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.
Remember the shooting gallery levels in the original Boom Blox? They were criticised for being much like the tedious point-and-shoot efforts you find in every other Wii mini-game collection, and all the other ones. Happily, there are fewer shooting levels in Bash Party and a bit more thought has gone into them. You're no longer shooting ducks scrolling along a track, for example, but UFOs that appear from nowhere and attempt to abduct your gem blocks. Also, you get a laser gun.
So, more levels, new environments, extra toys - and that's without even mentioning the improved multiplayer options. There are many more levels to play co-operatively and competitively than in the previous game, and they come complete with the new variations mentioned above. A nunchuk is not required to play any of the levels, and because many of them are turn-based you can have hours of multiplayer fun with just the one remote. This is especially useful when the batteries in one of the remotes runs out at 2am, but you can't stop playing because it's first one to win 50 levels and the score is 46 - 47 and you've bet your car.
Once again the slingshot is a highlight, particularly in Versus mode; look out for the levels where you have to knock each other's gems off a tabletop, air hockey-style. The levels that involve capturing territory with paint balls and firing cannonballs at each other's pirate ships are also excellent. But Bash Party is just as enjoyable in Co-op mode, especially when it comes to challenges that involve thinking ahead. Working out problems is more fun with someone else, except of course when they're idiots.
If the extensive selection of single-player, Versus and Co-op levels on the disc isn't enough, extras can be downloaded via Wi-Fi Connect. Bash Party's online element wasn't up and running at the time of writing, but EA promises additional levels will be available free of charge from day one. How many? "A lot."
That'll include levels created by users as well as EA. Unlike with the previous game, you won't have to muck about with Friend Codes - there's a proper system for sharing content across the entire network of Boom Blox players. EA says you'll be able to score levels and search for them by star ratings, number of downloads and so on. It'll be interesting to see how EA manages the problems with copyright and censorship Sony's experienced with LittleBigPlanet. Surely it won't long before someone uses a load of blocks to create a giant Mario or an exploding cock. Or a giant Mario with an exploding cock. Five stars.
It'll be easier to create content as well as download it thanks to the improved level editor. There are more elements to play with, but clearer instructions about how to use them and more extensive tutorials. Placing blocks feels less fiddly and the interface is more intuitive. You can remix levels you've played in the main game or build stuff from scratch, and there are some neat set-piece options to make this quicker. In short, if you were put off by the awkward aspects of the level editor last time round, it's well worth another look - especially now you can share your creations with the wider world.
It's hard to find much to complain about in Bash Party. True, the visuals still lack charm and there's something subtly but strangely sterile about the whole thing. Cut-scenes have been reduced to pans across still images, with no voiceover or subtitles, which is odd. The characters are downright weird and completely unappealing, and that includes the new ones. Somehow EA has managed to make even fluffy white bunnies seem menacing.
But these are minor grumbles. As sequels go, Boom Blox: Bash Party is one of the best. There aren't just more levels, there are more different types of levels. The new blocks and toys are inventive and intuitive to use. Criticisms of the level editor, the online options and even the shooting galleries have been listened to, and significant improvements have been made. Best of all, there hasn't been too much mucking about with the brilliant gameplay mechanics and superb physics that made the original Boom Blox so much fun.
If you're one of those people whose little white box is gathering dust in the corner, don't put it on eBay. Pick up a copy of Boom Blox: Bash Party and remind yourself why you bought a Wii in the first place, and why games don't have to be about guns and cars to be good, and why Steven Spielberg should be forgiven for the Crystal Skull. Only if he promises never to do it again, mind.
9 / 10