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de Blob Review – “Paint by Numbers”

de Blob

Developer: Blue Tongue Entertainment
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Reviewed on: PC
Code Received

At the time of its original release as a Wii exclusive in 2008, de Blob was largely a critical success. Nine years later, THQ Nordic has brought the sleeper hit to a new audience via a Steam release.

In de Blob, the evil INKT Corporation has removed all traces of color from Chroma City, leaving its citizens under control of the nefarious dictator Comrade Black. You control Blob, and with help from your rebel support team Colour Underground, you must restore color and individuality to Chroma City before Comrade Black advances to take over the entire planet of Raydia.

de Blob
Seamlessly switch paints by smashing Paintbots of varying colors

De Blob is at its core a 3D platformer. You begin each of the ten levels as a clear gelatin-like blob. Throughout each world you will find INKT Corporation’s color-storing Paintbots in the streets and on buildings, and they will each have either red, yellow, or blue paint for you to collect. You can combine the colors to create orange, green, purple, or brown. Each Paintbot you smash nets you ten paint points, enabling you to paint one building or object. You can carry up to 100 paint points which also serve as your health. Black ink pools will turn Blob black and his paint points begin to drop, resulting in death if the ink is not washed away in water before the paint points run out.

Comrade Black has also dispatched his minions to undo Blob’s efforts, and they are easy enough to handle. Most are defeated by targeting with left trigger and jumping to slam them from above. After completing enough challenges, roughing up enough baddies, and restoring enough color in a given sector, you may exit the level at any time by finding an exit pool.

De Blob deviates from the standard platformer affair by flipping the idea of collectibles on its head. While you do collect some things such as ink, extra lives, and new paint styles (allowing painting in wild stripe and zigzag patterns), the main idea is to paint enough of the current area to gain access to the next. Every platform you ascend to and every structure you graze against counts toward unlocking the next area.

After harvesting ink, you will spend most of your time painting buildings and completing very simple challenges, such as following checkpoint markers until you reach a goal, or painting rows of buildings specific colors before time runs out. Blocks of structures contain many buildings and you are awarded score bonuses for completely painting a block using multiple colors. Each stage contains a number of larger landmark buildings that must be cleared with multiple color-specific paint points.

de Blob
Touch structures to paint them while avoiding the black ink

One of the more subtle and well-executed systems at work in de Blob pertains to sound. Multiple songs are available to play while tackling the ten levels, running the gamut from funk, samba, reggae, and jazz. While these instrumental tracks are sufficient enough on their own, a sleek decision was made to incorporate sound with color, and the music became more of an interactive element in the process. When a level begins, there is mostly silence. As color is reapplied to the world, little riffs begin cutting through the tonal void. Each color used will add a different instrumentation to the background music, so while you are gliding around skimming off buildings and switching colors, the music begins to correlate with the action on screen.

At no point is this a challenging game by design, but there are certainly some design choices that make progression harder than it needs to be. Controlling Blob is usually pretty smooth on the ground, but things reach for the floaty end of the spectrum once we start jumping and platforming. During my entire play through of de Blob I was at odds with the movement mechanics. Sometimes when Blob touches a wall in mid-air, he sticks to it and slowly slides down the wall. During this phase the player can jump while moving away from the wall to perform a sort of lateral wall jump, or stay stuck to the wall until they slide back to the ground. I was almost finished with the game when I realized that pressing RT to enter first person view will detach Blob from the wall, and this find alleviated at least part of the control headaches I experienced. I really cannot be certain this was by design or just a side effect of going into first person view, and upon trying to confirm one way or the other I discovered the pause menu does not feature a controller layout menu. So if dropping from walls is an intentional mechanic, it would greatly benefit the player if this information were presented more clearly.

If you manage to deal with the deflating controls long enough, the in-game camera will absolutely become an issue at some point. I played de Blob with an Xbox One controller. Movement is delegated to the left stick, and the right stick allows left/right camera control. In order to look up/down, the right trigger must be held to engage a stationary first person view. It becomes an issue during timed challenges, as you sometimes are required to move up structures to the next point, and sometimes that next point is behind and above/below you. No ability to quickly look up/down while moving means you end up wandering around in circles until the auto camera chooses to reveal the next checkpoint to you randomly. This camera mechanic is outdated even by 2008’s standards. I understand that the Wii did not utilize a right joystick for controlling the camera, but this is inexcusable for a 2017 PC re-release.

My final gripe with de Blob is my deepest. There are no save points within levels. De Blob will take the average player about ten hours to get through. That’s an hour per level uninterrupted to ensure your progress is saved. There were many times I had to replay through 20 – 30 minutes of the same level because I was pulled away during a game play session. The absence of mid-level saves is made even more mind boggling when we consider each level is broken down into multiple segments already. A few times in each level Blob must step on a switch to throw a gate open in order to access a previously unreachable region. The framework for logical checkpoints is there. The inclusion of even a single mid-level checkpoint would have made de Blob much more approachable for me.

There are also a few multiplayer options on display. In Paint Match, which is basically a spiritual precursor to Splatoon, players paint as much of the map as possible before time runs out. Painting an object first will earn more points than covering up opponent’s work. Blob on the Run is a game type in which only the first player to collect paint may actually paint, a privilege the player forfeits if slammed by another player or if ink is touched. Blob Race is identical to Paint Match, except structures may only be painted once. Blob Race leads to more exciting moments than the other two multiplayer modes. Things get interesting as the clock ticks down and the score is tied, with all players scrambling for unpainted surfaces.

Free Paint allows the player to go through the story levels with low pressure. No timer or enemies makes for a more relaxed experience. Free Paint mode is unlocked from the start, but only levels which have been passed previously in Story Mode are available for play. Between Free Paint and the various multiplayer options on hand, de Blob makes a case for another ten to fifteen hours of play (assuming your household doesn’t get hooked on its multiplayer modes).

All things considered, de Blob has a lot going for it. Hearing the snappy jazz mix with my actions on screen and the subsequent change in instrumentation when I switched colors felt magical at times. Restoring color and personality to a drab, sanitized world can be delightfully satisfying. Had just a few revisions been made to camera systems, movement and save management, de Blob could have held up even better this go around.


PC Specs:
Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
Intel Core i5 CPU 650 @ 3.20GHz
8 GB RAM
AMD Radeon R9 280X, 3GB VRAM
Samsung EVO 250 GB SSD

 

Good

The de Blob PC release reintroduces us to one of the better sleeper hits of the Wii generation, and while far from perfect, the fun to be had here is undeniable.

7.5
Overall:
7.5

Cody is a rapper and producer from Fort Worth, Texas. He is also a father of three, husband, and an avid Nintendo geek.