Version tested Wii
You'd think Steven Spielberg had better things to do than help EA make videogames. Like issue a public apology for Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, for example. Or remake it with a proper plot, decent special effects and an ending that doesn't make you want to slice your own face off.
But instead he's been busying himself with the sequel to last year's Boom Blox. It scored an impressive 9/10 on Eurogamer, even though I wrote the review. It's inventive, accessible and addictive. It's the most fun you can have with friends and family without engendering a complex series of emotional conundrums and children with three arms. It's a game developed by looking at the Wii's control system and building a game around it, instead of tacking on a bit of shaking.
Boom Blox: Bash Party is also all of those things. Once again, you're presented with hundreds of puzzles to solve and challenges to complete - over 400, in fact, which is a good deal more than the previous game. The gameplay is physics-based; put simply, you use the Wii remote, the A button and a throwing gesture to chuck projectiles at inanimate objects.
You might find yourself toppling towers of blocks with a bowling ball, or trying to knock point blocks into multipliers with a baseball. Or attempting to remove a beam from the bottom of a tower without tipping it over, Jenga-style. Or knocking chemical blocks into each other to cause huge explosions, saving rectangular sheep from falling off a skyscraper, playing golf in space and so on.
One reason it works is that the physics system is excellent. Objects soar, smash, explode, wobble, topple and tumble just like you'd expect. It helps that there's a great deal of variety between levels, and huge scope for creativity when it comes to solving puzzles and racking up points. But most of all, Boom Blox works because it's based around one simple, primal principle: throwing stuff at other stuff is fun. Especially when stuff then falls over and blows up.
So what's different about Boom Blox: Bash Party? There are new toys, for starters. Old favourites such as the bowling ball and grabber tool are back, but now there are items like the slingshot to play with. To use this you just grab a block and pull backwards, stretching the elastic in the direction of your choice. When you let go the elastic will ping back, sending the block bashing into whatever lies in its path.
The slingshot is great fun to use, not least because it's so versatile. You decide the starting point, the angle and the amount of force with which the elastic pings back. This means there are yet more variables to consider and a vast number of different ways to complete levels. Plus, using the slingshot makes you feel like you're in the Bash Street Kids.
Other new toys include virus balls. Throw these at the right blocks to spread the virus to nearby wooden blocks, thereby making them disappear. This adds an element of randomness to proceedings as you're not always sure quite how far the virus will spread. Otherwise these levels aren't radically different to those featuring vanishing blocks, but they're enjoyable all the same.
Another interesting dynamic is introduced with paint balls, which change the colour of the blocks they hit. When three blocks of the same colour touch, they disappear. You're usually given a limited number of balls and a preset order in which to throw them in, so it's a matter of thinking ahead. Will knocking out that group of red blocks leave you free to hit the green ones? Or will the blue blocks fall down the middle and separate them out? Although these levels work on the match-3 principle they're really logic puzzles. Many of them require much more careful thought than a quick blast on Bejeweled, and are much harder to play while drunk.
Most of the level types from the previous game make an appearance, including the superlative Jenga challenges. The blocks in these feel a little less floaty now; they don't nudge and jostle each other so much when moved. This makes pulling them out easier but there's not quite the same sense of tension, or of satisfaction when you get them clear. Bash Party also features timed Jenga levels, where you might only have a minute to pull out a minimum number of blocks, for example. They're not as rewarding, as they're more about speed and point-scoring than logic and skill.
Bash Party also introduces some new environments with conditions that affect how levels play out. There are challenges set in space, where the lack of gravity causes blocks to float rather than fly through the air. Other levels take place underwater, and this allows for new types of objective - for instance, you might have to fling gems from the seabed to the surface. It all makes for yet more variables to consider and a whole new set of approaches to be applied.