de Blob 2 Review: The colors, Duke, the colors

Religious cults. Stalinism. Labor camps. WMDs. For a kid's game, de Blob 2 isn't short on adult subject matter -- even if it goes unmentioned in the ESRB box. Having expanded onto Xbox 360 and PS3, has the squeezable platformer grown-up?

When we left Chroma City at the end of 2008's Wii-exclusive de Blob, the evil INKT Corporation and its leader Comrade Black had been freshly ousted by the titular hero. Now, Comrade Black, disguised as a cult priest named Papa Blanc, returns from expulsion with nefarious plans: rig the election of Prisma City (a new location) and drain its color (an old ambition).

The colorful Raydians of Prisma succumb straightaway to the cult's brainwashing practices, and, president or not, Comrade Black drains them and their land of color.
%Gallery-107236% Thus, de Blob and an optional sidekick named Pinky (think Super Mario Galaxy co-op for player 2) bolt to action, equipped with some new skills. Power-ups like the Biohazard Bubble and the Magnetic Ball carry him over poisonous ink and up metal walls. Launching pads and anti-gravity material buff the platformer elements. All this stuff is filler between the soaking and painting and soaking and painting and soaking and painting the de Blob does well. And does non-stop doing well until the credits roll.

Yes, de Blob will negotiate 2D and 3D environments, bounce between magnetic pads, and rip through enemies, but the majority of your time as him will be spent soaking up paint then rolling out color onto everything: signs; benches; cars; towers; larger signs. It's like playing tag with every inanimate object in the world and you're forever "it."

The ability to conjure pleasing feelings like power and peacefulness is more often than not why people play games to begin with.


In that way, rolling through each stage -- they range from a tropical island to the suburbs to the zoo -- can be either an exercise in repetition or meditation, depending on the angle from which you approach. As a completionist, I enjoyed the systematic finding, painting and sometimes repainting of every nook, cranny and crannynook.

There's a pacifying drone to the game's sound. Depending on de Blob's current color, the world music soundtrack shifts and modulates, most of the the time unnoticeably, between Caribbean, hip-hop and classical. At worst, the effect is unobtrusive; at best, the music and colors dovetail in a way that's relaxing and hypnotizing. Sort of like visiting a New Age head shop.

The game is unified by this "roll with it" attitude that's most obvious with the music, but digs into everything from the aesthetic to the gameplay. De Blob is overpowered from the get go, and constantly rewarded with "Inspiration Points" that purchase further upgrades. By the time he meets a worthy adversary, he knows one, if not multiple, ways to exterminate it. Even the threat of running out of time -- represented by a pesky countdown clock at the top of the screen -- is kneecapped by the constant time bonuses rewarded for de Blob's doing practically anything.

There's not a lot of tension.

de Blob 2 is not a shooter with tournament level ambitions. Nor is it a platformer that's stupendously difficult to please retro snobbery. It's a kids game, so the forgiving difficulty curve makes sense on that obvious level.

And I think, for adults, it's also a chill out game in that it pairs impeccably well with green tea, hot chocolate, beer or (depending on your state of residence) legal prescription herbal remedies. After a stressful day, de Blob 2 is a welcome confluence of plucky music, living scenery, damn the man bravado and sense of total imperviousness to danger. The ability to conjure pleasing feelings like power and peacefulness is more often than not why people play games to begin with.

And to be clear, this isn't kid's stuff being co-opted by a grown man's opinion. Well, not entirely. The slapstick voiceless cut scenes and comic panels are this Peruvian spirit blend of Red Skelton and Marcel Marceau. Funny on a "that guy got hit in the junk" level, they also can be surprisingly mature. The politics are unabashedly anti-establishment and -- probably me reading into things -- targets range from the Russian gulags to Tiananmen Square to the Tea Party "birthers" movement.

On the flip side, there was this incongruous Obama gag:

Almost a year ago, THQ and Syfy announced a collaboration that would see a number of the video game publisher's properties be adapted for television. De Blob was supposed to be the first, though it's recently been MIA. It's as if there wasn't a slot for a kid's character on the adult Syfy channel.

But in de Blob 2, the hero feels less kiddie pool and more Adult Swim. Of course, it doesn't dive in. This isn't Conker's Bad Fur Day. It is still very much a game, if not bluntly for kids, that kids can play. The co-op and difficult unlockable objective stages present the game, intentionally or not, as a adventure that a parent plays with the kid. It's not a perfect game for kids or adults, but it's good for both.

This review is based on a pre-release Xbox 360 version of de Blob 2 provided by THQ.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.