Version tested: PlayStation Vita
I'll be honest, Tales From Space: About A Blob, this game's PS3-only predecessor, completely passed me by. Pity, as I expect it was pretty good given the follow-up has turned out to be the hidden gem of Vita's launch line-up.
The developer, Canadian indie Drinkbox, may not be doing itself any commercial favours with a title as forgettably generic as Mutant Blobs Attack. But it fits the game's shtick snugly enough, spoofing as it does '50s sci-fi while gobbling up ideas and mechanics from familiar games. It's part LocoRoco, part Katamari, and yet the end result still proves coherent and distinctive: a cleverly designed, wryly amusing, just-one-more-go platform-puzzler made to measure for Sony's handheld.
You control the blob - initially as tiny as teeth - after it escapes from a lab and begins devouring everything in sight smaller than itself, its size and appetite expanding exponentially across the game's six zones, with 24 levels in total (plus optional 'Tilt-A-Blob' stages, which I'll come to).
Within each level, progress is routinely impeded by a cork in a passageway you cannot pass until you have scoffed enough stuff in that you're sufficiently proportioned to devour it. You move, you eat, you get bigger, you move and eat some more. It's as easy as that. And it's terrific fun while it lasts.
The physics-based action is broadly divided between roll-jump-and-gobble and fly-and-gobble, the latter bestowing the gelatinous glutton with rocket power. The two styles seamlessly interchange throughout, with layers of complexity added in as you go.
Best of all are your ovoid over-eater's magnetic abilities. The left shoulder button attracts it to, and right shoulder repels it from, metallic objects. Simple enough. But the ingenuity of the design delivers some fantastically tense moments, such as when you are tasked with balancing the opposing forces of hazard-lined objects, and the physics are exploited to great effect.
Similarly, certain platforms can be moved using the touch-screen. Early on, it's just dragging something to an obvious point and moving on. But delve deeper and perfectly timed multi-touch manoeuvres are required.
Speaking of which, the game gets a big tick for resisting the temptation to force every last Vita feature down the player's throat - all too often the curse of a new console's launch range, and the occasional scourge of other early Vita titles, such as Uncharted with its oh-god-how-many-more-rubbings and oh-jesus-who-approved-these swipe-to-hack-sequences.
Touch-screen play is limited to the previously mentioned platform manipulation, worked with frequent flair into the puzzling, demanding sharp reflexes and a keen eye.
It can feel a little imprecise from time to time - which may be the hardware rather than any design flaw, as I've had similar issues with Escape Plan - but it's generally used smartly enough that you won't mind the odd fluff.
Rear touch is only squeezed in as an alternative boost control - normally activated via the shoulder buttons - and can be disabled so you're not setting it off all the time with twitching digits.
Five of the six zones also feature a bonus tilt-control game - one of those top-down, roll-around things - which I ignored at first, since they begin with a dull maze navigation mini-game that feels out-of-place and gimmicky.
It was a nice surprise, then, when I returned after finishing the game to discover the retro gaming looks lavished on later rounds. The gameplay still doesn't add much, but the rounds are optional and your curiosity is more than rewarded by the consolation of nostalgia.
The game can be tricky, but never stupidly or unfairly so, and restarts are always only moments away from where you screwed up. The studio's evident creative self-assurance ensures the team avoids the trap a more insecure developer might have fallen into: arbitrarily and artificially drawing it out in the misguided belief that bigger is better. Size matters in Mutant Blobs Attack - it's the entire point - but not the size of the experience.
And anyway, given the budget price tag, there's more game here than you might imagine. Moreover, leaderboards and the urge for another quick bash add decent replay value.
Mutant Blobs Attack is a funny game whose humour is happy to exist quite literally in the background, hoping to catch your eye with pleasing wordplay (a fast-food chain called Facefull that serves up Zuckerburgers and so on).
Attention to detail throughout is a joy, with much to admire in the stylish environments and quirky, well-arranged soundtrack. Really, the blandest thing in the entire game, out of functional necessity I suppose, is the blob itself. But even this jelly belly has character in its greedy beady eye, forever darting in the direction of the analogue stick.
Mutant Blobs Attack is exactly the sort of game Vita needs lots of if is to survive and thrive as a platform. It's got the pick-up-and-play moreishness of the best of iOS with a level of complexity only possible on bespoke gaming hardware.
At £5.49, it sits alongside MotorStorm RC as one of the budget-priced surprises and delights of Vita's launch. As soon as I'd finished rattling through it I was hungry for more, so I sincerely hope it's supported with further courses of content.
As I've said, I'd never paid any attention to Drinkbox or its games previously. I won't be making that mistake in future.
8 / 10