A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia
Nintendo Entertainment System
Imagineering / Absolute Entertainment
Genre: Puzzle Platformer
The introduction of the NES to the video gaming market felt like it was a time where a lot of chances were taken. Not to belittle the consoles that had come before it. There were plenty of games that tried something new, but it felt like there was a marked shift in capabilities for the system and the approach to video game mechanics began to spread to a larger variety that was accessible to more developers. With that, some companies attempted to step outside of the box a bit, jumping from their work on earlier consoles to embrace the growth of technology in the field.
Such was the case with Imagineering and Absolute Entertainment who had produced and published games for the Atari and Commodore 64 before making the jump onto the Nintendo Entertainment System. With a bit of innovation and some high aspirations, their first attempt to break into the NES market in conjunction with one another was with a little game that has seen a few entries in its legacy called A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia.
Attempting to put a spin on the classic adventure platformers that were so plentiful in the system’s library, the idea was to create a game that did away with tedious inventory management and would be another step forward in the genre given the influence designer and programmer David Crane had already with his work on Pitfall!, a classic in its own right that pushed the adventure scene in a promising direction.
Having played this game as a kid, I had never finished it and remembered it being a bit too challenging when I had attempted it last. One morning, with my renewed resolved and a few more years of gaming under my belt, I decided to take a swing through the game and take a journey with A Boy and His Blob.
In the twenty-first century, a young boy has found himself in a friendship with an alien. This particular friend is a white puff of a being by the name of Blobert- of “Blob”, as his friend calls him. See, Blob found his way to Earth and happened upon this young man, somehow communicating that his home planet of Blobolonia is in danger under the eye of an evil emperor who has taken control from the benevolent king. The emperor has been forcing everyone on the planet to only eat marshmallows and chocolate which is slowly ruining the population. So what else can the boy do but find a way to help his new bouncy friend?
The boy and Blob have a secret weapon, though. When the Blob eats certain flavors of jellybeans, his body morphs in- well, pretty much anything. Umbrellas, blowtorches, trampolines; Blob has more than a few tricks up his sleeve and the boy is more than happy to help him morph from object to object to find what they need to access the emperor’s lair and stop his reign of terror over the planet.
With a bag of jellybeans in tow and his malleable partner at his side, the boy will travel throughout the subways and sewers of the city to help find some of Blobonia’s lost treasures and the key to reaching the emperor. The adventure will be perilous and will take him to places not of this world- but really, who could just let a new friend’s planet crumble without at least trying to save it?
So far as the boy is concerned in Boy and his Blob, your movements are fairly limited on your own. You can move left and right. That’s about it so far as independent actions for our hero. There is no jumping or mode of attack or defense. As you explore the areas of the game across a decently sized map, you’ll come to realize that any method of travel or weaponry you might be able to use is tied directly to your companion, Blob.
Starting with a limited number of different flavored jellybeans, the boy can toss one of the gummy candies through the air to his buddy who will catch it (unless your aim is off completely) and will shift into a particular thing. As this can cover everything from a hole in the floor to a hummingbird and a protective bubble, “thing” feels like the appropriate descriptor. There is meant to be a bit of trial and error in experimenting with which flavors will produce which results, as all you can see as a player is what flavor you are currently holding. While you can cycle through them with the Select button, there is no hint as to what they will do, aside from the name. For example, Tangerine sounds a bit like “trampoline”, which is exactly what it will turn Blobert into. Do you need a jack to push something heavy open? Try an Apple jelly bean (get it? Apple Jack?) All of the conclusions feel pretty obvious once you jot them down and try them out.
Boy and His Blob affords you five lives to reach the end and save Blobolonia. Along the way, you can try to gain treasures to increase your score, locate bags of jellybeans to receive new flavors and refill your already limited stock, and avoid creatures that block your path every so often. While only one of these is vital- there are flavors that are necessary to proceed to the end so it’s worth looking around as much as possible- it does lend the game to a bit of exploration rather than a linear path. While the game is short, there is no method to save or any password function, so it’s worth taking care while you explore, should you choose to do so.
The Good, The Bad, And…
The game has some fun elements, but they all feel just a bit “off”. Movement, for instance, is just fine until you try to stop on a dime in the case of a sudden ledge or an enemy in the way. The boy doesn’t stop on a dime, sliding a bit and making things a bit inaccurate. Blob also has a bit of the same problem, and while there are ways around it, navigation can become a bit tough if you don’t take your time or if you push a little too far on your directional pad. There are a few of these kinds of quirks that take some time to get used to but given your five lives and the number of deaths that can be accrued while you’re learning, it can be a bit rough.
Boy and his Blob feels incredibly charming, though, despite having little narrative and being a decently difficult puzzle game. Folks likened the game a bit to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and it’s easy to see why. Blob has a few very limited reactions to things, like when he misses a jellybean and starts to frown or when you throw one and he jumps up to catch it with a big goofy grin on his face. While the game is relatively simple, it’s tough not to feel attached to the duo because they feel connected, both by mechanics and by how often Blob and the boy have to work together to proceed.
If you’re someone who doesn’t like having to puzzle out every instruction on their own, however, this may not be the game for you. Very little instruction is given in most cases outside of the manual which, to be fair, gives a load of tips without giving up solutions for progress. Approaching the game through a “explore everything by whatever means necessary” lens is possibly the healthiest way to go about it, but with limited lives and limited jellybeans at your disposal, it’s hard not to feel like you have to be prudent. In short, the game feels like it needs to be attempted from the beginning a few times before you can reach the end which can be both great and frustrating depending on your outlook.
Like a lot of games on the NES, Boy and His Blob suffers from a lack of soundtrack variety, playing the same tune throughout most of the game. It does have a couple of riffs and variations in particular areas, but even those don’t last long. The sound effects are minimal, usually playing when a particular item is used, but even the way some of them are re-used (using the trampoline has the same “sproing” noise as hitting your head should you jump into something above you), they aren’t remarkable and sometimes feel a little out of place.
The game is pretty basic visually, too. While there are some backgrounds that look great like the city skyline on Earth and the fields when you first reach Blobolonia, but it feels like the further you get into the innards of the city where you spend most of your time, the less detail there is. The game doesn’t look ugly, mind you, but it feels like selective points had more attention given to them so far as what the player has to look at.
If I had to sum up A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia in one sentence, I could summarize that the game feels like it has a lot of heart but its legs aren’t strong enough to stand on for long. All of the pieces are there to form a cohesive and fun little platformer- once you know what you’re doing and how to approach the title. You really need to know what you’re getting into, though, as it can turn from an entertaining trek to an exercise in masochism without warning.
If you have the patience and desire to play through it, though, it’s a game that lends itself to creative solutions and putting your mental mettle to the test. It’s a bit tough to find now since the Wii Virtual Console no longer exists, but if you come across the game in the wild and want to see some ambitious concepts with varying results, you can definitely do worse than A Boy and His Blob. It’s not a long investment- about three hours for me including a few trips from the beginning for trial and error learning- and it’s nothing if not unique for its time.