When the topic of 'Australia' comes up, most folk tend to think of barbecues, plushy mascots based on friendly wildlife, toxicology reports on deadly wildlife, beaches, beer, and that one Simpsons episode. We at PALGN like to believe another name could be added to that list; Blue Tongue Entertainment. Melbourne's very own locally grown development studio surprised many with their 2008 release de Blob, which proved two core truths; the Wii has third party titles worth paying attention to, and when we a take a break from drinking and fishing we Australians can make some bloody good games.
Once the dust had cleared de Blob had proven itself a huge success, both critically and commercial. People around the world loved Blob, and the folk at Blue Tongue were keen to give them more, announcing de Blob 2 to arrive three years later. Now, there are two ways to build a sequel; either refine and expand existing concepts, or reinvent and recreate new concepts. For de Blob 2 Blue Tongue has mostly chosen the path of the former, and the end result is a game well worth getting excited about.
Picking up where the previous game left off, Blob is back at center stage in another story of oppression and revolution. Told through detailed and gorgeously animated CGI cut-scenes, the plot follows Blob and his literally colourful companions as they deal with yet another hostile takeover by those fun hating Inkies, this time under the guise of a rigged election headed by the strangely familiar and ego-maniacal cult leader Papa Black. With Prisma City's citizens forced into a dull life of monochromes, it's up to Blob to save the day, splatting his way through the streets, from landmark to landmark, leaving a devastating rainbow of colour in his wake.
It's a simple story, but it's all Blob needs, and does a fine job of directing the colourful carnage without ever coming across as intrusive. If anything, the sharply written dialogue and humorous cut-scenes find a healthy balance between content appropriate for a family audience, and keeping themes interesting without becoming childish. In fact, older gamers are likely to spot not-so-subtle revolutionary undertones in the plot and themes, including some hilariously eyebrow raising concepts such as destroying the Inkies economy, and the brainwashing that takes place at Papa Black's church. Even with these undertones, it never ceases to be good-natured and good fun, which is exactly what Blob is all about.
When it comes down to gameplay, at its core de Blob 2 remains faithful to the formula that served as the backbone of the original. The main objective throughout majority of the game is to colourise Blob, colour buildings, avoid and destroy enemies, and complete basic platforming challenges. Fans familiar with the premise will find themselves right at home, but don't be fooled into thinking de Blob 2 is a retread. Instead, what Blue Tongue has done is listen to the feedback of the original, and improve the formula in almost every which way.
The most notable improvement is in the flow of levels and the way challenges present themselves. Where de Blob would often dump the player in a sprawling city and demand players go and paint everything, de Blob 2 puts a greater focus on moving the player from one set piece to another. The individual objectives have been compartmentalized, and where once you would need to paint an entire high-rise block you now need only paint a small structure or two in the right colours before moving on. To break the pace even further, de Blob 2 takes a page out of Super Mario Galaxy's book, with short and sweet 2.5 platforming stages scattered throughout the 3D stages, interweaving the colouring mechanics with switch slamming to solve puzzles. These plentiful 2.5D stages combined with the always moving forward flow of the game makes for considerably more satisfying pacing, of which is notably less taxing on attention spans thanks to the frequent sense of reward and progression.
Further improving the pacing, Blue Tongue has injected a healthy dose of variety to the challenges and game world. This time around there is a greater diversity in enemies to avoid and destroy, many of which require specific actions or colours to be defeated. Moreover, Blob himself has seen an upgrade, now pimping the ability to power roll at will. This combined with a number of power-ups that shape shift Blob, such as a heavy wrecking ball that rolls enemies flat, are valuable additions in expanding Blob's functionality as well the variety in challenges.
Even with all its improvements, de Blob 2 occasionally falls into some of the trapping that served as complaints for the original game. The most prominent of these is the platforming mechanics. Responding to complaints of the waggle-to-jump controls of de Blob, jumping is now mapped to a button. Functionally this works wonders in improving the responsiveness of platforming, but Blob's jumping movements are still a little clumsy, particularly when attempting to wall jump.
Additionally, while the aforementioned pacing and variety has seen significant improvements, levels still tend to drag out for longer than necessary. It was a common complaint with the original, and sadly, rears its head here. To be sure, the situation has seen huge improvements, but for a game hinged on casual, relaxing gameplay it's surprising to see many stages requiring a hefty investment of time to complete. As mentioned, the improvements in pacing makes for a more relaxing experience, but we cant help but wonder if de Blob 2 would have benefited from shortening the stages by ten or so minutes. Even with it's improvement in variety and focused pacing, de Blob 2 is still largely about repeating the same painting and switch hitting mechanics from start to finish, and as fun as these mechanics are they're far more serviceable when experience in shorter doses.
Players of de Blob will likely remember the wealth of collectibles scattered throughout stages, and once again they make a return, along with some improvements. Unlike de Blob, which placed extra missions and optional quests throughout the main mission, de Blob 2 only opens these upon level completion. On one hand, this is a great extension for those OCD gamers wishing to stick around and do everything. On the other hand, players not aiming for 100% on first playthroughs will need to complete stages all over again before they can finally tackle all the extra missions, and that is a sizable demand considering the length of stages as it is.
But, like most of de Blob 2, these extra stages are not without their own improvements. Secondary missions will always show up on the radar making them easy to find, and once you completed the radar will, as a reward, display the locations of trees and buildings that remain unpainted, relieving players of having to search meticulously through the large stages for that one building they missed in order to get 100%. However, special collectibles, like those that unlock artwork, and those that can be used to upgrade Blob's armor and maximum paint size (among other things), will not show up on the radar, and instead serve as a reward for the true treasure hunters.
As those paying attention will be well aware, de Blob 2 marks the point where the series abandons its Wii exclusivity and spreads its fun onto the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Playing the PlayStation 3 build, we won't pretend that de Blob 2 is a technical showpiece, devoid of the extra sharp texture resolution and ludicrously high poly counts that make up the system's best looking titles. But don't be fooled into thinking de Blob 2 is little more than a Wii port, or lacks any kind of visual splendor. Even with its lack of technical prowess, de Blob 2 is a joy to behold.
The image displays at a full 720p resolution, loaded with vibrant colours and crisp geometry. Numerous shaders have been implemented to separate it from the Wii release, including depth of field, normal mapping, and an impressive grass shader. The additional hardware power has also allowed for greater stage population, and as players paint their way through the world they'll find the streets come alive with citizens, creatures, and vehicles. At any single moment there is significantly more going on than the original game, and it's made all the more impressive by running at a rock solid sixty frame per second. So while it might not make your jaw drop like Killzone 3 and Uncharted 2, it will impress with it's smooth performance and clean display, particularly as a game that focuses on bright, beautiful colours over moody brown wastelands.
Accompanying the visuals is an upbeat rocking soundtrack, again scored by Australian musician John Guscott. The 'big band' sound of the original game has been replaced with a more 'Caribbean' style, though still retains the expected high quality audio production. Different instruments and themes coming into play as Blob goes about the world splatting colour establish de Blob 2 as one of the few games that pushes forward the importance of dynamic sounds in game design, and like the previous game is bound to have you tapping your foot and humming tunes long after the system has been turned off.
When it all comes together, de Blob 2 is a safe sequel. It doesn't reinvent mechanics or turn the formula on it's head, and because of this those who were perhaps unimpressed or uninterested in the original are unlikely to have their opinion swayed. That being said, de Blob 2 is an exemplary example of a game built from feedback. de Blob was a solid title, but what Blue Tongue has done here is listen to all the complaints, all the issues, and all the concerns fans had, and in doing so has polished nearly every rough corner of the formula to make for what we consider an objectively superior title.
Fans of the original de Blob have a bigger, better, and more polished title to look forward to, and others looking for a relatively casual though meaty platformer-esque experience would be hard pressed to find anything better, especially on platforms like the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 where 3D platformers and games of this style are not quite as common as they might be on the Wii. For almost its entirety, de Blob 2 delivers spectacularly on what is promised, and is a very welcome reminder of the kind of development talent that exists in within our country.