It’s pretty obvious Steven Spielberg was likely sitting at home playing Jenga with his kids when either a Wii ad popped up on the tellie, or they switched from their physical game of blocks to a virtual game of motion-sensing madness in some Wii form or another. The end result is the same though, regardless of how the Wii and Jenga may have landed on the same mental page for Spielberg, he realised one needed to exist with the other.
So, in steps EA and viola, low and behold, we have Spielberg’s first foray into videogames (he’s been expressing for a while a want to develop games) in the form of Boom Blox; an interactive puzzle game that marries the simple concept of Jenga, throws in a few other elements (such as bombs), and makes it all interactive with the Wii Remote.
Make no mistake, as much as - like the rest of us - I’m sure you’d have preferred Spielberg’s first gaming leap to be some instant sci-fi claasic, Boom Blox is a kid’s game, plain and simple. It’s still pretty fun, despite its cutesy-wootsy appearance, and I actually found myself enjoying the multiplayer stuff with my mates (who commit crimes for fun on weeknights) who equally couldn’t seem to put their Remotes down. But after a while the ‘thrill
’ of playing interactive Jenga (or was it the thrill of playing a Spielberg game?) wore off and I haven’t found myself compelled to fire it up since. This is a game for parents and kids to enjoy together, one where no one is left cleaning up the block in real-life, but rather designated to hit the Power button on your Wii Remote.
So by now I’m sure you get the idea: Jenga-styled puzzles mixed with some Wii interaction. Basically there are a bunch of different options you can choose from that begin with Throw, Blast, Grab and Build. As their name suggests these default puzzle options of you range of ways to interact with the game’s block constructions. In Throw, for example, there are already constructed towers you need to knock down by throwing either baseballs or bowling balls at. Each block in the tower has a number written on it that reflects how much it’s worth as points once successfully serperated from the tower. The goal, obviously, being to knock as many off as possible, or to topple the tower first.
Grab, on the other hand, sees you moving about an interactive hand on-screen to literally grab whichever block is highlighted to remove it, Jenga-style, without toppling the contruction. Build is pretty self explanatory, while Blast is a very simple shooting-game exercise not at all unlike your Point Blanks.
For the most part each of these each offer up some creative and fun puzzles to tackle, but are also marred by too much of an emphasis on accessibility and pick-up-and-play. Throwing balls, for example, is less an analogue experience that could have been awesome with the Wii Remote and is instead offered to you at just two speeds; slow and fast. That’s it. It’s also almost impossible to miss given you have to actually lock onto the spot you want the balls to hit before you can throw them. This happens a lot throughout and I think it’s an area of the game that could have been looked at as a defining point for gameplay.
Beyond the base puzzles and play styles, you can also jump on into the game’s map editor that lets you create your own scenarios based on a number of different options. There’s a handy video to watch for newcomers to this type of thing and you can also share any of your created maps online through WiiConnect24, which is pretty cool. But it’s really pretty easy to get into and use, and you can test it out at any point during construction, just to ensure you haven’t created a masterpiece that backfires as soon as you load it up.
Up to four players can battle it out on Boom Blox and there are more than 300 levels to work through. You can play against each other or cooperatively, and the more you play, the more you unlock. But as I suggested earlier, unless you’re a puzzle games fiend, it’s likely this will only prove its lasting appeal among families or kids. The overall presentation is at times unbearably cute (we are talking about the guy who digitally removed handguns from ET and replaced them with walkie-talkies, remember), while the soundtrack may or may not drive you insane, depending on your level of patience.
It may have been helmed (or thought up by, at the very least) by Steven Spiel berg, but Boom Blox is not going to change games forever. It’s obviously going to help this move in the sales department, and it’s still a pretty fun game for kids and family, but as far as innovation and uniqueness go, this is still really just a puzzle/party game. If you like your gaming a little more cerebral and mature, don’t look here. If you’re a parent with kids and a Wii, then this might actually work in your household. One thing is for sure, it’s at least proof Spielberg sees value in games, maybe we’ll get to see an awesome sci-fi/action adventure title out of him yet.