For his first title under his three-game partnership with Electronic Arts, the obvious assumption might be that Steven Spielberg would draw on his expertise as a visual storyteller. But the helmer went the exact opposite direction with “Boom Blox,” a charming, brain-busting and incredibly addictive game that almost completely eschews story to focus on using the Nintendo Wii’s motion-sensing controller as an puzzle-solving tool. “Boom Blox” is the first great game for the Wii that wouldn’t be possible on any other system and should prove a hit with auds young and old.
To many fans, the term “casual gaming” has become a synonym for “dumbed-down gaming,” as publishers churn out lame titles on the premise that kids and rookies just want something easy and cheap. “Boom Blox” shows that doesn’t have to be the case, offering all the elements casual players want — simple gameplay, short levels and tons of social options so family and friends can play together — while not sacrificing depth. With hundreds of challenging puzzles, particularly in the unlockable advanced stages, an experienced gamer can play “Boom Blox” for an entire night and feel just as mentally exhausted as after a marathon session of “Call of Duty 4” (but minus the twitchy fingers).
The straightforward conceit of “Boom Blox” is that the Wii-mote acts as an extension of the player’s arm, allowing players to throw or grab things. The brilliance lies in the puzzles, where players interact with exploding boxes, rickety structures and blocks worth positive or negative points in order to achieve a specific objective. Sometimes it’s knocking down a huge structure via a combination of explosions and sometimes it’s keeping the whole thing standing while extracting blocks worth the most points. Regardless of the objective, it’s rarely hard for kids or casual players who just want to earn a bronze medal and keep going. But those in search of the elusive gold, particularly on the more advanced stages, may find themselves trying over and over to get that final point block or destroy the entire thing with one perfect throw.
Most of the game types within are also available in competitive and co-op modes for up to four players. The huge array of options, which also include some multi-player specific games like castle siege and air hockey, make “Boom Blox” the system’s best party game since “Wii Sports.” The only mode that disappoints both for single player and multiplayer involves shooting targets, an overdone idea that’s beneath this game.
While some puzzles feature clever designs that mimic a bowling alley or the Trojan Horse, there’s generally not much happening onscreen. To add some visual energy, “Boom Blox” fills its backgrounds with a cast of animals based on the “Lego Star Wars” premise that anything made out of blocks is adorable. These penguins, cows, and chickens cheer and applaud at the end of every stage, giving tots an ego boost for their achievements. There are also four “adventure” modes starring the animals in simple stories like a gorilla who needs to rescue her children and a beaver mining for gold in the old West. Adding characters to the puzzles makes the experience feel less meditative, though it invites the theological question of just who’s controlling the hand that’s moving blocks out of the mama gorilla’s path.
“Boom Blox” also includes a robust level editor that lets players design new puzzles or edit the pre-made ones with all the same tools that the game designers had. It’s a bit persnickety — making levels would surely be easier on a PC than with the Wii-mote — but incredibly engaging for those with a creative bent. It’s only disappointing that there’s no easy way to share the results. Though it’s possible to send new levels to a friend, “Boom Blox” desperately cries out for an online community where players can rate each other’s creations and download the best.