Review

de Blob 2: The Underground Review (Xbox360)

If you were ever in any doubt as to whether the successor to Wii hit de Blob would be fashioned for adults or kids during its transition to 'grown-up' platforms, all you need do is check out the presentation. From the SyFy Kids logo displayed prominently on the box through to jaunty melodies and a cursor that lets you daub huge lines of paint over the comic panels that crop up before each level, de Blob 2 is undoubtedly still aimed squarely at that younger demographic. Fortunately in practice there's a lot more to it than an overload of cutesy characters and bright colours, and it turns out there's more then enough here to recommend to anybody on the lookout for a casual, sunday-morning relaxing action game.

You may already know the principle hook for the rotund gelatinous blob's reason for being, since it's the same that powered the addictive 'must restore everything' qualities of the likes of Okami and Flower to name but a few. As before, Blob's world has been desaturated of colour and life by the evil Comrade Black, and it's down to his sponge-like bouncy form to put things right again. As you roll into pools of paint you soak our hero in one of around five different colours, and then bumping into buildings or objects causes them to become saturated with the same shade and restored to former animated glory. Specific areas and structures require particular colours to satisfy mission requirements, citizens need awakening as you roll by, factories destroyed, and trees restored to budding vibrancy.

Jump!

The simple act of rolling around a desaturated town or island and watching it spring to life is really the key draw here, and it's executed supremely well with the additional flourish of being in bright and bold High Definition. Blob's control is loose and can be occasionally frustrating in moments that require accuracy, but it works well enough to be generally pleasing throughout, with the additional benefit of not having to waggle your wrist just to jump. A simple stab of the A button propels him through the air, whilst the left trigger locks on to specific objects nearby for activation or destruction. Again as previously, rolling into water drains the colour from Blob's body, whilst ink poisons him and eventually drops a life - not that those really matter as such; since everything about de Blob 2 is designed to be almost ridiculously easy.

The mission structure of each open-world stage is one of a few areas of development over the original, and even then it's more of an evolution to get Blob easing his way into his second colourised revolution. A story-driven sequence of tasks presents itself as soon as you open each level, all of which have to be completed in a specific order and within a time limit before the world opens up completely for side-quest access and collection runs. The pacing is relaxed and it never really feels like a content funnel before reaching the ultimate freedom, but the inclusion of a timer is a somewhat bizarre mechanism to urge players forward considering the pains at which the developer has gone towards making Blob's world all about freedom. Occasionally it feels as if more should be open from the beginning, and an almost Katamari-esque approach may have benefitted if only on sporadic stages.

Oppressive machinery can be destroyed with colour

Within those missions, the primary gameplay mechanisms are gentle colour-based puzzles that often require you to activate certain sections of the environment in one shade before plotting a route to another with a different colour, or alternatively take the form of collection and exploration sequences that tour various shady corners. Side-scrolling platform sections are included to mix things up and activate parts of the world, with an emphasis on two-dimensional colour-coded switch-based puzzles with simple solutions. These actually turn out to be some of the best moments in de Blob 2, and they break up the freeform-rolling at pleasingly frequent intervals. 

The plot that hangs all of those loosely connected stages together - as surprising as this is to say - is another moment of high quality. Although all the participants in Blob's world are cutesy and cartoonified, the story winds itself around the downfall of a faux-fascist regime complete with an unrelenting desire to cloak everybody in the same uniform and put them all to work in factories. It's handled extremely well, with plenty of references presented in a style that'll engage kids but with a subtlety and real-world evil analogue that'll completely pass them by. I'm hesitant to throw the term 'Pixar' around with too much abandon, but the multi-layered approach to storytelling certainly smacks of their work here, and the cutscenes are largely entertaining as a result.

A Blob's life is good

Speaking of which, the included multiplayer support is a crude but effective Mario Galaxy style, with the second player controlling a cursor to grab pickups. Difficulty levels seem perfectly judged for an adult-child combination to get the most out of, and there are the usual suite of collectible unlocks and movies to watch for completionists to salivate over. Blob's main quest is clearly the focus of development though, and the sparse front-end menus and paucity of additional content or gameplay modes at least focuses the action into one area.

And it's a good one. Largely speaking, de Blob 2 is a success in its simply-stated goals, and worthy of a play for anybody looking to zone out and relax for a while. Bringing forth colour and music into a dull grey environment is an addictive if repetitious task, and the easy difficulty level just serves to enhance its brain-soothing effects. There are some loose-control annoyances that occasionally blight the serenity - and perhaps the camera control could have been a little more responsive - but there are no game-breaking problems to contend with. Blob's task is a simple one, executed very well, and if you've not played the original then it should be highly considered.

Best Game Moment: Splattering colour onto a train and watching it speed off with a cartoon whistle

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