Version tested: Xbox 360
The best games are often those that don't need to bulk out their premise with weak secondary mechanics. THQ's de Blob for Wii wasn't the best game in the world, but the idea at its heart is timelessly fun all by itself: colour in. How wonderful to see it back for another try, especially now that it's multi-platform.
In de Blob's word, cute little one-eyed menaces called Inkies have stolen the colour from the world, trapping its denizens in grey suits, building monuments to the monochrome and splattering toxic black ink all over the place. As a colourful amorphous blob, your job is to slop colour over everything, soaking up paint from big, bright pools and rolling yourself over buildings, trees and cheerful little characters until it's all singing and dancing again. That colouring in is as fun after five hours as it is for the first five minutes.
But it's not a free-form structure. de Blob 2 prods you around levels with specific challenges, transforming the place area by area. It works the colouring into tricky platforming tasks and combat with the inky bad guys. Some buildings need to be painted specific colours, and after the first level you're introduced to the concept of mixing, leaving you searching the back of your brain for long-forgotten primary-school knowledge about how to make brown from red, yellow and blue.
Painting an entire building lets you liberate its inhabitants from monochrome slavery, earning you extra time to spend on the level's main objectives. A helpful compass encircles Blob, showing you which direction to take to find particular colours or the next task. You can turn it off, but you won't want to – one of the original de Blob's main problems was that it wasn't always obvious where you were supposed to go, and the compass solves that completely.
The levels themselves are huge and come in all sorts of strange forms, from an ice-covered city to a soda-pop production plant. It's to de Blob's credit that it never runs out of ideas, saving a unique power-up or environmental gimmick for each new place. Seeing them gradually transform from grey expanses into brightly-coloured, cheerily un-coordinated cartoons is a visual reward that never gets old, backed up by a superb soundtrack that layers different catchy beats on top of each other depending on what colours you're using and how much you've managed to restore.
De Blob 2 breaks up the levels with 2D platforming sections that the original didn't have. From time to time you'll have to infiltrate INKT Corp technology and sabotage it from the inside. It's here that de Blob's puzzles and quirkier ideas are hiding: gravity-flipping, switch-hitting, even magnetic puzzling.
It's only once you're done with all these challenges that you're really free to roll around rejuvenating trees, smashing up INKT Corp stuff and redecorating all the buildings you'll have missed – by which point, you'll probably want to move on. These levels are loooong. One particular stage about halfway through the game took an hour and a half, and that was without any deaths or restarts.
If you do decide to take the extra time, there are medals for liberating every trapped character, painting every building and tree and purging every scrap of INKT material. Completing these bonus tasks earns inspiration points to spend on Blob's abilities – how much paint he can carry at once, or how many lives he starts a level with. But the rewards for sticking around and mopping up every last patch of grey aren't enough to prevent you rushing towards the next new thing.
Besides, between levels, you get to see Blue Tongue's superb cut-scenes, which achieve Pixar-like expressiveness without the need for dialogue. The Inkies are charismatic, comedic baddies. They're led by Comrade Black, an Inky with an impressive hat, whose attempts to eliminate Blob get ever more elaborate and entertaining. These scenes really are something to look forward to rather than something to hammer the A button through – few developers recently have shown such a gift for cartoon slapstick comedy.
Blob himself (itself?) and his buddies aren't quite as characterful (I always have preferred bad guys). But he represents a sweet little message: don't worry, be happy, wear bright clothing, never be afraid to dance. When Blob first arrives in a colour-devoid city as a splash of bright yellow, surrounded on all sides by grumpy-looking, tie-wearing denizens with briefcases hurrying towards grey buildings without looking at each other, it's hard not to laugh.
There are a few things about de Blob 2 that could be better. The camera is wilful, fond of positioning itself in front of Blob rather than behind him and of swinging around just after (or even during) tricky jumps. Blob doesn't feel as elastic as I'd like – it's as if he's weighed down by all the paint. And the time limits are rather strange; they were generous enough not to be an actual problem for me at any point, but their presence still seems antithetical to de Blob's happy-go-lucky, paint-and-play philosophy.
The two-player co-operative mode is also half-baked. It gives player two an on-screen cursor to position over baddies and items, but in combination with the ever-moving camera it's extremely difficult to use. Considering that it's presumably intended to help younger players feel involved with their parents'/older siblings' game, that's not a good thing.
Ultimately, though, that excellent idea at its core is enough to keep you going all the way through to the end of de Blob 2. It's an endearing, creative and charismatic platformer with an abundance of bright ideas and the wisdom not to overplay any of them. It's just what you need in the middle of a dull, grey February.
8 / 10
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game – we were unable to obtain Wii code in time to test it out fully, but we will update the text with any significant differences.