A Boy and His Blob is hopelessly saccharine in that classic 80s way. To some extent, that shouldn’t be surprising as this is an “HD” remaster of a 1989 game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Even so, it takes a few too many nods from sci-fi oldies like ET: The Extra Terrestrial without the genuine bond that always closes out those sorts of films. In essence, it’s a cute contrivance with lots of bits that work, but without a soul tying them all together.
The setting and plot are about as close as anyone can get to copying the essentials of ET without rousing Universal’s lawyers. Our eponymous boy discovers a stranded alien and discovers the creature has supernatural powers. Together the two become great friends and share a larger-than-life adventure. Where this tale of unlikely friends should feel touching, however, it comes off as forced.
These sorts of stories need a guiding conflict — something that stretches across any cultural boundaries to connect our characters. This boy and his blob join and immediately seem like they’ve known each other forever.
From the first meeting, the two can share an adorable, heart-melting hug. It’s animated with a care and attention to detail that shows that the game makers are invested in this pair. For me though, it was an errant key press that assumed an intimate connection that had little grounding. It might seem odd to hold a children’s game to developing believable relationships, but it’s a missed opportunity that, once presented with the curiosity of it all, kept coming back up as I played.
As an action-y, platform-y, puzzle-y game, A Boy and His Blob uses the Blob as the source of all growth. New abilities come in the form of jelly beans that you feed the Blob — allowing it to transform into a variety of objects that you can use to complete tasks. One bean turns the blob into a portal so you can drown enemies in water, a trampoline can help you jump to new areas, and, a mechanical suit that enhances your strength and stamina. But all these are things the Blob does to help you — the boy. Besides feeding it, you don’t do anything for the Blob.
It creates this weird dynamic and a one-sided relationship that never sees any form of resolution. The Blob has these powers and doesn’t need the boy. It could take all the jelly beans, transform at will, and work through all these challenges on its own. I kept coming back to this, in part, because the game makes a lot of the connection the two share. After you complete each level, for example, there’s a cloying scene transition with the boy resting his head on a pillow-shaped Blob. It’s charming, yes, but it did little to shake the idea that this kid was using the alien.
Putting the flimsy relationship aside is hard, but underneath that is a solid collection of challenging puzzles — each making using one of the Blob’s many forms. In practice, most levels are colossal Rube Goldberg machines with the connecting pieces missing. Rocks, switches, and doors dot each area, and you’ll have to figure out the right combination of Blob-shapes to progress.
Each new ability gets a nice introduction so you can test the Blob’s latest power — before combining the new toy with skills you’ve already learned. Painted signs showing which Blob-shape you need help create an even pace for progression that runs throughout. Nothing is too challenging too soon and the adventure never feels unfair.
That said, A Boy and His Blob doesn’t do the best job of teaching you the exact controls you’ll need to learn, and some of its concepts aren’t as intuitive as they perhaps should be.
Maybe I’m a little thick, but when I first unlocked the ability to use the parachute, I didn’t know exactly what to do. When the Blob eats the jellybean, he fluffs out — in yet another of the game’s cute vignettes — before collapsing in a mass on the ground. With that, I thought I messed something up — I presumed I needed to create wind to keep the Blob puffy. Or that I had to use the bean over a ledge to catch air. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that I had to tap the “use” key while falling to use the Blob as intended.
Therein lies the problem. I’m an adult, and I didn’t even know that there was a “use” key. While the puzzles and bigger concepts come in nice chunks, the most basic pieces don’t. And this is a recurring problem with each new power.
That weird learning barrier and the strange way A Boy and His Blob treats the core relationship of the game leaves me not understanding who the game is for. Children are going to have quite a few frustrating moments in understanding where to go and what to do due to a carelessly excluded tutorial. At the same time, painted signs showing some of the steps for each puzzle abound, robbing adults of their challenge. The game is cute and looks nice, but so much seems missing or just shoddily put together that I can’t in good conscience recommend it.
Dan Starkey is a freelance game critic based in the Twin Cities. He has an irrational obsession with apples and RTS games