Review: A Boy and His Blob Retro Collection
David Crane's bizarre NES title returns to deeply upset a host of newcomers
Would it have killed David Crane to just put the function of each jellybean on screen as you select it? That's what I'd like to know. Would the genius designer of the Atari 2600's Pitfall have simply keeled over and expired if asked to make use of this minor quality of life change? Sorry, I'm not explaining myself very well. See, in A Boy and His Blob, you don't know what you're doing. Initially, I mean. You get this boy, right. And you get this blob. This big bloody blob bloke. And you're carrying a bag of jellybeans, which you feed to the blob in question. Each flavour has a different effect on the blob's shape, which you must use to navigate the game akin to a 2D platformer, only you can't jump. The issue is, you don't know what the jellybeans do until you use them, and you have a very exhaustible number of these sweets. It becomes something of a trial and error game very quickly, meaning you'll need to scrabble for a pen and paper to write down which confectionary does what.
That's pretty old-school, right? In fact, it's a little bit... I'm gonna say it... micro-y. As in microcomputer. Like the ZX Spectrum. You've got this big open space, within which you can go absolutely anywhere, and you're just left on your own (well, with a Blob) and told "figure it out". I went into the collection's overlay menu and chose "how to play" but the screen does not tell you what the beans do and thusly is no help. That means it's experimentation time folks! You have so few of some beans that it's entirely feasible you will hit an unwinnable situation, which will require a reset of the game. It's somewhat brutal, but there's a real charm to its cruelty. The thought of a singular designer crafting this web, these two large maps filled to the brim with extraneous, but point-scoring content that's absolutely unnecessary to complete the game. And I sort of love that. It's very much my thing. Yum, yum, yum.
The package here also includes the Game Boy follow-up The Rescue of Princess Blobette, a beautifully esoteric follow-up with level design even more arcane and difficult to navigate than the original. In fact, there's something a bit Dizzy-ish about the way it looks you in a prison cell until you figure out the first two beans you need to use. Pure trial and error, but a statement, you know? I admire its tenacity, I enjoy the throwback design quite unlike almost anything else I can think of on NES. It stands out in that way. I suspect there was a heavy playground chatter presence for this one. It's just so clearly the vision of a single designer that I can't help but try to get in their head, into the head of David Crane, the man behind some of my all-time faves. It's a delight.
But it's also sort of horrible, you know? It's an absolute nightmare of patience-testing gameplay, a torturous experience that it's incredibly difficult to recommend outside of a certain type of person. Of course, it's more palatable in this package as you have access to a full map at any time, but that raises the question of why they couldn't have included a key for the jellybean effects. I guess it would pretty much remove the game to do that, but... it seems like an oversight to me, personally. Guides are available online, natch. But still!
As a bonus, you also get the Japanese versions of each game in which the titular Boy has been manga-ified to look much cuter, and the jellybeans changed to "vitamins" for what I'm sure is a compelling reason. As a package it has what you'd expect from a retro compilation, as in borders, filters et al, but not much else in the way of extras besides save/load. And that's okay, because it does its job as a presentation of a classic game.The Carbon engine from Limited Run is doing the work. It's nice to see how solid it is.
A Boy and His Blob Retro Collection is a difficult recommendation from me, but it's a recommendation nonetheless. It's a fascinating game, one that's not afraid to alienate and frustrate players. I suspect the vast majority of gamers would give up on it after less than five minutes, and it'd be tough to blame them for doing so. If you're like me, though, and you have a soft spot for obtuse old silliness, get this down you ASAP.