I still remember when I saw The Blob. Not the original film, the 1988 remake. I was probably around ten years old, and we were having a Christmas party. The big kids had gone off into a separate room to watch horror movies. I came in right as what I call "The Yo-Yo Scene" was happening—a guy looks up, and fastened to the ceiling is The Blob itself, with a half-melted dude hanging out of it. It was the most horrifying, nightmare-inducing thing I'd ever seen. I would never think of blobs the same way again.
Until Mutant Blobs Attack, that is. The new downloadable game for the PS Vita is so delightful, funny, and smart that it's made me forget all about the ghastly pink flesh-eater from my childhood.
The full name of Mutant Blobs Attack is actually Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack! but I'm going to go ahead and call it Mutant Blobs Attack and hope you'll forgive me. The reason for the extended name is that the game is actually second in a series from Drinkbox Studios, the first being the PSN downloadable Tales from Space: About a Blob.
Mutant Blobs Attack is a side-scrolling puzzle/platformer that relies heavily on physics puzzles and tightly-packed level design. You play as a green, cyclopean blob that has escaped from a lab and wants to go… home? Out for dinner? It's not entirely clear.
Basically, you spend the game on a classic monster-movie rampage, and in order to rampage properly, you'll need to eat and eat and eat. The more objects you eat, the bigger you get; sometimes the levels will have "corks" blocking your way which you can only pass once you've hit a certain growth threshold. Eat enough stuff—some combination of food, trash, junk, and sometimes people—and you'll get big enough to proceed.
The whole story is played for laughs. It features a winning, paper-cutout animation style and groovy, 1950's sci-fi go-go music. The story has no text and only a few very short cutscenes, but it still manages to spin an entertaining yarn. That's because the environments are smartly designed to tell you where you are and why—you begin on a college campus before making your way through a town and onto a rocket into space, then to the moon, then back to earth. There's a nice sense of progression to the backdrops, and the story feels like just enough to let you understand what's going on but not so much that it's ever distracting.
Mutant Blobs Attack is not an easy game. In fact, it can be a right slap in the face at times. It's never face-crushingly, Vita-throwingly hard (mostly due to forgiving checkpoints), but it has a bracing, cold difficulty that feels like a welcome kick after the coddling of so many similar games. The first level was a piece of cake—I ate some junk, I pulled a cork, I flowed through some drains… and then on the second level, I was faced with instakill moving lasers. Woah! Things only get more difficult from there. But while I've died a whole lot, I've never felt punished for dying, and I've figured out most of the puzzles in a few tries.
The Blob has a limited but highly versatile move-set: It can jump, dive-bomb, perform wall-jumps, and use magnetism to pull or push him self away from certain metal surfaces. In some select sections, it can also fly, with the shoulder buttons used to fire up a sort of afterburner. Wonderfully, these moves are used very creatively by the designers, and you'll have to push The Blob to its limits to solve some of the trickier puzzles.
While the art-style may occasionally call to mind the Metroidvainian Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, the puzzles in Mutant Blobs Attack are actually much craftier. Rather than require you to learn how to use an ever-growing, complicated set of tools, the game's puzzles are entirely designed around creative use of those few, established abilities. One minute, you'll be using magnetic push to flip yourself through a series of spiked walls, the next you'll be dive-bombing down ahead of a laser so that you can take a corner fast enough to get out of the way.
It all feels great to play. The Blob has heft and weight, and moves slightly differently depending on how much it's eaten in the level. It's a squishy, joyfully bouncy character to control, sometimes flattening itself to squeeze through tiny drainpipes, other times bouncing over hapless human beings like a murderous bowling ball. The game also uses the Vita's touch-screen smartly; as a platformer, it certainly benefits from having a dedicated d-pad and joystick, but using a touch-screen in tandem with traditional controls really does feel like the best of both worlds. Far more than the shoehorned efforts of some of the bigger-budget Vita launch titles, Mutant Blobs Attack feels like a game that is uniquely "Vita."
Several levels change things up by giving players a top-down control and having them use the accelerometer to roll The Blob through a maze while avoiding deadly pitfalls. The first one of these was a frustrating drag, as I immediately thought, "Oh, no. Tell me they're not going to blow it with bad motion controls!" Fortunately, the level wound up being very short, and later motion-controlled levels are fun, and mostly remove the irritating holes and difficulty of the first maze. In fact, several of them pay a direct homage to the Katamari games, as you'll find yourself a tiny blob, rolling about a room and eating bits and pieces until you're so big you can eat objects that were previously gigantic barriers. (Also, this is all happening in what appears to be red/blue anaglyph 3D. I didn't ask.)
Sly references and environmental humor abound in Mutant Blobs Attack, shout-outs to other indie game developers, movie and game references, and even a few direct gameplay callouts to other games, one of which is so funny that I wouldn't dare spoil it for you. It's all very winning, and combines with the 50's style, goofy soundtrack, and the zany violence to give things a distinctly Marvin the Martian vibe.
It's all about the little touches—the way The Nlob's eye gazes balefully out at you and moves around as you do, the goofy sounds that the humans make whenever you eat them, the way an audience bursts into applause whenever you grow to a new size. (And hey, Escape Plan does that too. Hmm. Maybe game developers are actually listening to Stephen.)
But where Mutant Blobs Attack truly shines is in its creative physics puzzles. This game has more creative ideas going on than anything I've played in a long time—it will have your complete and undivided attention as long as you're playing it.
Every puzzle gives way to three new ones at a relentless pace, and no two puzzles are exactly alike. I've yet to feel as though developers have run out of ideas—one second I'm climbing walls and timing jumps, the next I'm navigating a maze inside of a giant rolling ball, working my way to an exit while avoiding oncoming acid. Then suddenly, a race against a descending wall of lasers, followed by a flying level, followed by flinging myself through a free-fall down a spike-lined chute. Slow-moving timed puzzles give way to reaction-based jumping at the blink of an eye, before merging into touch-screen finagling and black-hole dodging. It never gets boring.
The puzzles' solutions are as creative as the puzzles themselves—time and again I thought I was stuck only to realize some new way that I could use one of the four or five moves that I learned in the first few levels. Each level is short and to the point tight, well-structured in its design.
Mutant Blobs Attack is charming yet diabolical, funny yet hardcore, difficult and rewarding in equal measure. It'll creep up on you like a slinking clump of flesh-eating goo, patiently waiting for you to wander beneath its maw, ready to dissolve you into a bloody paste of laughing good times.
Wait, erm… that didn't quite come out how I intended. Anyway! You won't see this game coming, and before too long you'll realize that you've been sucked in, determinedly pushing and pulling yourself through challenge after challenge, a crease on your brow and a smile on your face.