Those searching for a videogame analog to independent film need look no further than “de Blob,” a game originally created by nine students in Holland as a way to graphically present their city’s urban renewal. After going online as a free download, it won several awards, was shown at festivals like Slamdance and was acquired by publisher THQ, who assigned developer Blue Tongue to transform it into a big-budget mainstream game for the Wii. Result is a wonderfully simple, infectiously enthusiastic joyride that maintains the spirit of the original while adding depth. If enough gamers notice it during the holiday deluge of sequels, “de Blob” could become a cult hit.
“de Blob’s” gameplay is akin to giving an artist a blank canvas. Players roll a gelatinous blob that picks up paint and splashes it around colorless city streets. There’s a satisfying sense of havoc and beauty as the monochrome backdrop comes alive in brilliant reds, yellows, purples, and more (the inclusion of brown was the only unwise choice). As the city transforms, stray paint is splashed and trailed all over the place, making it look like the art studio of some mad genius trafficking in primary colors. In addition to newly lurid buildings, trees, cars and billboards, even the sad grey citizens become dancing, cheering, candy-colored pips. The only thing remotely like it is the madcap Japanese videogame series “Katamari Damacy.”
In addition to wonderful visuals, “de Blob’s” dynamic soundtrack adds aural color to the experience. Before starting a level, the player picks a musical genre from a range of moods: Latin, groovy, hip-hoppy, jazzy and so forth (additional soundtracks are unlocked by progressing through the levels). Each of these is a basic backbeat, but the six colors add a swathe of music when they’re applied, from orange horns to red saxophone to brown needle-scratching. “De Blob’s” coolly fluid soundtrack is as artfully applied as the paint job on the buildings.
It’s easy in most levels to make a beeline to the exit by following the main challenges, but there are so many various activities — unlockable, collectibles, side quests — that it’s easy to get lost in these cleverly built worlds. Completionists can play each level multiple times to earn awards for getting through quickly, painting all the billboards, saving the citizens and so on. A rules-free mode is even available for those who just want to explore and test their palette. There are some multiplayer modes that are an amusing diversion, but “de Blob” is the rare game that works best with a group of friends passing the controller around. It’s so visually and musically rich that watching is nearly as captivating as playing.
As the game progresses, the challenge level ramps up almost imperceptibly, gradually folding in new enemies and hazards. By the end of the game, there are some fairly tough levels, but not so hard that they will get in the way of “de Blob’s” appeal to inexperienced gamers. The only real difficultly stems from a single ill-advised control choice: to make the blob jump, the player has to flick the Wiimote. It’s much harder to do this with precise timing than it is to press a button, so the complicated jumping challenges become frustrating.