Version tested: Wii
I've been making a space-coot.
It's taken about 45 minutes, but now I've now fixed the balloon to its back with polygonal strings and perfected the crazed stare glaring out death and woe to all who would oppose it.
Now I just need to design a few bullet patterns, slap on some lasers and define a movement schedule. Soon my sleek, black water-bird of doom will join my geometric fleet of killer bees, squirrels and semi-detached cottages. I might design a star-destroying badger too.
Once my squadron of infamy is complete I'll start work on the landscape and incidental objects to complete my level: Up the Garden Path. The level is a tribute to one of the first games I ever played - classic garden-themed Spectrum title Pssst.
It's fair to say I've been enjoying myself.
At first I approached Blast Works in the wrong way. Assuming the level editor was just a bundled-in bonus, I embarked on the single-player campaign, It's based on PC shareware title TUMIKI Fighters and is a solid 2D shooter with a twist. When you dispatch enemies they crumble into their component parts, which can be grabbed as they tumble downwards. You can then stick the parts to the tiny, one-shot craft you control. It's a simple process - just crash into the machinery as it falls and it'll become attached to the exterior of your ship.
This Katamari-esque collecting system improves your chances of survival no end. The extra parts take damage, handy as your craft is otherwise highly vulnerable. They also increase your score and boost firepower. Within minutes of starting the first level I was encrusted with Wright brothers-style wooden aeroplanes, Maxim guns, cannons, mine-laying hot air balloons and more. Looking for all the world like something Heath Robinson invented, my contraption barged its way through enemy formations while flinging projectiles around the playing field with wild abandon.
Well, I say within minutes. I should say within minutes of starting the first level for the 15th time. As it's based on a Kenta Cho shooter, Blast Works is no easy ride. Even the early levels, played on Rookie difficulty, pose a challenge if you're not familiar with the genre.
However, it's not long before you start developing tactics. The scrap surrounding your ship can be knocked away by enemy fire, so it's all about appreciating the 'sticky' mechanic. The 'retract' button, which shrinks all the junk into the body of the ship, is also useful - it leaves your ship exposed, but it becomes a much smaller target. This means you can guide it through small gaps in enemy bullet patterns without taking a hit. That's the theory, anyway.
Or you could try amassing as many bits of junk as possible, bulldozing through enemies and using their corpses to replenish lost parts. This tactic works a little too well early on - I ploughed my way through more than a few levels without even needing to pull my trigger, having picked up a piece of auto-firing weaponry.
Once a fair bit of stuff is attached it can be hard to tell where the actual ship is, and it's hard to avoid hits as a result. It also becomes tricky to distinguish between live and dead enemies when the screen is filled. This can lead to kamikaze lunges for juicy pieces of kit which end in frustration as your craft is immolated in a splash of pixels.
The rules change when you come up against bosses. True bullet hell is unleashed,and even skilled dodging and retraction won't protect your ship's spare parts for long. The fragile core craft is left to duck and weave through the onslaught, chipping away at the weak points of the giant gun-ships, autogyros, UFOs and pirate spiders you come up against.
The gameplay is solid enough. Although the level design of the five short campaigns doesn't really inspire, the sticky quirk keeps things interesting and makes replays worthwhile. The higher difficulty levels are insanely punishing, offering plenty of challenge for completists.
Throw in the fact that up to four players can take part in campaigns and there's enough here to make Blast Works stand up as a high-end Wiiware title - if not perhaps a boxed release. But the game's true depth and variety is only revealed once you start playing around with the editors.
Almost everything can be customised, even the shapes and colours of bullets. You could make an entire game from scratch, designing enemies, player ships, environmental elements, scenery, level layouts... Or just muck about with the hundreds of pre-prepared objects, which include everything from the campaign mode plus the three user-created levels featured on the disk.
To begin with, editing is a bit of a bugger. The Wii remote doesn't quite offer the level of control required to manipulate geometric shapes with total accuracy. The brief tutorials don't help, and on more than one occasion I was ready to abandon the clunky change in perspective and menu navigation required to build even a basic ship.
But then came the shift from frustration to understanding as I realised just how much flexibility there is, if you have a little patience. It feels like almost anything can be crafted, albeit in chunky, geometric, textureless polygons. The level of creativity on offer is unparalleled anywhere else on the Wii. All right, Blast Works isn't quite LittleBigPlanet, but did anyone expect it to be?
In any case, visiting the BlastWorksDepot reveals an incredible level of inventiveness from a friendly community. There are levels based on Sonic, Mario, Starfox, Rampage, even MadWorld. Hundreds of user created objects, levels and patterns are available for download, all without the need for pesky Friend codes. The offline campaign may be fun, but it's short-lived and not particularly imaginative; the level editor, however, offers real rewards if you're prepared to master it.
And that's without even mentioning the other four games which can be unlocked. Complete the campaign or arcade mode on various difficulties and you'll be rewarded with rRootage, Gunroar, Torus Trooper and TUMIKI Fighters - all worthy as WiiWare releases in their own right.
So just to recap that's four thoroughly enjoyable bonus games, a 15-stage main campaign, three bonus levels showing what the editor can do and a rich set of game creation tools. Plus access to a wealth of incredible user created content.
Up the Garden Path is still in the 'beta' stage of development, otherwise I'd invite you all to experience the true wonder of space-coot carpet bombing. But I recommend anyone with an interest in 2D shooters, expecially if that interest extends to creative urges, to buy Blast Works immediately. It's an innovative, open-hearted example of great game design and creativity.
8 / 10