DrinkBox Studios pretty aptly describes the PlayStation Network exclusive Tales from Space: About a Blob as a monster-movie inspired puzzle platformer. However, that description misses all the entertaining humor -- the video game homages and the blob's charming personality -- that embodies the bodiless blob's adventure.
From the depths of space, a colony of alien blobs descends upon an Earth-like planet looking for its next meal. A lone, brave scientist/weapons expert readies his missiles to intercept the colorful blob droplets. The scientist succeeds in capturing one orange blob who separated from the pack. Unfortunately for the scientist, he chose to study the game's would-be antihero. The proper game begins with the blob, mere centimeters wide, attempting to escape laboratory poking and prodding.
The following review anthropomorphizes the blob because calling the blob an "it" seems to strip "him" of all his endearing qualities. His personality really shines from the beginning. Within seconds, he consumes items and sounds like he enjoys it. Blob's eyes squint with determination and a hint of angst when he dashes. His eyes fill with joy when he absorbs things or uses his later gained elemental power. He contorts in various environments as if a 3D model reacting naturally to its cumbersome surroundings. All of his animations strongly help cement the bond with the player.
While his personality always feels fresh, the overarching goal of the 17 levels appropriately provides some stability. In each level, blob must consume in order to grow and overcome obstacles which lead to solving puzzles or otherwise absolving physical impediments. The desired size is fixed, indicated each time he reaches a checkpoint.
In Katamari Damacy fashion, the stage's perspective or the blob himself changes to accommodate his growth. The growth is clearly measured in a display in the lower left corner of the screen. The blob's health is restored by consuming items or other blobs. Meanwhile, classic platform hazards such as spikes and fire can quickly turn the blob into an un-puddle. Thankfully, DrinkBox offers some continuity to explain why he shrinks between levels or story arcs.
From meager beginnings to epic proportions of blobliness.
One complaint is that the blob ceases to grow after players reach the checkpoint's designated weight. There is no incentive to absorb the extra weighted items. However, this is probably a tactic to contain challenges within each checkpoint.
In addition to the main goal, each level contains three fellow blobs to rescue, a certain amount of blue points to collect, and a time trial to clear. The blobs make an adorable noise when consumed, and the blue points are strategically placed to ensure hours of added, mostly warranted, frustration. When trying to complete time trials, an option to restart instead of simply quitting the level would have streamlined the process.
Several elements add to the strategy and sense of perfection needed to complete the time trials. Every five tiny blue points collected rewinds the timer one second, and saved blobs rewind it twenty seconds. Dying, or self-destructing via the select button, adds ten seconds. DrinkBox was generally very generous with respawn locations, often seconds from where the blob died. For the competitive, About a Blob has trophy support and leaderboards for the fastest time.
The additions to gameplay increase dramatically twice more in Blob. He gains a magnetic and electric ability, which spices up the platforming and puzzling elements delectably.Tips are scattered around the world when the blob first learns how to use his powers.
The magnetic attraction makes him stick to any metal surface, allowing him to simply slime along walls and ceilings. The repel ability works like trying to put two north magnetic poles together. They fling apart, just like blob flings from metal higher in the air than a normal jump. This allows him to reach areas even his wall jump can't.
Electricity powers platforms and objects, useful for solving puzzles, opening gates, and generally getting around. The blob may seem a little bit inFamous in this respect. As long as he finds an energy source, he can charge up. Some sources are infinite, and others are not. The blob also encounters electric drainers to thwart his "current" state.
These powers expand the way gamers traverse the world to find cleverly hidden items and trapped blob friends. During the blob's traversal, DrinkBox flavored his scenery with dashes of video game likenesses. There is a poster with a shell of a turtle with the message "duck and cover," a clear nod to the koopa troopers of Super Mario Bros. There is also a "Meat is Super" banner and a distinct Namco pellet muncher (the grandfather of "consumable" gameplay) likeness in the game. Further in the adventure, a certain boxing coach wearing a red sweater, black pants, and sweat towel scarf peddles his bike in the background. Enough said.
Along with humor, the game contains bosses and a hit-or-miss musical score. The end bosses require quick reflexes and the use of whatever element blob recently acquired. However, only the final boss made this reviewer spew out bittersweetly violent expletives. The music seemed somewhat repetitive throughout the game but had some really upbeat, Austin Powers-like beats that fit the retro vibe Blob sets to achieve.
In the end, what can be better than playing as a blob who slowly grows in size to consume the world around him? How about playing as two blobs with couch co-op? About a Blob is entirely a single or local co-op campaign, with co-op playing much like LittleBigPlanet 2. Players start a countdown timer when they go off-screen and die if the timer expires before they return. The developers avoid too many deaths by zooming out and strategically placing the camera. These cameras also help capture the epic final levels of About a Blob, where he reaches over 700 kilometers in size!
DrinkBox plans for downloadable content, which will hopefully include a couple new tracks and a new power. New "skins" for a blob character feel somewhat moot.
Sony Computer Entertainment America chose very wisely in including Tales from Space: About a Blob in the Pub Fund program. Blob belongs with the ranks of other ridiculously fun Pub Fund games such as Joe Danger. DrinkBox has created an addictive 2D puzzle platformer starring a liquid mass without any jarring motion controls. Thank you. PlayStation 3 owners shouldn't miss this one.
Tales From Space: About a Blob is available today on PSN for PlayStation Plus subscribers. It goes into general release February 8, 2011.