Ewan reviews EA Mobile's latest puzzler....
Here's a question. How much of a game's history should you consider when doing a review? Boom Blox is a title that has already made waves on the Nintendo Wii, and now EA Mobile have released a version for N-Gage. This is a game that was partially designed by Steven Spielberg, with over 300 levels available for people to play through, alongside 100 levels especially designed for co-operative or competitive multiplayer gaming. Should that impact on the review?
The reason for the question is that while the N-Gage has the same design base as the console-based big brother, the 400 levels are not there, the multiplayer is ripped out, and, while you can design your own levels (as you can on the Wii), there's no way to upload and share your levels with others in the N-Gage community.
What Boom Blox on the N-Gage has is 40 levels for solo puzzling play, and a level editor that lets you construct and test levels that others can play... if you pass them the physical handset. So if you're expecting the might of the Wii version squeezed into the next gen gaming system, you're going to be very disappointed.
There is a nice little puzzle game in here, set in a 2D world with 3D representation - everything takes place on the same vertical plane. You have to force the blocks that score you points off the screen, either the edge, top or bottom, it doesn't matter, while keeping the skull blocks (which decrease your score), on the screen. To help you, you have a ball you can throw, by aiming the cursor. Hit the side of a block, it moves away. If it moves off the screen, then you'll score or lose points depending on the block.
It's not just scoring blocks and fixed walls. You've the standard 'problem bricks' that seem to inhabit your regular puzzle games, from bombs that have a concussive effect and move lots of blocks around them, to blocks that move in a single direction when touched, through teleports, magnets, switches, doors... They all add up to a puzzling challenge on each level.
Thankfully you don't need to score maximum points to progress to the next level - there are bronze, silver and gold trophies to win, and the bronze is enough to unlock the next puzzle. As this is usually half the points available, it's easily achievable.
With forty levels and fast game play, it does not take a long time to get through the included levels of Boom Blox, so you are either going to roar through the game in one or two days, or pace yourself to make it last a bit longer. It would be great if user-generated levels could be uploaded and shared through the N-Gage arena - this is a perfect game to implement that sort of system - but no. Once you hit the 40, you're left with the option to either (a) go back to try and get 100% on each level or (b) never play Boom Blox again.
To be honest, I think many people are going to go for (b). Not because of what's missing, not because it's a poor relation to a game that frankly only did averagely well on a home console, but because Boom Blox misses one important thing that a puzzle game needs.
It's just not addictive.
I can hear people typing away in the comments already on this one saying that it is for them, but then reviews always have a personal touch, and I found nothing especially compelling that had me picking up Boom Blox in spare moments through the day to get that 'just one more go and I'll crack it' sensation. Yes there is a compulsiveness in wanting to finish the game, to get all those points to add to my N-Gage profile, but at the end of the day I found Boom Blox boring.
The levels started to feel rather samey after about the first ten. Once I reached 20 levels, they started to merge together in my head. There was no sensation that I was learning tricks that I could use on later levels. It just left me feeling rather cool towards the whole thing.
Which is a shame, because when the game went live, a quick look through the N-Gage web site and running through the demo had me emailing round the All About team like an eager puppy ready to claim this title for my word processor.
Alas that was the high point of my Boom Blox experience. While there's nothing technically wrong with the game, while there's nothing in the game play mechanics that's actually broken, there's just nothing to lift the game beyond the phrase "average". As with any average, there will be people who love this, and many who don't. I hope you're one of the former, but I doubt I'll be recommending Boom Blox to my friends.
-- Ewan Spence, Dec 2008