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'Boom Blox' plays to Wii's strengths and flaws

“Boom Blox,” a new family game from Electronic Arts and shepherded by director Steven Spielberg, proves that any developer can make a great, involving Wii game when they truly "get" both the console's strengths and its shortcomings.
Image: Boom Blox
\"Boom Blox\" is a good choice for parents looking for a wholly family-friendly game that isn't brain-dead easy.
/ Source: contributor

For as popular as the Nintendo Wii is with gamers around the world, the console has problems: Too many of its games are dreadfully dull and make poor use of the Wii Remote's innovations. Naturally, Nintendo knows exactly how to make Wii game that doesn't feel gimmicky or shallow (such as Mario Kart Wii, Metroid Prime: Corruption), but they've largely kept that magic to themselves as shelves fill with absolute dreck.

“Boom Blox,” a new family game from Electronic Arts and shepherded by director Steven Spielberg, proves that any developer can make a great, involving Wii game when they truly "get" both the console's strengths and its shortcomings.

“Boom Blox” is a puzzle game based on the childhood joy of playing with blocks — stack 'em up and then knock 'em down. The blocks in Boom Blox, though, are given the magical properties that only a kid could dream up. Bomb blocks explode when hit by the balls you throw into the scene, sending gilded or jeweled blocks flying into the air. Chemical blocks fuse and pop when pressed together.

The goal in “Boom Blox” is to create incredible chain reactions that fill the screen with flying blocks. The more chaos you create, the more points you bank. Thanks to the dynamic nature of these blocks and the ease of play, something is always happening in this game, and that kind of constant reward keeps you hooked stage after stage.

The Wii Remote is the perfect interface for “Boom Blox” — this game would feel hollow on any other platform. Using the pointer, you can choose the exact target on-screen for some real precision throws. Just point the target at any place on a block, press the big A button on the Wii Remote, and mime throwing the ball. Depending on the speed of your "throw," the ball either rockets or floats into the blocks. A hard hit can dislodge a pivotal piece in a Jenga-like tower of blocks, bringing the whole stack down. A soft throw can just nudge a block, setting off an extended chain reaction that keeps building as more bomb blocks explode.

The physics of “Boom Blox” is admirable. Throwing the ball at different points on the blocks results in different reactions, and the gravity feel just right. The momentum of the blocks is based on real-world reactions, such as the slow slide of a crumbling tower that gathers speed. Because the physics are honest, figuring out the puzzles becomes an exercise in fair logic, not blind guesswork. That keeps frustration at bay.

“Boom Blox” doesn't get any deeper than just flattening block stacks and causing colorful chaos, but it doesn't need to. The stages are so inventive so you will occasionally discover yourself marveling at the minds that set up the puzzles. And there is no shortage of stages to play with. The basic single-player game presents dozens of challenges based on the different kinds of blocks or the grab tool that lets you gingerly pull a block from a stack, just like Jenga.

Wondering why Spielberg's name is on “Boom Blox?” Check out the adventure mode, which is like a story-driven midway game. The film director oversaw all 70 of the adventure stages, making sure the game was loaded with mirth and personality. Here, you are introduced to animal blocks, such as sheep and beavers. Each of the four worlds in this adventure tasks you with helping animal factions achieve goals, like knocking away plain blocks to uncover golden blocks in the Wild West. In the Tiki-themed levels, you must knock down obstacles that are imprisoning a gorilla. These playful levels will be the immediate draw of younger players.

Adults will likely gravitate to the party mode, which replicates the nervous glee of Jenga, but without all the downtime of re-stacking the blocks. Up to four players can pass a Wii Remote around, pulling blocks and shooting others to cause point-rich chain reactions. While this would be a fun sideshow to a party, it is also the natural evolution of a family game night. Unlike Monopoly or Risk, “Boom Blox” doesn't punish kids for knowing less. The playing field is fairly even, as everybody understands the basics of throwing a ball at a block to cause mischief.

Should you manage to push through all of the game’s puzzles, don't sell it on eBay: The creation mode lets you build your own block puzzles. Using an intuitive tool set, you can create Rube Goldberg-esque puzzles. If your Wii is online, you can send these creations out to other players. The community for ”Boom Blox” is still small since the game just shipped, but it has potential to grow as more gamers monkey with this feature. While it may not reach the critical mass of Forge in "Halo 3," never underestimate the creativity of people with too much free time.

If you have been burned by bum Wii games, “Boom Blox” will restore your faith in the true potential of the console. The game does an expert job at recreating a very simple pleasure that everybody can appreciate, and the smart use of the Wii Remote removes any barrier between even the most casual gamer and the fun of “Boom Blox.” This is an excellent purchase for families as the game has wide, generational appeal.