Steven Spielberg may rule Hollywood, but in the video-game biz — the more profitable of the two industries, becoming more so with each passing year — he's a bikini-clad babe in Jaws-infested waters.
Perhaps that's why in 2005, Spielberg, an avid gamer, signed with developing giant EA Games for three unannounced projects. Or maybe he just wants some of that sweet, sweet video-game cash — the kind his pal George Lucas fills swimming pools with.
And so, a full three years after the EA contract was inked, the partnership has finally yielded its first blockbuster (if only in name) with Boom Blox for the Wii.
Surprisingly, the game arrived with not even a fraction of the fanfare usually reserved for, say, an old man and his whip. The words "Spielberg" and "low-key" seldom share the same sentence, but it's a bold decision to release a game as original and untested as Boom Blox. (It's also a sigh of relief for those burned by lackluster Spielberg film-tie-in games from years past.)
Simply put, Boom Blox is Jenga with special effects: an explosive, whimsical puzzle game that's simple at its core, but challenging even on its hundredth play. And hell, it's just fun to knock down giant block towers without your kid brother crying about it.
From delicate pulling movements (removing a block from the bottom row) to reckless throwing motions (shattering glass rectangles with a bowling ball), the Wii controller feels like an extension of your own hand. That's the most important aspect of any innovative Wii title, but it makes or breaks the ones that, like Boom Blox, require the steadiest of nerves. So if you were disappointed with last year's soul-crushingly bad Jenga game, you'll take to Boom Blox like E.T. to canned beer.
The game is anchored by its "Adventure Mode," which stars irritating, domino-shaped cartoon animals, who insist on waving at you to no end. (Yes, we see you — quit yer waving, rectangle penguin.)
If Adventure Mode doesn't feel age-appropriate — after all, it offers no shortage of hints, as well as animated freaks and other silliness — dive into multiplayer mode for some no-nonsense, monolith-toppling skill tests with friends.
Stages that require some mental gymnastics offer big replay value, like when you must figure out how to knock chemical blocks into one another to create a chain-reaction explosion, then collect the shiny gems that result from it. But several shooting-gallery-type levels feel lazy and unnecessary: One second you're using your brain; the next you're mindlessly blasting zombie monkeys for points. (Then again, Spielberg has never been one to stick with a single genre.)
Boom Blox's all-access Level Editor is a brilliant inclusion that allows you to dream up your most nightmarish puzzle challenges, then e-mail them to unsuspecting friends. (Or just piss them off by sending an incessantly waving penguin. Your call.)
We dubbed Portal Game of the Year for 2007, and while Boom Blox is no Portal, it has the winning formula that landed top honors for the Orange Box's modest add-on: simple yet addictive design, deceptively easy puzzles, and brilliant in-game physics. It may not be what you'd expected from Spielberg's first team-up with EA, but it'll do until Close Encounters of the Third-Person-Shooter Kind hits shelves.