Last year, DrinkBox Studios launched its Tales from Space series with the PlayStation Network title, About a Blob, a PlayStation 3 puzzle-platformer starring a rather hungry blob. Now DrinkBox has returned to tell a new tale from space, this time for the PlayStation Vita. Is Mutant Blobs Attack deserving of your precious Vita memory card space? Tim and I will tell you.
Matt: I was a Tales from Space virgin before jumping into Mutant Blobs Attack, so the experience was completely fresh for me. I came in strictly as a new Vita owner looking to play as many different games on my shiny new piece of tech as possible, and I expected nothing more than a 2D platformer. I soon discovered there is a lot more than that packed inside this tiny, unassuming digital download.
Mutant Blobs Attack is a side-scrolling platformer at heart, but it has the soul of a retro sci-fi monster/alien invasion movie and gives little nods to a variety of other games. As I played through the game’s 24 stages, I felt influences from LocoRoco in the way the alien ball of jello rolls along, squeezes through tubes, and springs off of walls to reach higher ledges, with moments of precision speed-platforming like what you might find in a game like Super Meat Boy, complete with insta-death lasers and other traps. The game also does really neat stuff with magnetism. By pushing the shoulder buttons, the blob’s magnetized body can either adhere to metal objects or reverse polarity to be propelled through the air, an ability that comes in handy for crossing large pits of fire or spikes.
Throughout it all, Mr. Blob’s main power is his insatiable appetite, as he automatically gobbles up anything smaller than his body mass and grows in size like an extraterrestrial katamari ball. Yet even though it borrows from other sources, the game has its own, distinct personality and somehow feels completely unique and individual. Credit that to a talented and creative development team.
Level design is where the game truly shines. The grumpy blob starring in this cartoon invasion story is determined to eat Earth (literally, you’ll see), his mission taking him on a muncher’s rampage from college dorm rooms all the way to the moon and beyond. He’ll start by nourishing on pieces of trash, but eventually he’ll be tossing back army tanks and helicopters, buildings and entire cityscapes and planets. As his size grows throughout a stage, the level around him seamlessly shifts in scale and new areas open up.
In this installment, it’s pretty clear that DrinkBox wanted to showcase the Vita’s touch and motion control features. Many puzzles revolve around touch-dragging objects to help the blob overcome environmental impediments, perhaps to align a series of platforms over a bottomless pit, position panels as shields to clear a pathway through a pattern of laser traps, or to flick flippers to push edible objects through a maze. Unfortunately, the touch detection point on objects seems small, as there were many times when I would have to drag my finger over an object repeatedly before I hit the sweetspot and could get it to move where I wanted it.
The Vita’s Sixaxis tech is put to use in a handful of bonus Tilt-a-Blob stages as well (and a regular level or two). Like those old ball maze games, you hold the Vita horizontally and tilt the system to guide the blob through a top-down labyrinth of potholes and other hazards. These are fun, but kind of gimmicky and not particularly challenging. Going through them once was enough for me.
Tim: The influences of LocoRoco, and the speed-platforming of Super Meat Boy, are indeed spot on, but I appreciate the fact that DrinkBox spun those influences into their own unique vision. Squeezing through pipes and zooming definitely reminds me of the cheery PSP game. I can live with the speed-platforming, but I hate with a passion those damn red laser beams. They wouldn’t be so bad if those sections were solely reliant on face-button jumping. Instead, they are met with a mix of touch controls and buttons. While my reflexes are decent with pressing buttons quickly, they aren’t exactly ninja-like when it comes to touching the screen, moving to press buttons, and then quickly moving back to touch the screen again. This is the one aspect of Mutant Blobs Attack that I find almost infuriating.
What I found so charming with the eating mechanic is how I couldn’t wait to see just what else the blob would be able to consume in the level after he grew to the next size. The seamless shift in scale is another perfect example of the care DrinkBox put into the overall game esthetic. They surprised me at how much detail was put into the background even early on in each stage, with the understanding that players were likely to double back once the blob was larger to absorb as much as possible, knowing that if the extra details weren’t there, the area would look very bland. This sort of attention to detail is what makes the game’s charm last even when you might expect it to fall short.
On playing through several levels a second time (to collect a blob friend that I had missed the first time through), I was surprised to find that the touch detection points, while small as you mentioned, were also sensitive enough that I could have them barely visible on the side of the screen and still touch and swipe to bring a platform close enough to allow my blob to jump to an area I thought I wouldn’t have been able to access otherwise. A larger detection window would have been nice, but there are also a few sections where there are platforms that are almost too close together to be able to offer a larger detection radius.
To me, the Tilt-a-Blob stages were the delicious cream cheese icing on the cake bonus that this game deserved. While the idea is simple, DrinkBox handled each bonus stage with a unique visual style reflective of each section of the game. Plus, they are a nice distraction after frantic speed-platforming and narrow insta-death escapes.
Mutant Blobs Attack is a prime example of how games should be developed for the Vita. The game combines a nice balance of touch and tilt controls without feeling gimmicky. Levels are quick and are a perfect snack size for on the go gaming, yet also hold up just fine for long play sessions. If you own a Vita, this is a game that should not be missed.
+ Great mix of touch and tilt without feeling gimmicky
+ Fun, quick levels that offer plenty of replay value
+ Charming music and art style
– Speed platforming moments can be a bit frustrating
– Online functionality only goes as far as leaderboard tracking
– Some touch control timing can make you feel like a contortionist
Matt: I agree that the game’s reflex-intensive challenges can cause major headaches. For such a bright, cheery game, I sure let out more choice expletives than I expected to. I remember a couple parts where the blob is falling down zig-zag corridors lined with lasers, and you have to slam dash through the sequence with exact timing and angle in relation to the walls. One slip-up, and the blob’s toast. Having to attempt such tricky hazards half a dozen times just to get the timing down can push the player beyond his/her boiling point.
Fortunately, the tougher moments are manageable because checkpoints auto-save progress at regular intervals, especially right before the more dangerous obstacles. I don’t remember ever having to replay long stretches of a level after dying. If I failed, it always seemed like I was right back in the game ready to retry the same section without any downtime.
I’m glad you brought up the replay factor in relation to the blob friends. Two of the blob’s pals are lost throughout each level, and the areas they’re hidden in and the ways you have to go about finding them exemplify DrinkBox’s deft touch when it comes to level and gameplay design. I missed a few on my first run, but enjoyed going back to figure out where those slimy fellas were hiding.
From what I’ve read, the first game had co-op play and later received a costume editor via free DLC, neither of which made it into Mutant Blobs Attack. That’s a shame, but the game still offers plenty to do after your initial play. In addition to the blob friends, stages are littered with point pellets to gobble up like Pac-Man and medals are awarded for each level based on your final score, which is calculated based on collected objects, points and blob friends. Online leaderboards then factor completion time bonuses into the equation for competitive high score comparison with other players. On a casual one-shot, the game is beatable within probably three hours, but that play time will double easily once you start hunting for collectibles and attempting gold medal runs on the way to achieving 100% trophy status.
Mutant Blobs Attack, in terms of scale and scope, is as diminutive as its gooey, extraterrestrial star, meaning it isn’t a particularly expansive or long-lasting game. However, for under $10 (only $7.99!), it’s ideal as a bite-sized travel companion that is super-easy to whip out for quick spurts of gaming pleasure and doesn’t eat up precious memory card space (it’s barely over 100MB in file size). The humorous story, cartoony graphics, clever levels and high attention to detail throughout every facet of its design combine to make this a Vita standout. Don’t let it slip under your radar.
+ Clever level and puzzle design
+ Seamless level scaling
+ Charming ’50s sci-fi flick presentation and humor
+ Collectibles and high score runs call you back for more
– High finger reflex requirements
– Occasionally imprecise touchscreen detection
Platform: PlayStation Vita via PSN
Publisher: DrinkBox Studios
Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Release Date: 2/21/2012
ESRB Rating: E10+
Source: Review code provided by publisher. Second copy purchased by reviewer.