When A Boy and His Blob landed on the Nintendo Wii back in 2009, it was met with great acclaim. Fans of the NES original, titled A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia, were overjoyed to receive a faithful reimagining of a cult classic, one that smoothed out and expanded upon the ideas of its predecessor while featuring a charming, modernized appearance. Now, a little over six years later, A Boy and His Blob has arrived on the Xbox One. It's still the same game that won the hearts of critics and fans back in 2009, but there are a few caveats to bear in mind before buying in.
A Boy and His Blob is a 2D puzzle-platformer about, well… a boy and his blob. The two lead characters are united when the blob lands on Earth searching for someone to help save his home planet of Blobolonia from an evil ruler and an army of oily shadow-like creatures. From that moment on, the blob and the boy are practically inseparable, working together to thwart the evil race from their respective planets. Like most other games of this ilk, it's a simple plot, which allows the gameplay to remain front and center throughout the adventure.
Players fill the shoes of the boy, while the blob follows along and listens to your commands. You can call the blob to your position, tell him to sit still, or even wrap your arms around him and give him a big ol' passionate hug. But the principal mechanic for defeating foes and navigating dangerous environments comes in the form of blob's transformation abilities. For example, by feeding the blob jellybeans, he can morph into a ladder, parachute, anvil, cannon, or trampoline – among many other devices and objects used to reach platforms, weigh down switches, or crush enemies. It's a very clever concept that makes for the kind of experimental problem solving where you occasionally feel like you're succeeding on you own terms, as opposed to doing exactly what the game expects of you.
As you make your way through each level, you'll come across switches that raise gates, enemies who stand between you and the way forward, and plenty of deadly pits. While most levels are designed around just a few transformations, others provide up to eight selections to help you decide on the most viable route to success – aka the jellybean at the level's end. There are many moving pieces to take into consideration, and the solutions typically involve a mixture of problem solving and well-timed actions. Figuring out the proper sequence of events can be extremely satisfying, especially when things heat up in the last two worlds.
Sadly, there are a few aspects of play that can detract from even the best moments. For one, movements are consigned to the left analog stick instead of the D-pad, which isn't quite as precise for the kind of pixel-perfect action synonymous with a game built around platforming. On at least a few occasions, we'd hold up or down to get a peek of the hazards above and below our position, only to unintentionally shift a couple pixels forward or backward – sometimes off an edge or into an enemy. The controls are by no means bad in this regard, but there's no denying that the D-pad would've offered better precision.
Secondly, whenever a scenario requires a rapid sequence of actions and leaves little room for error – which, thankfully, isn't often – the slight delays that result from calling blob and waiting for lengthier transformation animations to play out can make it seem nearly impossible to keep up with the demand. The boss battle in the third world is possibly the most extreme example of this discord, as you're required to dodge projectiles in a small space while triggering transformations that will allow you to damage a bird-like boss that flies overhead.
The most glaring problem of all, however, occurs in the midst of gameplay, and it's something you can't really anticipate. We're talking about brief performance hiccups that result in a second or two of framerate stuttering or freezing. This is the kind of thing we're use to seeing in an open-world game, where there's frequent loading in the background, but not in a level-based 2D game. It's not constant, frequent, or devastating enough to be a reason to avoid the game, but it is irritating and can lead to an undeserved death here and there.
Thankfully, A Boy and His Blob is a forgiving game. Checkpoints occur behind the scenes, and they occur frequently. You're also provided with unlimited lives, so a majority of the aforementioned gameplay issues can typically be brushed off. That doesn't absolve the game of its shortcomings, of course, but respawning within a couple seconds, usually right in front of the area that took your life, means you're back in the action before you can dwell on any misfortune.
That brings us to the art style, which is reminiscent of a classic children's book. Certain aspects of the visuals look absolutely fantastic – the hand-drawn characters, their animations, and a few lush environments – while others look a bit cheap due to limited detail and bland backdrops. A notable offender is the design of the terrain, which features a lot of unnatural right angles and floating platforms. Simply put, it sometimes looks archaic when compared to the modern aspects of the presentation. Does it disrupt the experience? Not really. But it is something that we took notice of on a regular basis without actively searching for flaws.
Due to its cutesy, inoffensive visuals, one might assume that A Boy and His Blob isn't a difficult game. The truth is, the challenge is fairly stiff in the final stretch. It shouldn't be too much for experienced gamers to overcome, though we do wonder if the younger audience will be able to keep up with the mechanics and circumvent the most complex puzzles. This isn't necessarily a knock against the game, as the difficulty does increase gradually; we just want to be sure parents are in the know before assuming this is a no-brainer purchase for their five-year-old.
When A Boy and His Blob released for the Wii, it was a $39.99 retail game. At the time of writing, the Xbox One version costs only $9.99. With 40 standard levels spread among four worlds, five boss fights, and 40 challenge stages that can be unlocked by collecting treasure chests in each level, there's quite a bit to chew on. We moved along at a casual pace, collecting as many treasure chests as possible without spending too much time in one place, and our playthrough lasted 14 hours. Long story short, this is an excellent value.
Puzzle platformers are a dime a dozen in the modern era of gaming, but there's nothing that feels quite like A Boy and His Blob. Taking advantage of blob's shape-shifting abilities to solve environmental puzzles, while seeking hidden treasures that unlock challenge stages, is mentally stimulating and very rewarding. Even though a handful of issues do frequently nag at you throughout the course of the adventure, they don't weigh the game down enough to keep it from a recommendation.