Balancing both puzzles and platforming within the same game is a task that requires the successful combination of many gameplay mechanics in order to fully work properly. Many a game has failed to succeed at this feat by either over or under compensating for the puzzle or platforming aspects of the game. DrinkBox Studios has put together a wonderful puzzle-platformer in Tales From Space: About a Blob. With fluid controls and a cartoon-mischief atmosphere, the only hindrance comes in the form of difficulty spikes scattered throughout the game.
The issues that can ruin any puzzle-platformer from the start are a terrible control scheme or clunky/slow responding controls. Luckily, controlling your blob will rarely be the reason for inducing frustration while playing. Movement is simple enough with the left-analog stick controlling your hungry friend while "x" jumps and "square" speeds you up in a mario-esque fashion. The developers captured what a blob should feel like to control very well with the weight of your character altering the gameplay as you grow from a candy size blob to a monstrous alien, consuming people and buildings.
The puzzles all focus around the different abilities and attributes of your blob with the main one being your ability to consume objects smaller than yourself and then use that as ammunition to throw. Each level is split into a different number of checkpoints with each checkpoint requiring you to be a certain size before being able to progress forward. Watching your blob grow is rewarding on its own for the fact that as you grow the level becomes understandably smaller. This enables you to reach new areas and conquer previously impassable obstacles. Along with devouring everything you can, your blob eventually becomes magnetized and electrified. Both of these abilities are used well to create some tricky puzzles and some even trickier boss battles.
I would consider the pinnacle of this game to be the level design and art direction. When a developer makes a level that is literally fun to interact with and explore, is creates a foundation for the rest of the game's mechanics to build on. As a smaller blob you'll find yourself consuming objects like crayons and shards of glass as you traverse through the piping or under the floorboards of a building. Objects such as books or chairs appear huge at first and require a lot of effort to maneuver around. As you become bigger, and the world becomes smaller, objects that were once towering over you require little effort to overcome. Accompanying this is the change in objects that you need to consume to become bigger. There is something inside me that thoroughly enjoyed absorbing farmers and cows as they tried desperately to escape me.
The story itself is fun and simple with a group of blobs landing on earth and your crafty blob being captured by a mad scientist. You then escape and wreak havoc on the world as you grow. Even as you're consuming people and livestock, the music and cartoony graphics keep the fun very light-hearted. The clever details of each level can even become humorous such as when you end up eating organs out of a covered up corpse on a stretcher in the mad scientist's lab. One of the driving factors for me to continue playing was my curiosity as to what was awaiting me in the next area.
Every aspect of this game is intriguing and allows the player to simply enjoy what's happening on the screen, but sometimes this casual style gets interrupted by a much more difficult area. Some of the bosses will most definitely force you to die and restart from a checkpoint numerous time. Some of the platforming can be quite hairy at times as well. Those of us who enjoy these spikes in difficulty will actually have a great time with overcoming each new obstacle regardless, but more casual gamers may find the sudden change in difficulty to be overwhelming.
About a Blob packs a good amount of content into its frame with 17 stages in which you can play alone or with a friend in local co-op. The lack of online co-op isn't huge, but it is strange to see a game these days that has offline only co-op. Multiplayer aside, every level is packed with secrets and goals to accomplish such as rescuing fellow blobs or racing to be the set time. The first time you play through each level you will definitely be exploring and enjoying the cleverly crafted worlds.
Drinkbox has accomplished a rare feat by not only making a decent puzzle-platformer, but they also managed to pull it off with some great concepts that keep the game fresh and new throughout every level. Seeing your character progressively growing instills a strange sense of accomplishment on the player, and returning to parts of any area as a bigger blob only makes each level that much more enticing to return to.
Tales From Space: About a Blob is currently a Playstation Plus exclusive and can be bought on PSN for $14.99.
[Tales From Space: About a Blob]-$14.99