It's an easy scenario to picture: developers Drinkbox Studios gathered around a large conference table laced with paper, pencils and plates of those round biscuits that aren't quite Custard Creams nor Jammie Dodgers. "How about something to do with a giant, shape-shifting space blob?" one of the suited occupants around the table suggests.
The rest is of course history. In fact, we're convinced there's no better video game starting point than the ol' blob cliche. Tales From Space: About A Blob is a predictable puzzle platformer with some unique mechanical twists. Set to a Saturday morning visual aesthetic, About A Blob plots the path of a mysterious group of space-raiding alien boogers with eyes bigger than their bellies. The chief gameplay mechanic is simple — and presumably inspired by the likes of Katamari and its sequence of clones — hold L2 to scoff and expand your blob's increasing mass. The more you eat, the more you grow; the more you grow, the more you can eat. It's a simple premise but its accentuated by a terrific sense of scale. You'll start the game as a popcorn vacuuming splodge on the shelf of a mad scientist's laboratory, but before long you'll be in the urban wilderness chased by tanks and helicopters — and latterly gobbling them up before they can take a pot-shot. It all culminates in a super satisfying final quarter as your blob grows to an enormously satisfying size.
Scran isn't your blob's only point of interaction though. About A Blob is very much a platformer, and thus much of its gameplay revolves around the core mechanics of any game in the genre. There's an obligatory run and jump button, with the blob's weightless sense of inertia resembling something more akin to LittleBigPlanet than Super Mario. While it can be irritatingly imprecise in places, the game is designed around its limitations — platforming is the game's bread-and-butter, but it's never particularly challenging.
Instead the game relies on the blob's other abilities to provide some wildly precise requirements of controller dexterity. See, blob is not just any old blob; he has magnetism and electrical abilities, opening up some really engaging and complex puzzles. Mapped to the shoulder buttons, some of these puzzles require Twister-like feats of finger precision, a dynamic that adds complexity and satisfaction to the completion of these components. Sadly, there are far few puzzles throughout the length of About A Blob's relatively short campaign, though the ones that are included definitely justify the mechanics. Playing the game co-operatively reduces some of the difficulty of these challenges, though the local multiplayer dynamic adds an amusing, if occasionally frustrating, twist to proceedings.
Visually About A Blob is a real treat. The game's varying scale and cheeky Saturday morning visuals really suit the gameplay style, and the world is packed with memes and commentaries on popular culture. The visuals are supported by a cheeky, nostalgic sci-fi theme that's one-part awesome and two-parts repetitive. While the melodies will hook into your head long before you've completed the first level, the repetitive nature of the tunes means this isn't necessarily a good thing. The music suits the tone of the game perfectly though, as does the border vignetting and soft colour palette.
While you'll easily be able to see off About A Blob's campaign in an afternoon, Drinkbox will be hoping you replay the game to complete the various sub-challenges attached to each level. Alongside outrageously unattainable speed challenges are collectibles and leaderboards. We didn't have much interest in pursuing these sub-challenges, but obsessive players will find it hard to ignore the glaring incomplete notices attached to each level's overview.
At $15 (we're expecting £9.99 in the UK), About A Blob is toeing the steep-end, but it does a lot to justify its price-tag. The mechanics lead to some excellent puzzle design, and the visual style is varied and compelling. We enjoyed our time with About A Blob, but we're uncertain if we'll return to it. That said, even with the advent of the PlayStation Network, there's been a real lack of well-designed two-dimensional platformers, and About A Blob certainly fills that growing void. It's fun, quirky and self-aware. Oh, and it also features an orange space-blob. Don't act like that's not a selling point.
Tales From Space: About A Blob launches on the PlayStation Store from February 9th.
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