While certainly not a fixed rule, it seems that the most unassuming title can generate respect through its sheer obscurity. The first de Blob, released on the Wii near the end of 2008, could have been dismissed as a juvenile mascot platformer bobbing in a sea of Wiidiocrity, but critics were pleasantly taken aback by its Katamari Damacy-style blobular racing and clever color-mixing puzzles, and the buying public took enough notice to commence a sequel. While de Blob 2 may not roll away with many points for design originality (it’s barely able to even break away from itself), it more than makes up for it with humor and an impressively polished presentation.
The premise is the stuff of a graffiti artist’s dream: Prisma City, once bustling with chromatic diversity, is being drained of its color by an evil corporation ruled by a kind of robotic dictator with a whirring aperture eye, mad with power and determined to whitewash the clothes—and brains—of its citizens. Blob, an animate ball of liquid able to absorb and transfer any color it comes into contact with, sets out to defy authority and reinstate the metropolis with hue, backed by a rag-tag group of characters known as the Color Underground. The story is trite, to be sure, but beautifully produced CG vignettes that play before each level inject funny (and often times very funny) glimpses at de Blob 2’s narrative universe, like the inner workings of the bumbling INKT corporation or the endearing Blob’s occasional obliviousness. Even the loading screens brim with personality: While the stages load, the player can read through quick four panel comics, complete with punchline.
With de Blob 2, the franchise has expanded to the HD platforms, and while the art direction still falls in line with the first title, the game is a wonderfully rendered dichotomy of color and grayscale, with charismatic and utterly fluid animations (much appreciated in today’s age of wooden motion capture) and airy backgrounds, all running at smooth frame rates—perhaps a welcome runoff from the requirements of 3D display compatibility (which this game is on PS3 and Xbox360). Even the most graphically snobbish would concede that de Blob 2 is a candy-colored treat for the eyes, made even more so on an HD display.
The largest obstacle in de Blob 2’s way is, oddly enough, the painting mechanic, which wisely copies from Katamari Damacy’s philosophy of “brick by brick” progression yet fails to channel the latter’s sense of growth. Blob transforms the environments around him—mostly urban areas with building clusters and drab machinery, a transparent design limitation—by rolling on and over them in order to infuse them with his current color (and as expected, Blob must switch and combine colors from many different unlockable sources throughout each stage), yet this process is the same virtually every time, with multiple objectives often repeating themselves (painting a certain number of buildings a specific color, for example, or venturing underground to hit switches that perform functions all drawn from the same stable of routine “lock and key” level flow). The sections where Blob squeezes himself into buildings and through manholes attempt to switch gears by shifting into classically inspired 2D platforming mazes, repetitious in their own way but often a welcome reprieve; even when gravity-altering and spherical-based spatial obstacles crept in, a clear homage to Super Mario Galaxy, I was more happy to see the variety than distracted by how un-Galaxy like these sections were—and the fact that many backgrounds and art assets echo the shiny spaceships and rich saturation of Super Mario Galaxy makes the comparison all the easier.
The sense of scale present in Katamari Damacy is also lost since Blob doesn’t grow much beyond his starting girth, even when powered up via collectibles used as currency to upgrade his attributes. The satisfaction, therefore, is fleeting, since it peaks the first time Blob glops paint onto a virginal white surface, and then simply repeats for the next 14 hours or so.
I had some trouble accepting the timer that winds down each time a level begins as well—another Katamari Damacy beacon—since I was constantly scouring the environments for watch icons that would extend my deadline, an extra level of stress and frantic frustration that seemed “un-painterly” to me given the jovial manner in which Blob went about his business. While Katamari Damacy’s timer is absolute, a constraint that breeds quick thinking and creativity, the timer in de Blob 2 is an elastic hindrance to be fussed over and nothing else.
Despite these limitations in design, however, something about the game drew me in and kept me entertained throughout. It might be the way enemy robots’ tiny bulbous helmets fly off and spin on the ground when Blob smashes them, and rescued animals are politely shoved down when he passes by. It might be the gibberish language each NPC speaks, completely silly yet voiced with proper emotion and genuine sincerity. Or it might be the huggable soundtrack, peppy big band tunes with each instrument assigned to a color, so the player can arrange and “conduct” via Blob. These kinds of details add up to make de Blob 2 unassumingly successful yet again, although this time obscurity has made way for affable stubbornness.