Majesco hauled shmup artist Kenta Cho's 2004 sidescroller Tumiki Fighters out of obscurity to create Blast Works: Build, Trade, Destroy for the Wii. Blast Works hangs on Tumiki Fighters' innovative central mechanic: allowing you to collect and use pieces of destroyed enemy ships as shields and guns by sticking them to yourself.
They've also thrown in a kitchen-sink level editor that lets you customize anything and everything in the polygonal game, and build your own stages from scratch. But does it all work? And, more importantly, how does it all play?
Katamari Shooter?: In Blast Works, when you bust up an enemy ship, turret, tower or tank, instead of blowing to smithereens, its pieces break apart and tumble slowly through the air. If you fly your ship into the pieces, they stick to you - with their guns still working. Items will stay stuck on at the same angle at which they landed on you, and before long you can accumulate and pilot a gigantic clump of your fallen enemies, bullets spewing in all directions, taking up the entire screen. The ship pieces also act as a shield, but since they're knocked off you when you get hit, you may want to save them for later - and you can do that by holding the Z button on the Nunchuk, drawing them into your ship's "body" and out of sight.
Retro Cool: A polygonal shooter can be expected to look a bit crude on Wii, and Blast Works certainly does. But thanks to a bright and vaguely surreal color palette and the genre's simplicity, the blocky look actually works in the game's favor, giving it a pleasant retro vibe.
The Kitchen Sink: The level editor lets you change and save absolutely everything you encounter in the game's campaign, plus some extras. It also comes with some fun, creative bonus levels that showcase the editor's possibilities (and you can edit these, too). I splashed all my polygonal ships in Pepto Bismol pink, made armies of flying, frowning trees that spewed red "apple" bullets, and tacked big fat propellers on just about everything. The really detail-oriented would find a total playground here.
Blast Works Depot: Not only can you download a little bit of extra content directly from the Wii's channel, the Blast Works Depot website makes it easy to share and swap user-generated content. You can send any of your creations to the website's repository, and from your computer, you can browse others' creations and queue them for download onto your Wii. It's a quick and easy way to create and share community content, and the Blast Works Depot website library has grown from 5 pages when I first began reviewing the game to 21 only a couple weeks later, and users have submitted every type of creation from Star Trek ships to cartoon tanks and even something that looks quite like an Evangelion mech.
Frustration Factor: There are 15 missions in the game's campaign mode, and except for the last three or four, the main stage portion is always manageable, if not outright easy on lower difficulty levels. It's easy to rack up continues and a mammoth, bullet-spitting shield made out of your fallen enemies - only to lose it all when confronted with a giant boss whose wall of bullets is almost unfairly difficult to avoid. What's worse is that when you lose all your continues, you don't have the option of picking up from the last level you successfully completed - you've got to start all over again from the beginning of the campaign mode. Moreover, your shields are supposed to take the hits from enemies for you, but it still seems possible for you to die even when you're surrounded by a hefty hunk of junk.
User Interface: Without the level and ship editors, Blast Works feels like any simplistic side-scrolling shooter once the novelty of the accumulation mechanic wears off. That's why it's a shame that the menus and editor screens are so poorly arranged and inconvenient to use, making object construction and modding a tedious and often obtuse process. Plus, the Wii Remote is as poor here for point-and-click as it generally tends to be, and you may have to try a few times before you can isolate the exact area that you want to edit in the deceptively-detailed polygonal models. It took me close to twenty minutes just to make my ship completely pink and stick a propeller on it, so you'll need tons of patience if you want to significantly edit something - and heaps more if you hope to build from scratch. If you're not artistically inclined, it's even more difficult to make something that actually looks good.
Shooting In The Dark: Even though the level editor is so complex, there's no walkthrough to explain what your options are, where your creations show up, or how to add and operate certain effects. Each menu page has a help button that will, albeit poorly, explain what various buttons do, but this gives you a much more fragmented look at the process than even a brief, optional tutorial could have done. Though I figured it out soon enough by trial and error, I still didn't understand why certain models behaved in certain ways once I'd plunked them into levels, and figured there had to be easier ways of accomplishing certain things. Would have been nice to be able to check.
Blast Works feels refreshing and different, and it seems to me that there are countless solid hours of playtime there for the detail-oriented. If you're not a fan in general of shooters, it may be worth a look just for the fun of clumping up with ship parts, and the freedom of building and creating.
Without persistence, though, the ungainliness of the level editor makes it a challenge to easily enjoy - though there's clearly an audience at Blast Works Depot who's patiently mastered the art of creation, so if that's your personality, you might enjoy the challenge, too.
Blast Works was developed by Budcat Creations and published by Majesco. Retails for $39.99. Available for Wii. Played to completion on the easiest "Rookie" setting, three stages on "Pilot" difficulty, and one stage on hardest "Ace" difficulty.
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