At its heart, the Wii’s design goes after the casual audience (no big surprise, I know). It does this most obviously with the simplicity of its Wii Remote controller, which draws-in people who normally avoid scary-looking console controllers. The Wii Remote is cleverly disguised as a TV remote control, but if you want to see that fear creep back into the casual gamers’ eyes, just attach the nunchuck to it and watch them all run away.
Boom Blox is a game that doesn’t use the nunchuck, and it only has two gameplay buttons: Action and Rotate. Now before all of you “hardcore” gamers press back on your browsers, there’s enough challenge in here for everyone.
At its most basic level, Boom Blox is an electronic game of Jenga without the messy pickup. But Boom Blox takes that concept and twists it into hundreds of different variations and levels. We’ve had the game for about a month now, and I’m still seeing game types I never saw before. The 3D aspects of the controller really make the game, because it’s hard to imagine playing it without pointing at the screen and then removing a block by whichever direction you choose. Occasionally I find myself reaching forward with Wii Remote and “pulling” a block out toward my chest.
There is no difficulty setting. Now that I think of it, there are hardly any settings at all. The different game types all start off simple and get progressively harder. Each level has a bronze, silver and gold status to achieve, and getting gold on some of the levels will have you saying “that’s impossible!” But hand my wife the Wii Remote, and a few tries later she will have it.
Of the entire family, she seems to have taken to Boom Blox more than any other. An occasional gamer, she plays hardcore co-op games with me, but mostly sticks to Zuma and other light puzzle type games. For context, she was playing spider solitaire this morning with her coffee (why don’t people ever get tired of that game?). But she started her own profile on Boom Blox and has completed the game with gold on nearly every level. I’d be surprised if there were three levels on which she hasn’t gotten gold. She really enjoys the challenge of figuring out how to get all of the blocks out of the puzzle without dropping the baby cows that rest precariously on top of the structure. Saving the kittens from attacking ghouls with bombs and scenery manipulation is another favorite.
Normally at her side while she plays is our six-year-old son. With his hand-eye coordination recently improving, he’s much more of a gamer than he used to be. He loves Boom Blox, but he can only go so far in the different game modes before becoming frustrated. The more difficult levels require patience and thought, and although he’s fine in the thought department, his patience wears thin rather easily.
To my surprise, though, what really got him into the game wasn’t the game itself, but the included level creator. Like the game, at first glance it appears so simple you may consider it dumb, but once you unlock and understand the different characters you can place into your creations, it becomes a physics experiment you can mess around with for hours. Certain characters will attack others, some will slowly go about igniting any explosives you have on the board, while others will run for their lives from the pursuers you set around them. I smiled as I watched my son create a huge tower and place opposing forces on each side of it. The ensuing battle as they tore the tower down trying to get to one another was a joy to watch.
The 15-year old, the hardest of the hardcore bunch we have here, also enjoys the game a lot. When asked about Boom Blox, he says, “its great, it’s cool. The physics and the way you can manipulate and shoot the blocks is very cool.” His favorite game mode is pitching the ball at the blocks to bring the structure down in a set number of throws. Often, if you want to get a gold ranking, you need to do it in only one throw.
I have noticed that I’ve never seen him firing up the game on his own, like my wife and youngest son do. Instead, he only plays it with family or when friends are over, but that goes along perfectly with the design of the game, as it’s really twice as good when played with other people.
The final test for Boom Blox, though, was my parents, both of whom are in their early 60s. I got my father into DOOM way back in the day, but my mother has never gotten any deeper than Bejeweled. After a little arm-twisting, I managed to get them both to sit down in front of the game with Wii Remotes in their hands. Mom had difficulty finding her pointer, and between most rounds I’d lightly take her hand and show her how to make circular motions. It still remained somewhat difficult for her.
This is actually one of the few bad points about Boom Blox: the pointer can get buggy. The pointer will “stick” occasionally for no apparent reason, forcing you to give it a little wiggle to “find itself” again. Also, every now and then a block may not get counted correctly, or a pitch you’ve done a thousand times before doesn’t work. Although very minor, these bugs do bring what would have been a fabulous review score down a notch.
Although my mother kept losing the pointer, she did surprisingly well at flicking the Wii Remote to pitch the ball. Dad was the better and a more precise “plucker,” and he had a steadier hand when it came to removing the blocks. I have to admit, I was expecting the opposite results from the two of them. No matter; after just a few rounds I saw what I looking for: big smiles on their faces with little chuckles of laughter as each structure tumbled to the ground when one of them would pull the wrong piece. They stood up smiling after about 40 minutes and went home.
A few hours later, they called to tell me they’d purchased a Wii, and they wanted to know “what that block game was called again.”
So there you have it. Everyone in my family, from age six to 60, is enjoying Boom Blox. Do you have a spouse or non-gaming friend you’ve always wished you could get more into gaming? Here’s your chance. Me? Like my hardcore son, I never fire up the game when I’m alone; Grand Theft Auto IV has taken up that gaming time. But, I do enjoy Boom Blox with a buddy and some beers. Like Wii Sports, Boom Blox is a game anyone can have fun with, but unlike Wii Sports, it’s much more relaxed. You’re not going to break any ceiling fans playing this game. It is truly a game that’s fun for all, and something besides Wii Sports to play at your parties. Boom Blox is the type of game Wii was designed for.
- Score: 9
— Robert Dusseau