STAFF REVIEW of Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack (Xbox 360)

Friday, June 27, 2014.
by Khari Taylor

Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack Box art Modern cautionary tales about the dangers of science and experimentation on living and extinct creatures have been in the movies for years, and many of them have inspired videogames. Godzilla, The Fly, and Jurassic Park come to this reviewer's mind, for example. But outside of Resident Evil, why aren't there more games with this theme? Probably because while they're scary, they're usually preachy not all that much fun. Well, Toronto-based DrinkBox studios has stepped up not only to ask those questions but also address them with their latest release on Xbox 360, Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack.

In it, players take on the role of Blob (for the sake of simplicity we’ll refer to Blob as a “he”), an ill-tempered microorganism that is the result of several generations of forced mitosis and countless scientific experiments. Blob is fed-up being a guinea pig for humanity and decides that it's time to fight back. He initiates a prison break that sets free all of his imprisoned blob brethren from the laboratory, and then sets about exacting revenge upon the human race by eating everything in sight until he becomes large enough to consume every last human on earth. And it just so happens to be the 1960s, so you know it's going to be a swingin' time!

Much like Blob's motivation, the concept of Mutant Blobs Attack is simple. Players must guide Blob from the beginning to the end of each stage, absorbing as many loose objects and living creatures as he can along the way. The catch is that Blob can only absorb objects that are smaller than his current overall body size, making it necessary for Blob to consume a pre-determined amount of "stuff" before he can grow large enough to absorb the environmental barriers that prevent him from proceeding to the next section of a level or the next stage (e.g. a giant cork plugging the entryway to a tunnel).

This gameplay mechanic has enabled the team at DrinkBox to craft a collection of truly inventive puzzles and worlds that will have 2D platforming fans singing the game's praises. And rightfully so, as the concept also calls for thoughtful level design that dynamically accommodates Blob's increasing size during each stage, which almost always sees Blob leaving the level two or three sizes bigger than when he went in. Case in point, when Blob's adventure begins in a student dorm following his escape from the laboratory, he is no bigger than the size of a penny, but by the time the University chapter of the game is over, Blob is big enough to consume an entire graduating class.

In addition to Blob's primary objective of eating everything that's not nailed down, players have the option of completing additional challenges, such as finishing each level as quickly as possible in order to earn time-based point bonuses and hence higher scores to rank against their friends and players around the world; or alternatively they can take their time to thoroughly explore each stage to find and reunite Blob with his scattered blob brothers. At least one or more of them can be found either carefully concealed or hiding in plain sight somewhere in every level of the game, and they can be rescued by Blob through simply coming into contact with them, prompting Blob to re-absorb them into his own body. It's a creepy thing for a "hero" to do, but technically they were all once part of the same organism, right? It should also be mentioned that rescuing some of these stray blobs involves taking dangerous risks, so when you successfully manage to rescue one of Blob's friends and survive the ordeal by the skin of your teeth, you'll often feel like a heroic badass.

Although Blob's normal means of locomotion is slowly rolling about mixed with a smattering of double and triple-jumps, the obstacles, puzzles and dangers that the game will throw at players will quickly require them to become as nimble as a sumo wrestler, juggling Blob's increasing mass and natural momentum with surprisingly explosive bursts of speed and dexterity. After all, civilization as we know it isn't going to be content to take its inevitable consumption lying down, and as Blob evolves throughout the game into the true, city-sized mutant menace he's destined to become, he'll face military forces armed with guided missiles, artillery, giant lasers and blob-piercing beds of spikes among other threats.

At times, even the earth, the moon, and the cold, dark vacuum of space themselves will all seem to be focused on stamping out Blob's existence. Thanks to humanity's excessive tinkering however, resilience and adaptability have been unintentionally built into Blob's genetically-altered DNA, granting him with telekinesis, push/repel magnetism, rocket propulsion and stomp powers. Regardless of the situation he may find himself in, Blob always has the tools he needs to survive, and half the fun is just figuring out how and when to use them in order to overcome a puzzle or challenge. Finally, players need not worry too much about getting stuck in a puzzle, as the game provides a helpful tip each time it introduces a new power or different way of using an existing power, and will provide reminder hints should the player die repeatedly at the same obstacle without using the recommended ability.

Mutant Blobs Attack isn't going to win any awards for groundbreaking graphics, nor does it push the limits of the aging Xbox 360 hardware to any real extent, but upon seeing the game in motion there can be no doubt that DrinkBox threw every single brilliant idea, witty joke and every game and pop-culture reference they could think of into this game, and the result is a charmingly slick and fluid platformer that any gamer with an observant eye could pore over for hours at a time with enjoyment. Every visual element in the game is designed to delight and amuse the player, from how humans that Blob has consumed continue float and spin about in a daze inside his body like clothes in a washing machine while they await digestion, to the numerous and not so subtle nods to DrinkBox's other games as well as those that they clearly admire, including Guacamelee, N+, Asteroids, and even a literal, brief gameplay homage to Angry Birds.

Practically every background image, every poster, every commercial billboard, and the name of every establishment is a joke or a sly wink to the modern lives that many gamers and indie game developers know, and gratifyingly, no attempt is made to hide it. At one point, even Toronto's CN Tower makes an appearance, an obvious shout-out to the home of DrinkBox Studios and their most dedicated fans. Of course, the grumpily indifferent attitude of Blob as he rolls towards his goal of destroying humanity by way of gluttony is a delightful comic draw, but in the end, Mutant Blobs Attack absolutely charms with its solid gameplay, hilarious and easy-to-follow in-engine cutscenes, as well as all of the previously mentioned elements above, coming together to deliver a brilliant, award-worthy ensemble performance. The retro-60's look and orchestral/jazz fusion soundtrack nails the intended aesthetic, and the sound effects while limited in variety are highly effective in getting the job done; you'll never confuse the hum of a nearby laser beam with the crackle that emits when Blob approaches an object that can be manipulated by telekinesis, and the hapless panicking of humans always announces that food is nearby.

The only true stain on this intentionally sticky platformer is that some of the puzzles involving Blob's telekinetic powers often result in several accidental deaths due to their reliance on the Xbox 360's right analog stick, which depending on which generation of Xbox 360 controller you have can be prone to floatiness. In other words, a light press of the right stick can often result in a platform moving too quickly or slowly during a dangerous puzzle sequence. Similarly, some contraptions intended for transporting Blob from one point to another can inadvertently pinch or crush him to death with an errant touch of the stick as well. Graciously, checkpoints in Mutant Blobs Attack are frequent, so players won't have to do too much backtracking when this occurs, but they should still pack some patience for some of the more difficult puzzles.

To conclude, if you're looking for a fun platformer that thinks outside the box, or more precisely envelops that box, devours it and then starts looking for more, look no further; just plunk down the $8 and support DrinkBox studios with this latest effort. More great, local Canadian games like this one need to keep getting made, and once you've played Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, you too will want to consume it and make it a part of your collection.

An alternative control scheme to the right analog stick would make telekinesis based puzzles easier as manipulation would be more reliable. The Xbox 360 controller is a great controller, but the sticks are known to drift and aren't the best option in a puzzle game where the manipulation of objects can mean life and death.

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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