de Blob 2 Review

By Sam Quirke, 6 months ago
We're now five years into the Xbox One generation, with an even more powerful console joining the family in the process. We also have the incredibly cool backward compatibility program constantly evolving, allowing us to play more and more of our Xbox 360 games on our newer consoles. But despite all of that and for various reasons, publishers are still keenly porting their 360 titles over to Xbox One, normally with some sort of visual polish. We all have older games we'd love to see on the One, but I'd wager de Blob 2 wasn't particularly high up on people's lists — especially since the 360 version is already backward compatible. Still, it's a series that many may have overlooked the first time around, so it's worth exploring whether it holds up — and what, if anything, the Xbox One port improves upon.

Developed by Blitworks and published by THQ NordicDeveloped by Blitworks and published by THQ Nordic


de Blob 2 first turned up in 2011, but it still holds up well within the 3D platforming genre seven years on. Part of this has to do with the central gameplay loop, which has you rolling around as the titular Blob and finding coloured ink to suck up into his body. You then reintroduce these colours to a black and white world under the control of an evil dictator. Many games have included similar colour-based mechanics but de Blob 2 pulls it off with competence and a degree of creative flair. The challenges you face are simple in principle but complex when manoeuvring around. You need to think about what colour you need to be and how much paint you need while also avoiding water sources that can wipe your colour off entirely, not to mention dealing with the black ink enemies and traps that can cause significant damage. Each level is a sizeable open world with a main mission strand running through it. A time limit to complete the main mission adds a degree of tension and also encourages the player to explore, as colouring up whole blocks of buildings or smashing crates can net you additional minutes on the clock. When the time is ticking down you can take advantage of the game's competent targeting system to rapidly stomp a swathe of enemies into oblivion. It gives the game a pleasing blend of manic hopping and soporific rolling that never stops being satisfying to execute.

It also helps that the game lets features creep in just enough to keep things interesting without becoming overwhelming. Compared to a lot of platforming contemporaries, none of the additional features mess with the basic gameplay loop in a frustrating way. Power-ups range from familiar timed invincibility and unlimited ammo to more creative perks such as regenerating paint levels and a timed detonation that briefly turns Blob into a rolling black hole. Enemies come in the form of a black ink army, and they arrive with a creative spectrum of designs as well. Each type has a different level of protection and methods of defeat meaning you can't quite barrel around at top speed all of the time. Most of the moments of frustration in the game come from forgetting to slow down and patiently plan things out, which is a testament to how fun you can have zooming around the map.

2D sections bring a slower, puzzle-oriented change of pace.2D sections bring a slower, puzzle-oriented change of pace.


At the end of each level you can choose to either leave or hoover up the remaining challenges and collectibles without the pressure of a time limit, which alleviates some of the frustration of chasing down the game's various trinkets. The post-quest challenges are perfectly fine, although perhaps there could have been a flash more creativity between levels here. Pretty much every stage has you releasing trapped citizens, rejuvenating trees, smashing crates and painting billboards. All of these activities are fun enough but get a little tedious by the final stages, especially when the stage worlds become larger and more complicated to navigate. You can also earn rankings in each stage based primarily on how much you collect en route, which gives a good reason to return later. Unfortunately, once you have completed a stage and moved on to another, you will find yourself back at the start of any level you return to. The game's generous upgrade system alleviates the frustration somewhat; assuming you've picked up enough Inspiration collectibles along the way, you will have upgraded Blob to the point where early levels will be a breeze to smash through.

The game has a small but perfectly decent local multiplayer component that would easily allow gaming parents to play along with the kids. A semi-competitive mode puts two Blobs on a map with a series of challenges not dissimilar to those found in the main campaign; you can work together but ultimately the Blob with the highest score wins the contest. The more interesting aspect is the co-op available in the campaign. A second controller can drop in during a level and essentially provide air support thanks to a floating reticle on screen. The second player can zap bad guys, grab items and smash crates just by hovering over them and hitting "A", though they must also hit paint sources to keep their ammo topped up. The game gets surprisingly intense towards the final third, though never frustratingly so. Still, it's handy to have a wing-man on board to clear out some of the more frustrating enemies along the way. The only slight complaint here is that the second player's reticle is incredibly tiny. If playing co-op with the kids, it might be best to let them control the big Blob while the adult squints to pick off the more complex enemy types.

Blob teams up with a colourful revolution out to topple the Inky regime.Blob teams up with a colourful revolution out to topple the Inky regime.


The audiovisual design of this game is a pretty perfect fit for the tone and really elevates it above similar titles of the previous decade. This is largely down to how it ties into the gameplay. While rolling around in unpainted areas, the palette is muted and sterile and the music has a sombre minimalist tone. Once Blob has rolled through and liberated the locals with vibrant splats of paint across their buildings, the music picks up tempo and the game's open spaces take on their own colour, as well as sprouting colourful flowers and cute animals. The soundtrack adapts very cleverly and subtly as Blob often skates between monochromatic and technicolor spaces just while getting from A to B, and its hearty blend of light jazz, funk and salsa is a joy to listen to. Not many 3D platformers such as this can escape the necessity to include a full cast of deeply irritating characters but even here de Blob dodges a bullet. Our hero's friends are far from complex characters but they are charmingly goofy in their own way, and their jabbering voice tones are too subtle to become grating. While the story is too simplistic to be memorable, even the cutscenes between levels are enjoyable. They normally involve a humourous incident with the bad guys that introduce the upcoming challenges. It's almost exactly like watching the Minions, so if you can tolerate the little yellow guys you should have no problems with the Inkies in de Blob.

de Blob doesn't quite escape unscathed, however. Our hero's snappy lock-on is satisfying in most sequences but sometimes it's difficult to target objects while in the air, which is a common puzzle setup in the game's otherwise well-designed 2D platforming sections. The game's difficulty is wobbly as well. There are exceptionally long gaps between checkpoints, and while the game is perhaps a little too easy, it's also very easy to accidentally hit the wrong surface and rapidly get a Game Over, sending you back a considerable distance that feels far too large a punishment for a slight error. Still, the one aspect of 3D platformers that normally has one tearing their hair out is trying to wrangle with the camera; thankfully de Blob 2 has a smooth control and very rarely wrests that control from the player, meaning you can work out your next move without fighting the game itself.

Negligible differences between 2011 (left) and 2017 (right). Both tested on Xbox One.Negligible differences between 2011 (left) and 2017 (right). Both tested on Xbox One.


Of course, all of this is essentially a review of a 2011 game. While it's certainly worth playing today on a modern console, the Xbox One version of the game does surprisingly little to take advantage of the machine's additional horsepower. A game like de Blob 2, with its simple textures and bright swathes of basic colours, doesn't really benefit too noticeably from a graphical update. The screenshot above shows how the benefits boil down to a touch of additional clarity on edges and slightly less pixelation on texture detail, but play-testing alongside the 360 version revealed that nothing was noticeably different in practice. Certainly there are no additional features bundled in, and while the latest iteration is a butter-smooth experience, the 360 version fared just as well in testing. All of this is compounded by the fact that the 360 version is already backward compatible, and at the time of writing remains in the Xbox Game Pass subscription service. It's an odd situation in which this game is easy to recommend, but common sense suggests sticking to the seven-year-old version of the game rather than investing more money in an ever-so-slightly crisper update.

Achievement-wise, the list is nearly identical to the 360 version of the game. One achievement has been added and based on the description it seems to simply be an equivalent to the PlayStation's standard Platinum trophy for getting hold of everything else. Based on some testing it would appear that the majority of our existing guides and the walkthrough for the 360 version still apply. Regardless, the completion is fairly straightforward, amounting mostly to collectibles hunts — though efficient achievement hunters should consider ignoring the upgrade system on their first playthrough.

Check out our Best Xbox Platformer Games Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

de Blob 2 is absolutely worth playing if you have any fondness for 3D platformers. It's a simple yet creative concept and the sequel brings additional gameplay features that for the most part improve the overall variety of the experience. It gets a little tough and frustrating in the final third but the developers have deftly managed to avoid the majority of design obstacles for which the genre is notorious. It's an easy game to recommend in theory, but it's hard to justify the Xbox One version when the 360 version is backward compatible. The only significant change is a boost to the game's graphical clarity, but in a game in which you splat huge swathes of paint over a cartoon city, it seems a mostly unnecessary investment unless you are particularly allergic to graphical standards circa 2011. Now that both games in the series are on modern consoles, here's hoping that THQ Nordic are finally ready to invest in an actual sequel.
4 / 5
Positives
  • Bright, colourful and creative
  • Family friendly with decent co-op play
  • Lovely jazzy soundtrack that reacts cleverly to the gameplay
  • Competently avoids most 3D platforming pitfalls
Negatives
  • The Xbox One port adds nothing but slightly improved visuals
  • Some occasional frustrations in level design
  • Could have used more environmental variety
Ethics Statement
The reviewer smeared super-crisp-looking paint over a variety of surfaces for approximately 12 hours, earning 17 of the game's 26 achievements. An Xbox One digital code was provided for the purpose of this review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Sam Quirke
Written by Sam Quirke
Sam has been a Newshound since 2016. He's also been gaming long enough to know what a text parser is. When not hopelessly lost in the latest open-world epic, Sam is busy devouring books and podcasts or trading Pokémon with his wife.