the fairly catchy soundtrack), a force which helps to offset the frustration of some of the game’s tougher challenges.
Even when you’ve tired of everything available to you in the main game and multiplayer (which should take you some time—most likely upwards of 20 hours), you can still resort to the level editor to help create your own puzzles to share with the rest of the gaming world. Yes, that’s right—unlike in the original Boom Blox, this time you can actually upload your puzzles to be shared with complete strangers. However, the entire process is moderated; only “select” levels are made available to the gaming public, and while that certainly makes sense, it’s definitely a bit of a shame nonetheless. At least it’s still possible to rate downloaded levels on a five-star basis a la LittleBigPlanet.
As you complete levels, you’ll unlock new pieces to use in the level editor—and there’s an extensive amount of stuff available. While created levels are capped in size to prevent frame rate stutter, you can really put together some intricate stuff within the boundaries provided. Even in spite of the limitations imposed by the online moderation system, there’s a startling array of different types of levels available already for all players of the game.
Evolution, not revolution
The bottom line is that Boom Blox: Bash Party is a lot of fun—not because it reinvents the wheel, but instead because it smoothes its edges. While it isn’t going to set the world on fire or anything, the fact remains that this is, quite simply, one of the most accessible and unique multiplayer titles available to date on the Wii. Regardless of whether you played the first one, if you’re looking for a unique puzzler to occupy you, Bash Party comes highly recommended.
Full Disclosure: Reviewer completed all single-player levels and achieved Gold ranking on around half, played at least two of every variety of co-op multiplayer level, and played two hours of varying types of versus multiplayer games. Downloadable levels were also tested (around 10 total).