Review – Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack

For most of my life the 1958 horror flick ‘The Blob’ has occupied a special place in my psyche. As a child I happened to catch it on TV one night and the thought of being dissolved within the mass of this relentless thing had a special resonance for the terror centres of my young lizard-brain. I think it was a claustrophobia thing. Fast forward to 2011 and the PSN release Tales From Space: About A Blob represented something of a power fantasy for what’s left of seven-year-old me. This time I controlled the blob devouring hapless humans. The whole thing was so bloody satisfying – it was unquestionably one of my favourite PSN titles of last year. With the release of the Vita, Drinkbox Studios have brought us a sequel of sorts – Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, and they’ve excelled themselves again.

Sometimes a blob just has to eat some space men and then eat some of their space shapes on their floating space platforms.

MBA is fundamentally the same game as its predecessor. Its aesthetics are a clear homage to the 1950s setting of the original film – both with respect to the art style and the soundtrack. This presentation is very distinctive, and succeeds in giving the game a strong identity. At its heart MBA remains a 2D platformer combined with the roll-and-grow elements of the Katamari games. This is in fact the core mechanic of the game – only by consuming objects (and people…and cows…and so on…) can the blob get sufficiently large to absorb whatever is blocking its path to the next level. As you progress through the game the blob gets bigger relative to its surroundings, culminating in a deeply satisfying final section in which the blob is all but invulnerable – the ultimate catharsis for my traumatized inner child.

For anyone who has played the PS3 game, all of this will be familiar. However the Vita incarnation brings a number of new mechanics to the table, some of which work better than others. Probably the most successful are the areas in which the blob acquires the ability for rocket-powered flight, and the top-down tilt levels (think Labyrinth, or maybe Tilt to Live). The accelerometer controls are very responsive, and these sections offer a nice change of pace – although the eat-everything mechanic remains constant. Drinkbox may like to mix things up, but he’s a one-trick pony this blob.

Are these mini games ‘tacked on?’ Well, I guess we would have to ask the developers, but what we do know is that they are well executed and fun.

I was less taken with the addition of touchscreen controls to MBA. Occasionally you are required to reposition your hands to manipulate objects on the screen. I found it fiddly and unnecessary. It may have helped if you were able to use any part of the screen to control the object – as it was, I found it mildly irritating to have to change my grip on the Vita, and the objects often did not respond in the way I intended.

There are also a few omissions from the PS3 game that I found slightly disappointing. There is no longer a main antagonist, although story is hardly a reason to play these games. The co-op is gone, but that was local only on the PS3 anyway. The ability to…umm…swallow and spit, in which the blob consumes objects and then shoots them to places he could not otherwise reach, has also been removed. This is one area where MBA really falls short of its PS3 predecessor. The spit mechanic, along with the use of the ability to magnetically repel the blob from, or attract him to certain objects, made for some really ingenious and rewarding puzzles in the first game. While the magnetism remains in MBA, it is used almost exclusively as a platforming mechanic (albeit a very enjoyable one).  The Vita game has just enough puzzles to be considered a puzzle-platformer, but they do not match the standard of those in the original game.

The art style in this game is perfect and that is a scientific fact.

As someone who played a lot of About a Blob on the PS3, Mutant Blobs Attack left me with the feeling that if Drinkbox had kept the puzzle-friendly elements of the first game, they would have a genuine classic on their hands. That said, there is enough new here to keep it interesting, and in any case I would happily have paid more just for new levels. For people who did not play the original (for shame), this is as good a game as you will play on your Vita. This middle-aged-seven-year-old loved it.

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